Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the most influential Founding Fathers for his promotion of the ideals of republicanism in the United States. Major events during his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
As a political philosopher, Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and knew many intellectual leaders in Britain and France. He idealized the independent yeoman farmer as exemplar of republican virtues, distrusted cities and financiers, and favored states' rights and a strictly limited federal government. Jefferson supported the separation of church and state and was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. He was the eponym of Jeffersonian democracy and the co-founder and leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, which dominated American politics for a quarter-century.
A polymath, Jefferson achieved distinction as, among other things, a horticulturist, statesman, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia. When President John F. Kennedy welcomed forty-nine Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Jefferson has been consistently ranked by scholars as one of the greatest of U.S. presidents.
The Age of Enlightenment is a term used to describe a time in Western philosophy and cultural life, centered upon the eighteenth century, in which reason was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority.
It could be argued that the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence, the United States Bill of Rights, were motivated by "Enlightenment" principles.
The religious views of Thomas Jefferson diverged widely from the orthodox Christianity of his day. Throughout his life Jefferson was intensely interested in theology, biblical study, and morality. He is most closely connected with the Episcopal Church, Unitarianism, and the religious philosophy of Deism. As the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence, he articulated that mankind was "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights", namely, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"; a statement that most Americans regard as nearly sacred. Together with James Madison, Jefferson carried on a long and successful campaign against state financial support of churches in Virginia. During his 1800 campaign for the presidency, he had to contend with critics who argued that he was unfit to hold office because he did not have orthodox religious beliefs. It is Jefferson who is credited with propagating the phrase "separation of church and state". He cut and pasted pieces of the New Testament together to compose a version that excluded any miracles by Jesus, thereby focusing on "the pure principles which he taught" and which has since been published as the "Jefferson Bible". While opposed to the institutions of organized religion, Jefferson repeatedly expressed his belief in God and his admiration for Jesus as a moral teacher. Opposed to Calvinism, Trinitarianism and Platonic Christianity, he expressed his religious commitment by referring to himself in private letters as a "Christian", "a sect by myself", an "Epicurean", a "Materialist", and a "Unitarian by myself". Jefferson's last words are commonly claimed to be "Is it the Fourth?"", referring to Independence Day, but other sources claim his last words were, "I resign myself to my God and my child to my country."
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