29¢ Thomas Jefferson
Great Americans Series
Issue Date: April 13, 1993
City: Charlottesville, VA
Printed By: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Engraved
Perforations: 11.5 x 11
Issued between 1980 and 1999, the Great Americans definitive series features 63 designs, making it the larges set of face different Regular Issue stamps issued in the 20th century. One stamp honors a couple (Lila and Dewitt Wallace) while the remaining 62 commemorate individuals.
The series is characterized by a standard definitive size, simple design and monochromatic colors. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced most of the stamps, but some were printed by private firms. Several stamps saw multiple printings. The result is many different varieties, with tagging being the key to understanding them.
The 29¢ Great Americans stamp pictures Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson in the American Revolution
and the Prelude to the Presidency
In 1775, Jefferson was selected to serve as a member of the Continental Congress. He quickly became a leader of that congress, and was asked to draft a “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms,” after the American Revolution began. Jefferson was a member of the committee appointed to draft a declaration of independence. The other members, which included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, unanimously selected Jefferson to prepare the first draft – and they approved it with very few changes.
The Declaration of Independence is Jefferson’s masterpiece, as well as his best-known work. Jefferson said his goal was to “place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent....” The Declaration of Independence stated, with moving eloquence, the position of the American patriots, and backed it up with strong legal argument. Although few of the ideas contained within the Declaration were new, it summarized and stated the American cause so well that many historians agree that it ranks among the greatest documents in human history. Its statement that all people have certain rights has inspired freedom-loving people all over the world.
Jefferson resigned from the Continental Congress in September 1776, and rejoined the Virginia House of Delegates. He had no interest in military affairs and felt he would best serve as a lawmaker in Virginia. Jefferson dedicated himself to creating laws reforming land ownership and protecting religious freedom, as well as other improvements. The Virginia Assembly elected Jefferson governor to one-year terms in 1779 and 1780. During that time, Virginia sent most of its armed forces to fight elsewhere, as ordered by General Washington. When British forces invaded, Jefferson himself was nearly captured. The people of Virginia criticized Jefferson for leaving the state defenseless. Although an investigation cleared his name, it was years before Jefferson’s reputation was fully restored in Virginia.
In 1783, Jefferson was elected to Congress. He was key in shaping the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. In May 1784, Congress sent Jefferson to France to aid in negotiating commerce treaties. The next year, Franklin resigned as Minister to France, and Jefferson replaced him. He returned to the U.S. in 1789, and President Washington immediately requested that he serve as the Secretary of State. During this period, Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton grew to become fierce political rivals. However, President Washington supported most of Jefferson’s foreign policies.
Jefferson was nominated by the Democratic-Republican Party as a candidate for President in the 1796 election. Jefferson finished second after John Adams, and according to the law of the day, became the vice-president. However, as the government was dominated by the Federalist Party, Jefferson had little to do with the administration.
Birth of Jean-Antoine Houdon
Renowned sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon was born on March 25, 1741, in Versailles, France. He sculpted a number of high-profile figures during his life, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Fulton, Napoleon Bonaparte, and more.
Houdon’s father was a servant who worked in the home of a high-ranking aristocrat. In 1749, that home began hosting the newly created Élèves Protégés, a special school for people who received the Prix de Rome. As a result, Houdon grew up surrounded by the day’s best crown-sponsored artists. He apprenticed with sculptor Michel Ange Slodtz and then won the Prix de Rome himself in 1761, enabling him to study at the Élèves Protégés.
Houdon enjoyed his time in Rome, studying classical sculptures. In fact, the students were tasked with copying famed marble sculptures that would be displayed in the royal gardens in France. Houdon returned to Paris in 1768 and was invited to show his work at the prestigious Salon. While his work was widely praised by many, he didn’t impress the director of major crown commissions. However, Houdon’s 1771 terracotta bust of French philosopher Denis Diderot earned him significant attention, particularly from foreign nobles and other high-society figures. Houdon created several busts of author Voltaire that inspired valuable commissions for seated Voltaire sculptures.
In the 1770s and 80s, Houdon befriended a number of American dignitaries living in Paris, including Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, and Thomas Jefferson. He sculpted each of these men and Jefferson encouraged him to go to America to sculpt George Washington. Houdon spent weeks in 1785 at Washington’s Mount Vernon home and studied him carefully. On one occasion, Washington became angry about a horse trader’s prices and ordered the man off his property. At that moment, Houdon found the expression of pride and strength that inspired a nation. Houdon set off to capture the expression in his sculpture. The artist prepared a clay bust and a plaster life mask of Washington before returning to France to complete his work. Houdon’s bust of Washington is regarded as the most accurate representation of George Washington’s face in existence.
Houdon was commissioned to sculpt a wide variety of figures – magicians, magistrates, ministers, and the royal family. He also created plaster models of statues that he hoped would impress patrons to pay for them to be made in bronze or marble.
In 1786 he got married and had three daughters. His sculptures of them are considered some of his finest works picturing children. During the French Revolution he fell out of favor because of his connections to the royal court. But after the war, he again held a prominent position in the art community and worked on the Column of the Grand Armée. He was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1804. He completed his final American commissions the year before, depicting inventor Robert Fulton and poet Joel Barlow. He also did his last commission for imperial Russia of Czar Alexander I. Houdon died on July 15, 1828.
Read more about Houdon’s life and work and view photos of his sculptures.