Thomas Jefferson Background and Description Term Paper

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Thomas Jefferson

Background and Description

Thomas Jefferson is considered one of the most important political actors in the history of the United States, not only because he was President, but also of his great accomplishments before, during and after his presidential mandates. Jefferson is also considered the main author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and one of the main promoters of democracy and human rights at the beginning of the nineteen century.

He was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, in 1743, in a rather rich and high-class family. His education provided the necessary environment for a multilateral personal and academic development, later on becoming an experienced and recognized architect, archeologist, author and inventor. As a young student, he became more and more interested in the political affairs, and especially in what regards the relation with the British Crown. One of his first writings was a Summary View of the Rights of British America, advocating for solutions for a settlement with Britain (Biography Online, n.d.).

Considered "freckled and sandy-haired (...) Jefferson was eloquent as a correspondent, but he was no public speaker" (the White House, 2008) Considered the main author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson became on the most influential political figures of at the end of the eighteen century. He became Vice-president in 1796, after loosing in front of John Adams, and 4 years later President of the United States until 1809.

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Major accomplishments and failures

Term Paper on Thomas Jefferson Background and Description Thomas Jefferson Assignment

During the time he was a Delegate of Virginia to the Second Continental Congress, Jefferson, as stated above, drafted the American Declaration of Independence, under the influence of several political thinkers or politicians of the time, like Jonathan Locke, Thomas Paine, George Mason (author of the Virginia Declaration of rights) or James Madison. His draft passed, with 26 additional changes to it, making Jefferson the main author of the Declaration (Eicholz, 2001). Thomas Jefferson is therefore considered the father of the Declaration, this being considered one of his greatest achievements, although he was not in power at that time. This, alongside with other successes to come will create a leader based not necessarily on charisma, but on providing results and leading the way.

Being the visionary man that he was, and having the tools to extend his ideas into reality, Jefferson sought for a policy of expanding the United States territory to create not only a larger country, but a larger nation. He successfully launched two initiatives. The first one, in 1803, was the purchase of Louisiana from the France, and the second one, was the Lewis and Clark expedition towards the Pacific Ocean, in 1803 as well. One should not be considered of a lesser importance than the other. By buying Louisiana, Jefferson succeeded to double the surface of the country, expanding it with an important part, economically, strategically and politically. The Louisiana Purchase came about after a complex decision-making process within the Jefferson Presidential Administration. Alexander Hamilton's negative position towards the purchase of Louisiana came from his beliefs that good relations with Britain must be kept. Even Jefferson had some problems regarding Louisiana: strategically, it was the best solution at hand, because a neighbor like France was a risk. Also, the British, on the basis of a weak French defense of the state, could have become a dangerous neighbor for the young and still unstable state, that the United States were (Kennedy, 2003). The Louisiana affair was also an accomplishment from an economic point-of-view: it "opened terrain across the Mississippi to which the Southern nations were removed, releasing cotton land to the planters on the eastern side" (Kennedy, 2003, 154).

The second initiative, the Lewis and Clark Expedition had positive results as well. By this expedition Jefferson "hoped to establish trade with the Native American people of the West and find a water route to the Pacific" (Jefferson's West, 2008).

Jefferson's idea was not only connected with a different policy towards the Indians, but also to try to find a water way from the East to the West, in order to facilitate better commerce and economic development. Although the expedition did not discover such a route, it helped construct his Indian policy: as main goal, he tried to offer stability and security for the United States trough treaties with the Indian tribes, by buying lands and developing trade. As to stabilize the regions, Jefferson developed a policy of "civilization" for the Indians, transforming them into similar actors in the region. This proved not only his economic long-term thinking, but also a strategic one: by constructing positive relations with the Western Indians, he would have gained their support in any conflict against Britain - in Canada, and Spain - in Florida, and West of Mississippi (Jefferson's West, 2008).

Another initiative that can be considered an accomplishment in the Jefferson Presidency was the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedoms (1786). This was a "landmark piece of legislation [and] cemented the idea of religious freedom in America; giving individuals the right to purse their own spiritual and religious paths" (Biography Online, n. d.). Faced with strong opposition, the Statute passed with several amendments, representing a basis in Jefferson's policies to diminish the Church's influence in state affairs (Jenkins, 1997). The importance of this accomplishment is given also, from Jefferson's point-of-view, in its presence on his tomb stone: "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and the Father of the University if Virginia" (Gould, 1933, 208).

Thomas Jefferson was a scholar, a philosopher and a constructer of a new educational system for his country. The University of Virginia, that he founded, was the first and only University founded by an American President, and the first without religious influence. As Nathan Schachner argues, Thomas Jefferson "was an educator par excellence, and no one has done more to set this country upon the path of the free and universal diffusion of knowledge" (Schachner, 1957, Foreword vii).

Failures

Thomas Jefferson was by far one of the greatest and most gifted Presidents of the United States. Yet, he was not perfect. Many of his initiatives did not come to being, or were left aside in face of hardship. Roger Kennedy does not agree with various descriptions of Jefferson's achievements and argues that "he failed to bring about the social transformation he laid before his nation of students as their great opportunity. He proclaimed two revolutions, one political and the other social. He had little to do with achieving the first and drew back from the second. He could start things but had difficulty finishing them" (Kennedy, 2003, 5). This rather harsh vision has its arguments: starting from the failed abolishment of slavery attempts that he had, or with the difficulties he had in balancing the "yeomen" republic of small farms with the more and more expanding plantation system - especially after the Louisiana purchase (Kennedy, 2003).

Leadership strengths and weaknesses

The concept of leadership is one of the most debated concepts of our time. In "An Integrative Theory of Ledership," Martin Chemers argues that "leadership is a process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task" (Chemers, 1997, 1). Thomas Jefferson proved leadership abilities n many cases. Examples like his quest of discovering and developing the Western part of the American continent (through the Lewis and Clark Expedition), or by the Statute of Religious freedoms are obvious moments when he was able to persuade others to put in practice or to accept his ideas.

Leadership also involves vision, the ability to lead, the ability to not give up and good communication abilities. Jefferson had vision. It is not the case that he was the only one of his time to have the vision of the Declaration of Independence or the strategic action of buying at that particular moment in history Louisiana. What is relevant here is the fact the he put his ideas and vision of what the U.S. should be in practice, demonstrating therefore not only vision, but also the ability to make it happen. His abilities to lead are incontestable: he had two mandates as President of the United States and carried them out positively, and also he maintained his power within his party. Even if, for example in 1796 he lost in front of John Adams, he was able not only to come back after four years, but he was able to preserve his statute of leader.

As weakness in his leadership characteristic, Jefferson had a low public oratory skill. His writing abilities were his strong point, not his free speech. Yet leadership styles change during the course of a persons' life. While at the beginning of his political carrier he "contributed his pen rather than his voice to the patriot cause" (the White House, 2008), later on, Jefferson proved better communication skills. His idea of a better relation with the Indian tribes through communication and closer… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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