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Thomas Jefferson wished to be remembered for three achievements in his public life. He had served as governor of Virginia, as U.S. minister to France, as secretary of state under George Washington, as vice-president in the administration of John Adams, and as president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. On his tombstone, however, which he designed and for which he wrote the inscription, there is no mention of these offices. Rather, it reads that Thomas Jefferson was "author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia" and, as he requested, "not a word more." Historians might want to add other accomplishments--for example, his distinction as an architect, naturalist, and linguist--but in the main they would concur with his own assessment.
Jefferson was born at Shadwell in what is now Albemarle County, Va., on Apr. 13, 1743. He treated his pedigree lightly, but his mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, came from one of the first families of Virginia; his father, Peter Jefferson, was a well-to-do landowner, although not in the class of the wealthiest planters. Jefferson attended (1760-62) the College of William and Mary and then studied law with George WYTHE. In 1769 he began six years of service as a representative in the Virginia House of Burgesses. The following year he began building Monticello on land inherited from his father. The mansion, which he designed in every det...