Photos: Top 20 US Presidents

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#3 Thomas Jefferson
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#3 Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781). Just after the war ended, from mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France. Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) serving under President George Washington. With his close friend James Madison he organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and subsequently resigned from Washington's cabinet. Elected Vice President in 1796, when he came in second to John Adams of the Federalists, Jefferson opposed Adams and with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts. Elected president in what Jefferson called the Revolution of 1800, he oversaw the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr. With escalating trouble with Britain who was challenging American neutrality and threatening shipping at sea, he tried economic warfare with his embargo laws which only damaged American trade. In 1807, President Jefferson signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into the United States. In scholarly surveys Jefferson remains rated as one of the greatest U.S. presidents, though since the late-twentieth century, he has been increasingly criticized by many historians, often on the issue of slavery. A leader in the Enlightenment, Jefferson was a polymath who spoke five languages fluently and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy, interests that led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello. While not a notable orator, Jefferson was a skilled writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe throughout his adult life. Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves, yet he was opposed to the ultimate continuation of the institution of slavery throughout his life and privately struggled with the dilemma of slavery and freedom and its compatibility with the ideals of the American Revolution. Historians are in disagreement with how much Jefferson was committed to the anti-slavery cause. After Martha Jefferson, his wife of eleven years, died in 1782, Jefferson remained a widower for the rest of his life; their marriage produced six children, of whom two survived to adulthood. In 1802, allegations surfaced that he was also the father of his slave Sally Hemings' children. In 1998, DNA tests revealed a match between her last child and the Jefferson male family line. Although some historians have noted that the evidence can also support other possible fathers, most have concluded that Jefferson had a long relationship with Hemings and fathered at least one and likely all of her six children, four of whom survived to adulthood.