Thomas Jefferson was born April 13, 1743 to wealthy parents. In honor of his birth, I decided to write a bit about the man and include some Revolutionary Era poetry. He started building his home Monticello when he was twenty-six years old. He did own slaves, and according to the Monticello biography, “In a typical year, he owned about 200, almost half of them under the age of sixteen. About eighty of these lived at Monticello; the others lived on adjacent Albemarle County plantations, and on his Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County, Virginia.” Most people are aware of his owning slaves because of the Sally Hemings debate. I can’t verify that part, but I do know that all of his slaves at Monticello were part of the Hemings family. For another insight into the man, check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine.
He attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, and served as a local magistrate and member of the House of Burgesses, which was the legislative branch of government in Virginia, and later became their General Assembly or State Government. He was a member of the Continental Congress, and is most famous for having written the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statues of Religious Freedom . He left the Continental Congress in 1776, and was governor of Virginia from 1779-1781. He became the American Ambassador to France, succeeding Benjamin Franklin in 1785, and in 1790 became the Secretary of State under our first president George Washington (though he resigned three years later). According to the Monticello biography,
“In 1796, he became vice-president (even though they belonged to different political parties –check this website for more information on Jefferson’s Democratic Republican beliefs) after losing to John Adams by three electoral votes. Four years later, he defeated Adams and became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the young nation. Perhaps the most notable achievements of his first term were the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and his support of the Lewis and Clark expedition. His second term, a time when he encountered more difficulties on both the domestic and foreign fronts, is most remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France; his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812. ”
Despite already doing so much, he did even more in the last seventeen years of his life. He donated his book collection at Monticello to the federal government to help form the Library of Congress. At age 76 he founded the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He got the legislature of Virginia to approve the charter for the school, found a place to put it, “designed its buildings, planned its curriculum, and served as the first [president].” He died on July 4, 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the new United States adopting the Declaration of Independence.
For Revolutionary –Era poetry, I picked Phyllis Wheatley. She is significant because she is the first African-American poet to be published, and a female to book, in London 1773. Her poetry was popular and well-received. The second poet is Philip Freneau, called “The Poet of the American Revolution.” One of his most famous poems was A Political Litany, created before the Revolutionary War, which is explained here.
To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth
HAIL, happy day, when, smiling like the morn, Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn: The northern clime beneath her genial ray, Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway: Elate with hope her race no longer mourns, Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns, While in thine hand with pleasure we behold The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold. Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies She shines supreme, while hated faction dies: Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desir'd, Sick at the view, she languish'd and expir'd; Thus from the splendors of the morning light The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night. No more, America, in mournful strain Of wrongs, and grievance unredress'd complain, No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain, Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand Had made, and with it meant t' enslave the land. Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song, Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung, Whence flow these wishes for the common good, By feeling hearts alone best understood, I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat: What pangs excruciating must molest, What sorrows labour in my parent's breast? Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd: Such, such my case. And can I then but pray Others may never feel tyrannic sway? For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due, And thee we ask thy favours to renew, Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before, To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore. May heav'nly grace the sacred sanction give To all thy works, and thou for ever live Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame, Though praise immortal crowns the patriot's name, But to conduct to heav'ns refulgent fane, May fiery coursers sweep th' ethereal plain, And bear thee upwards to that blest abode, Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.
A Political Litany
by Philip Freneau
Libera Nos, Domine.—Deliver us, O Lord, not only from British dependence, but also
From a junto that labour with absolute power, Whose schemes disappointed have made them look sour, From the lords of the council, who fight against freedom, Who still follow on where delusion shall lead them. From the group at St. James's, who slight our petitions, And fools that are waiting for further submissions— From a nation whose manners are rough and severe, From scoundrels and rascals,—do keep us all clear. From pirates sent out by command of the king To murder and plunder, but never to swing. From Wallace and Greaves, and Vipers and Roses, Whom, if heaven pleases, we'll give bloody noses. From the valiant Dunmore, with his crew of banditti, Who plunder Virginians at Williamsburg city, From hot-headed Montague, mighty to swear, The little fat man with his pretty white hair. From bishops in Britain, who butchers are grown, From slaves that would die for a smile from the throne, From assemblies that vote against Congress proceedings, (Who now see the fruit of their stupid misleadings.) From Tryon the mighty, who flies from our city, And swelled with importance disdains the committee: (But since he is pleased to proclaim us his foes, What the devil care we where the devil he goes.) From the caitiff, lord North, who would bind us in chains, From a royal king Log, with his tooth-full of brains, Who dreams, and is certain (when taking a nap) He has conquered our lands, as they lay on his map. From a kingdom that bullies, and hectors, and swears, We send up to heaven our wishes and prayers That we, disunited, may freemen be still, And Britain go on—to be damned if she will.