In 1821, at the age of 77, Thomas Jefferson decided to "state some recollections of dates and facts concerning myself."
These writings make up "The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson," and provide a glimpse into the private life and associations of one of America’s most influential personalities.
His ancestors, Jefferson writes, came to America from Wales in the early 17th century and settled in Virginia. Jefferson’s father, although uneducated, possessed a "strong mind and sound judgment" and raised his family in the far western frontier of the colony, an experience that contributed to his son’s eventual staunch defense of individual and state rights. Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary, entered the law and in 1775 was elected to represent Virginia at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
The autobiography continues through the entire Revolutionary War period, and his insights and information about persons, politics and events are of immense value to both scholars and general readers. Jefferson ends this account of his life at the moment he returns to New York to become secretary of state in 1790.
Alongside Jefferson’s absorbing narrative of how compromises were achieved at the Continental Congress are comments about his own health and day-to-day life—passages that allow the reader to picture him more fully as a human being.
Although Jefferson did not carry this autobiography further into his eventual presidency, the foundations for all of his thoughts are here, and it is in these pages that Jefferson lays out what to him was his most important contribution to his country: The creation of a democratic republic.
—University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on January 13, 2005