The complex Thomas Jefferson stands morally and intellectually at the heart of the American experience, with his support of individual rights, religious freedom and freedom of speech. The phrases "all men are created equal" and "all men are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are immortally his.
A brilliant scholar, Jefferson was fluent in Spanish, versed in Native American tongues and learned in Greek and Latin. Although his manner was formal, he loved to dance and play the violin.
He passed the bar in 1767 and within two years was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. As a delegate to the Continental Congress in both 1775 and 1776, he was instrumental in the creation of the Declaration of Independence.
From 1779 to 1781, he served as Virginia's governor and in 1783 was elected to the new Congress. Jefferson originated the monetary decimal system, including pennies, dimes and various bills we use today.
He succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France, and in 1790 became the first secretary of state in Washington's cabinet. When he ran for president in 1796, he lost to John Adams but became vice-president automatically as runner-up. After tying with Aaron Burr for the presidency in 1800, Jefferson prevailed in the House and became the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C., and the first to begin his term in the White House