When he was near the completion of his life Jefferson insisted that he most wanted posterity to remember him for three things: The Declaration of Independence, The Statute of Virginia For Religious Freedom, and The University of Virginia. Yet he had served his country as Congressman, Governor, Ambassador, the first Secretary of State, Vice President, and President. His view, however, was that political positions were honors and responsibilities given to someone by the people, and that they were therefore not accomplishments in and of themselves. This view of public service as something greater than positions and titles was in part what drove him to work with such an astonishing degree of dedication for the betterment of his country.
His genius, of course, enabled him to transform that patriotic work ethic into tremendous accomplishments of text, architecture, law, science, philosophy, and invention that continue to serve America to this day. His Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom became the basis for the First Amendment to the Constitution. His conviction that an informed citizenry was the most important basis for a free society transformed our public education system. Even though he was himself an aristocrat, with a bona fide coat of arms, he played a key role in dismantling the oppressive class system that would have otherwise prevented a man such as Abraham Lincoln from achieving the Presidency. His visionary certainty in an “Empire of Liberty” effected the the Louisiana Purchase and solidified America’s foothold as a great nation. And his ringing tones in the Declaration of Independence irrevocably set universal equality as the core goal for America.His curiosity was boundless, and so his pursuit of an almost incomprehensibly wide field of interests also helped give us vanilla ice cream, the dumbwaiter, and the revolving chair. He undertook seminal studies in Anglo Saxon. He raised thoroughbred horses. He designed not only the architecture of Virginia’s capitol, but also that of the University of Virginia, as well as that of his two homes, Poplar Forest and Monticello, and not to mention that of the homes of some of his acquaintances. He cultivated varied gardens, experimenting in horticulture and botany. Through his own vineyards he encouraged the development of viticulture in America. No person in his day could mention to him a field of knowledge that did not spark his curiosity, even if he had never heard of it before they brought it to his attetention.
His service to our country was marked by paradox. Although he went to great lengths to establish America’s strength on a premise of peace, as President he ordered our invasion of Tripoli to defend America’s shipping from the attacks of the Barbary Pirates. After having vied for years against Alexander Hamilton to strengthen and secure state’s rightsand a limited federal government, he set a precedent for tremendous Presidential power by actuating The Louisiana Purchase, which was not allowed by the constitution.
More than any other of the founders Jefferson stands before us now as someone who encompasses both the glory of America’;s ideals and the realities through which we as a nation must struggle to live up to those ideals. He placed the words “All men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, even while his own personal economy, as well as the economy of much of America, depended on the inequality of slavery. Moreover, the debate over Jefferson’s relationship with his slave, Sally Hemmings, has drawn immense attention to the problem of slavery in our nation’s history and present. And even though Jefferson was only one of many of our founding fathers who owned slaves until the day they died, his legacy inspires modern Americans to turn to him for insight into the problem of inequality more than any other founder. Jefferson is uniquely up to the task. His lifelong belief that intelligent, informed discussion was the essential activity for a healthy government and citizenry places him in a firm position to encourage modern Americans to seek understanding through open and fearless questioning, not only of their founders, but of themselves.
taken from the website of Steven Edenbo