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Thomas Jefferson, (born April 2 [April 13, New Style], 1743, Shadwell, Virginia [U. S.), draftsman of the Declaration of Independence of the United States and the nation’s first secretary of state (1789–94), second vice president (1797–1801), and, as the third president (1801–09), the statesman responsible for the Louisiana Purchase.An early advocate of total separation of church and state, he also was the founder and architect of the University of Virginia and the most eloquent American proponent of individual freedom as the core meaning of the American Revolution.
John Adams, a leader in those debates, remembered that Jefferson was silent even in committee meetings, though consistently staunch in his support for independence. In that capacity, on June 11, 1776, he was appointed to a five-person committee, which also included Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to draft a formal statement of the reasons why a break with Great Britain was justified.
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This accurately describes the longest section of the Declaration of Independence, which lists the grievances against George III.
It does not, however, describe the following 55 words, which are generally regarded as the seminal statement of American political culture: We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
His image within scholarly circles has suffered, however, as the focus on racial equality has prompted a more negative reappraisal of his dependence upon slavery and his conviction that American society remain a white man’s domain.