George Washington Thomas Jefferson


Michael Benton, Contributor

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If there is one man who is more highly regarded than Thomas Jefferson in the American pantheon of Founding Fathers, it is surely George Washington, the man who could have been king. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were separated by 11 years of age and both hailed from Northern Virginia. Both men were planters from the frontier regions and both made their fortune on inheritances of land and slaves earned through marriage to wealthier women. While a young Washington made a name for himself as a brave American officer during the French and Indian War, Jefferson was still a little boy who was learning French so that he could read more books from Europe. In 1758, Washington began his fifteen year service in the House of Burgesses where Jefferson joined him in 1769. Washington had lost in his first bid to become representative of Frederick County but defeated the same opponents a year later when he ran under the title of Colonel George Washington. Jefferson had become known for his success as a lawyer in Williamsburg and followed in his forefather's footsteps with his election to the House of Burgesses as the representative of Albemarle County. The resolutions proposed by Jefferson to the Virginia legislature were his first open proclamations of dissent against the British government. Washington had long resented the patronizing nature of colonial rule and feared that Americans would be held victim in their debt to the old empire.

When another leading Virginia politician was called back from the Second Continental Congress to take over the House of Burgesses, Thomas Jefferson was sent to replace him in Philadelphia. It was there that he met a lifelong friend and future rival, John Adams, who nominated Jefferson to write the draft for a Declaration of Independence. Fighting between colonial militias and the British army had already broken out in New England and the Congress had to make a decision on committing to war. The resolution to unify the colonies in a War for Independence passed with near unanimity and George Washington was nominated to take command. Thomas Jefferson fit into the George Washington timeline at a number of crucial points in his military and political career, including this moment at Independence Hall.

During the war, as George Washington served valiantly in command of the Continental Army, Jefferson returned to Virginia and served as a wartime Governor for two years. For all the bravery displayed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson was equally aloof; after fleeing the state capital under threat of capture, Jefferson believed his term was up in the summer and remained at his Poplar Forest plantation to the west of Monticello while members of the General Assembly grumbled about his lack of leadership and considered an official investigation. After the war, Jefferson was sent to France as a Minister to replace the world famous Benjamin Franklin. He returned in 1789 in time for George Washington to select him as the first U.S. Secretary of State. Jefferson thanked Washington by immediately subverting his political opponents on the Cabinet including the treasurer, Alexander Hamilton, and Vice President John Adams for their Federalist plans and policies. In 1792, Jefferson joined James Madison in forming an anti-administration party that would later be known as the Democratic-Republicans. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would never again share a friendship after the former's resignation from the latter's Cabinet in protest of Federalist policies enacted.