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Page 4

Thomas Jefferson

1743-1826

In 1778, Mr. Jefferson was appointed by congress, in conjunction with Dr. Franklin and Silas Deane, a commissioner to France, for the purpose of forming a treaty of alliance and commerce with that nation. In consequence, however, of ill health, and impressed with the conviction that he could be of greater service to his country, and especially to his state, by continuing at home, he declined accepting the office, and Arthur Lee was appointed in his place.

Between 1777 and 1779, Mr. Jefferson was employed, conjointly with George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton, on a commission for revising the laws of Virginia. This was an arduous service, requiring no less than one hundred and twenty-six bills, which were drawn by these gentlemen, and which for simplicity and perspicuity have seldom been excelled. In respect to Mr. Jefferson, it should be noticed, that, besides the laborious share which he took in revising the laws of the state, to him belongs the honor of having first proposed the important laws in the Virginia code, forbidding the importation of slaves; converting estates tail into fees simple; annulling the rights of primogeniture; establishing schools for general education, and confirming the rights of freedom in religious opinion, with several others.

In 1779, Patrick Henry, who was the first republican governor, under the renovated constitution, and the successor of the earl of Dunmore, having served his appointed term, retired from that office, upon which Mr. Jefferson was chosen to succeed him. To this office he was re-elected the following year, and continued in office until June, 1781.

The administration of Mr. Jefferson, as governor of Virginia, during the above term, was arduous and difficult. The revolutionary struggle was progressing, and the southern states were particularly the theatre of hostile operations. At three several times, during his magistracy, the state of Virginia was invaded by the enemy; the first time in the spring of 1780, by the ferocious General Tarlton, whose military movements were characterized by unusual barbarity, and who was followed in his invasion by the main army, under Lord Cornwallis.

While the eyes of all were directed to these military movements in the south, the state experienced a still more unexpected and disastrous attack, from a body of troops, under the guidance of the infamous Arnold, whom treachery had rendered more daring and more vindictive.

In respect to preparations for hostilities within her own limits, the state of Virginia was sadly deficient; nor had the habits and pursuits of Mr. Jefferson been of a kind which fitted him for military enterprise. Aware, however, of the necessity of energy and exertion, in this season of danger and general distress, he applied his mind, with alacrity and ardor, to meet the exigencies of the case. Scarcely had Arnold left the coast, when Cornwallis entered the state, on its southern border. At this time, the condition of Virginia was extremely distressing; she was wholly unprepared; her troops were fighting in remote parts of the country; she had few military stores; and, to add to her distress, her finances were exhausted. On the approach of Arnold in January, the general assembly had hastily adjourned to meet again at Charlottesville, on the twenty-fourth of May.

In the mean time, a most anxious part devolved upon the governor. He had few resources, and was obliged to depend, in a great measure, upon his personal influence to obtain the munitions of war, and to raise and set in motion troops from different parts of the state. The various expedients which he adopted were indicative of much sagacity, and were attended by success highly important to the common cause.

On the twenty-fourth of May, the legislature was to meet at Charlottesville. They were not formed for business, however until the twenty-eighth. A few days following which, the term for which Mr. Jefferson had been elected expired, when he again found himself a private citizen.

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Last modified January 2, 2004