(NaturalNews) "A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."
One of the most influential of our nation's founding fathers was Thomas Jefferson, to whom the above quote is attributed and the man who was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps more than any other American founding father, Jefferson was a bona fide proponent of liberty who was inherently suspicious of a powerful central government and who once wrote in a private letter he had "sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
Born in Albemarle County, Virginia, in 1746 to Peter Jefferson, a successful planter and surveyor, and Jane Randolph, who belonged to one of Virginia's most prestigious families, the former U.S. president grew up well taken care of. He first studied at the College of William and Mary before reading law. In his mid-20s he inherited quite a bit of land from his father, on which he began building his famed estate, Monticello, and in 1772, just six years before he would take part in the birth of the United States, Jefferson married a widow, Martha Wayles Skelton.
Early on it was apparent that Jefferson was a champion of liberty and freedom. The dust and gunpowder smoke had barely cleared from the Revolutionary War when Jefferson, still based in Virginia, wrote a bill establishing religious freedom that was enacted in 1786.
As the new nation formed its governmental institutions, Jefferson split early from the Federalists, America's first national political party formed by Alexander Hamilton, because he believed its principles too strongly favored a strong national government while he supported giving state governments more power.
As such, Jefferson drifted towards the Democratic Republican party, which was sympathetic to the revolutionary cause in France. In 1796 he came within three votes of being elected president, but he was named vice president though he was not an ally of President John Adams.
Later, when he assumed the presidency in 1801, his leadership style reflected his small-government philosophy. He cut the size of the Army and Navy, got rid of an unpopular tax on whiskey (the source of the Whiskey Rebellion, which began in 1791), and managed to reduce the national debt by one-third.
He also acted to protect the fledging nation's interests. Jefferson dispatched a naval squadron to battle Barbary pirates who were attacking American shipping commerce in the Mediterranean Sea, and he increased the size of the United States by acquiring more land from France's despotic leader, Napoleon, though the Constitution contained no specific language regarding expansion of the nation's borders.
Jefferson even managed to get a good deal on the purchase; Jefferson negotiated for about 500 million acres of land that wound up becoming part of 15 new states eventually, and all for about 3 cents per acre. After the purchase was finalized Jefferson commissioned Meriweather Lewis and William Clark to lead a military expedition to explore the new land.
During Jefferson's second term (1804-1808), he was faced with what to do about the Napoleonic Wars raging in Europe. England and France attempted to provoke the United States into conflict, as both interfered with American shipping and commerce. But Jefferson was determined to keep the young nation out of foreign conflicts. Although his solution - placing an embargo on American shipping - did not work out well and was unpopular, the nation did not involve itself in another conflict so soon after solidifying a functional government.
When he finished his second term and peacefully relinquished power to his friend, James Madison, Jefferson retired to Montecello, where he continued his tradition of fostering liberty and public service. "I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them," he once said.
He went on to found the University of Virginia, and continued to reflect upon the grace of the new American republic, which he fully realized was as much a political experiment in its make-up as it was a miracle for its formation and functionality.
Ironically, perhaps, even in death Jefferson's life reflected his unending patriotism. He died on July 4, 1826 - 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence he authored - and just hours before his close friend, John Adams, passed away.
Cognizant of the gift of American existence bestowed by him and his fellow revolutionaries on future generations of Americans, Jefferson was also fully aware of the responsibility those generations would assume in keeping the republic intact when he wrote in a letter to William Stephens Smith in Paris in 1878, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
At his request, his tombstone reflected on his contributions and gifts to the new nation, not what he had received. It read: "HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA."
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