268 Candles, One Complicated Legacy: Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson

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Born on April 13, 1743, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, would have celebrated his 268th birthday today.

Instrumental as a founding father, Jefferson authored the declaration of independence, spurred the American Revolution and developed the political ideals on which America built itself. As President, Vice-President, Secretary of State, and founder of the University of Virginia, Jefferson’s contributions to history were numerous.

(More on TIME.com: See the top 10 State of the Union moments)

But the man beneath the surface was far more complex than the fairy-tale hero history often presents. In a 2004 cover story, TIME described Jefferson as a soul in conflict, claiming that “nearly everything he wrote was contradicted at some point by something he did.” Examples of this claim included his pressing libel charges after remarking that newspapers superseded government and employing imperialist strategies although he advocated for limited federal power. In spite of these inconsistencies, some of his ideas–like the separation of church and state and the flexibility of the constitution–prevail today. His famous rivalry with Alexander Hamilton modeled America’s current two-party system and provided a basis for centuries of political discourse.

Despite written record confirming Jefferson’s endorsement of slavery and open opinion that blacks were an inferior race, as well as DNA evidence that reveals at least one sexual relationship with a slave mistress, the founding father’s reputation has for the most part remained favorable in the public eye, a testament to his pivotal role in history.

Birthday festivities will be celebrated today at Monticello, Jefferson’s former estate and a popular historical landmark. Music from U.S. Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, a presentation of wreaths and a commemorative speech fill the schedule. Likewise, the University of Virginia has organized various celebrations in honor of Jefferson for Founder’s Day as well.

He may be 268, but his lasting presence in the Capitol indicates that Jefferson is far from over-the-Hill.

(More on TIME.com: See Jefferson’s Monticello)

1 comments
DanielMcc
DanielMcc

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