1938 3¢ Thomas Jefferson
Issue Date: June 16, 1938
First City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 87,101,233
Printing Method: Rotary press
Perforations: 11 x 10 ½
Color: Deep violet
Known affectionately as the “Prexies,” the 1938 Presidential series is a favorite among stamp collectors.
The series was issued in response to public clamoring for a new Regular Issue series. The series that was current at the time had been in use for more than a decade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, and a contest was staged. The public was asked to submit original designs for a new series picturing all deceased U.S. Presidents. Over 1,100 sketches were submitted, many from veteran stamp collectors. Elaine Rawlinson, who had little knowledge of stamps, won the contest and collected the $500 prize. Rawlinson was the first stamp designer since the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began producing U.S. stamps who was not a government employee.
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the most influential members of the Founding Fathers. Jefferson consistently advocated one of our nation’s most cherished principles. He championed the idea that humans are born with natural rights rather than those bestowed upon them by a government, and that governments govern only by the consent of the people.
A gifted intellect and political philosopher, Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment who embraced the age of science and reason. Jefferson served as America’s first Secretary of State and its second Vice-President before defeating John Adams in the 1800 presidential election.
After coming to office in the “Revolution of 1800,” Jefferson served two terms as the third U.S. President. His administration is credited with nearly doubling the size of the United States. Although he was not known for his public speaking abilities, modern historians regard Jefferson to be one of the most intelligent and accomplished of all U.S. Presidents.
Jefferson’s Youth in Colonial Virginia
Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743, the third of eight children. His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, was a descendant of original English settlers in Virginia. His father, Peter, was a surveyor, planter, and justice of the peace in Albermarle County. The Jefferson family prospered, and Thomas received private tutoring at the age of five. An excellent student, Jefferson received a classical education that included Latin, Greek, and French, classic and modern literature, geography, and natural sciences. He was also a gifted violinist who enjoyed dancing and horseback riding.
Peter Jefferson died when Thomas was 14, leaving his son 5,000 acres of land and several slaves. Jefferson graduated from the College of William and Mary with highest honors and began to study law. He reportedly studied up to fifteen hours a day. Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767.
Jefferson’s wide range of interests included architecture, farming techniques, and science. He applied scientific principles to virtually every aspect of Monticello’s daily operation. Detailed records of temperatures, expense logs, and even recipes duly written in Jefferson’s handwriting survive today as testament to the remarkable scope of his intellect.
In 1772, Jefferson married Martha “Patsy” Wayles Skelton, a 24-year-old widow with whom he shared a love of music. The couple had six children. Only two of the daughters survived until adulthood.
Political Career Begins
At the age of 25, Thomas Jefferson was elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses. Jefferson emerged as a passionate author who other officials turned to when they needed assistance expressing complex issues. As rebellion swept the New England states, Britain dissolved the House of Burgesses. Former members of the House of Burgesses, including Jefferson and George Washington, continued to meet secretly to organize a protest against British plans to deport colonists to England for trial.
A convention was called to develop a plan of action for Virginians, and Jefferson was elected to be a delegate. In response, Jefferson wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, a powerful presentation of Colonial terms for a settlement with Britain that sparked the independence movement. In the paper, Jefferson argued that the English parliament had no authority over the Colonies, accused the British of rejecting Colonial laws, and asserted that human rights are derived from the laws of nature. Jefferson fell ill and was unable to attend the convention. However, the pamphlet was read, and Jefferson became known as one of the most eloquent spokesmen of the patriotic movement.
The American Revolution
Jefferson served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1775. The following year, he was appointed to the Committee of Five, a group given the task of writing the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was unanimously chosen to draft the document, which was adopted almost exactly as originally written and officially issued on July 4, 1776.
In September of 1776, Jefferson resigned from the Continental Congress and was elected to the new Virginia House of Delegates. He helped reform and update the new democratic state’s laws. Jefferson’s idea of limited restrictions on individual rights, voting rights for small landowners, religious freedom, and separation of church and state were adopted. Among the 126 bills Jefferson drafted in three years were measures to abolish primogeniture (a system of inheritance in which assets in their entirety are inherited by the oldest son) and judicial and academic reforms.
As he guided Colonial Virginia through its transition to a democratic state, Jefferson built an estate named Monticello on the property his father had left him. He introduced the first olive trees in North America and experimented with orange trees. Jefferson’s innovations included a swivel chair, a dumbwaiter that transported food from the basement kitchen to the ground-floor dining room by use of a series of pulleys, and a duplicating machine.
As the American Revolution continued, Jefferson was elected governor of Virginia in 1779. British troops invaded Virginia twice during his term in office and established headquarters at Yorktown. Jefferson, who was a weak military strategist, narrowly escaped capture and resigned in 1781 in favor of a governor with more military experience.
After 10 years of marriage, Patsy Skelton Jefferson died in 1782. Her newborn daughter died shortly after, leaving the grief-stricken Jefferson with two young daughters to raise. Jefferson remained in seclusion for more than a year and never remarried. In 1785, Jefferson returned to public service as the U.S. minister to France, a position he held until the end of the Revolutionary War.
Upon his return to the United States, Jefferson served as the first secretary of state. Appointed by George Washington, Jefferson disagreed sharply with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s national fiscal policy. The primary debate was over funding the Revolutionary War debt. Hamilton believed the debt should be divided equally among the states. Jefferson, a firm advocate of states’ rights, believed that each state should be responsible for the debt it alone had incurred (Virginia had not accumulated a significant amount of debt during the war). Their disagreement led to further divisions in the new government, with Hamilton’s Federalists on one side and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party on the other.
As secretary of state, Jefferson supported France in its war with England. In 1793, he returned to Monticello and began working with James Madison to undermine Hamilton’s influence. Jefferson lost the 1796 presidential election to the Federalist candidate, John Adams. However, he had enough electoral votes to be elected vice president.
Election of 1800
Four years later, the Federalists lost the presidency and control of Congress. Jefferson defeated John Adams and received enough electoral votes to tie with Aaron Burr. The tie for first place in the election was to be resolved by the House of Representatives, which was controlled by the Federalists. In a lengthy debate, Hamilton convinced his colleagues that Jefferson was “by far not so dangerous a man” as Burr. After deadlocking in 35 ballots, the House of Representatives chose Jefferson by a margin of ten to four. Although he served one term as vice president, Burr’s refusal to concede defeat in 1800 caused Jefferson to replace him in the 1804 election and was one of the catalysts of Burr’s fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton.
Inauguration and Constitutional Crisis
As Jefferson awaited his inauguration, outgoing President John Adams and his Federalist party created nearly 200 new judicial posts in a bid to control the federal court system. The positions were filled with Federalist sympathizers.
Following his inauguration, Jefferson immediately instructed his secretary of state, James Madison, to cease the distribution of the appointments. William Marbury, a Federalist judge who was slated to receive one of the commissions, sought the intervention of the Supreme Court. The court’s decision in Marbury v. Madison set the precedent of judicial review, a concept that greatly expanded the role of the Supreme Court. As a legal process, judicial review by the Supreme Court determines the constitutionality of actions taken by the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
Commerce in the U.S. depended heavily on waterways during the early 1800s. None was more important to U.S. interests than the mighty Mississippi River and the port city of New Orleans. Fearful that the U.S. might lose navigational rights along the Mississippi, President Thomas Jefferson sent James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston to Paris to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans and its immediate surrounding area.
The U.S. was prepared to pay $10 million for the Louisiana parcel. Jefferson anticipated resistance to his proposal. However, war between France and England seemed inevitable in 1803, and the Louisiana Territory was a distraction for France. To focus his resources on the war, Napoleon Bonaparte abandoned his plan to rebuild a New World Empire and offered the entire territory of 530 million acres to the United States for $15 million.
The purchase was the government’s largest financial transaction to date, and it doubled the size of the United States at a cost of less than 3¢ per acre. Control of the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans provided a convenient method of transportation necessary for the development of the new region. The acquisition also distanced France, a potential enemy, from the young nation.
Jefferson replaced Aaron Burr with New York Governor George Clinton and easily won re-election in 1804. Once extremely popular, a series of actions caused public disapproval throughout Jefferson’s second term. Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel before fleeing west to take control of part of the Louisiana territory or possibly Mexico. When Burr was placed on trial for treason, Jefferson’s zealous campaign for the conviction of his former vice-president alienated many observers. At the same time, England and France were at war, and each nation prohibited any other nation from trading with their opponent. Jefferson responded with the Embargo Act, a move that banned trade with the two warring nations. Rather than punishing England and France, the Embargo Act severely damaged U.S. commerce and Jefferson’s popularity.
Jefferson returned to his beloved Monticello and resumed his habit of meticulously documenting every facet of Monticello’s daily operations. During the last years of his life, Jefferson renewed his friendship with John Adams. Many of the letters survive today, giving modern historians a glimpse into the thoughts of two of the nation’s most gifted founders.
Exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was issued, Jefferson and Adams passed away. Jefferson was buried at Monticello beneath the epitaph he wrote:
HERE WAS BURIED
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA