Jefferson, Thomas (1743–1826)

Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence and other key documents of early American constitutionalism. He was almost certainly the founder most instrumental in developing the philosophy of limited government that dominated American political thought until the 20th century. Jefferson was a quintessential Renaissance man, with law and politics as perhaps the least favorite of his many interests, yet he was drawn into the political conflicts of his time because of his devotion to what he called “the holy cause of freedom.”

Educated at the College of William and Mary and trained as a lawyer by Williamsburg attorney George Wythe, by the mid-1760s, Jefferson was well versed in the English radical Whig political tradition and its core principle that government, when its citizens ...

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