“A lawyer without words would be like a workman without tools.” Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Turpin, February 5, 1769.
Born in Albermarle County, Jefferson trained as a lawyer and served in the Continental Congress. He is regarded as the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence. After the Revolutionary War, he served as minister to France, succeeding Benjamin Franklin. He became the first Secretary of State. All of this before becoming the third President of the United States in 1801. In 1803 he made perhaps his most momentous Presidential decision–to authorize the Louisiana Territory from France. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the existing size of the United States and rid the country of its chief threat west of the Mississippi.
Jefferson was a life-long learner and a collector of books, which helped him expand his knowledge of the world and ideas. In 1815, Jefferson sold his personal collection of books at Monticello to the Library of Congress to rebuild the collections lost when the British burned the Capitol in the War of 1812. Proclaiming that “I cannot live without books,” he began another collection, which was sold in 1829 to satisfy his many creditors.
Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the same date as John Adams, our second President.
Read more about Jefferson’s collection of books in Thomas Jefferson’s Library: A Catalog with Entries in His Own Order.