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Remembering Thomas Jefferson on the Fourth of July

Remembering Thomas Jefferson on the Fourth of July

Declaration of Independence broadside 1776 Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation

Thomas Jefferson was principal author of the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. A rare broadside printing of the document dating to July 1776 is on exhibit at the Yorktown Victory Center.

The Fourth of July is a day to remember Thomas Jefferson, one of the great leaders of the revolutionary period.  Born on April 13, 1743, this year marks the 270th anniversary of his birth. 

Today Jefferson is remembered as a farmer, slave owner, lawyer, politician, statesman, president, scholar, architect, and philosopher.  He was father of the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark expedition, and the University of Virginia. Jefferson’s passions included his family, books, music, architecture, fine food, wine, Paris, science, gardens, Monticello, and exploration of the natural world.  Yet perhaps his greatest passion was the new nation he worked tirelessly to create and nurture – a country founded on the idea of popular government.

Jefferson also understood that anniversaries are a time to remember and commemorate important events and accomplishments.  In 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was marked by celebrations.  Organizers of the Washington celebrations were eager to bring Jefferson back to the capital for the day, but at the age of 83 he was too ill to travel.  Instead, he penned a letter to commemorate the event.  In it he wrote,

“May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government.  That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion.  All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.  The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view.  The palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god.  These are grounds of hope for others.  For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

These would be his last words to the nation.  Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, that fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  What words from the Declaration of Independence do you find most inspiring today as we celebrate America’s birthday?

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