The Thomas Jefferson Presidential Dollar is the third in the multi-year Presidential Dollar coin series, and was released into circulation on August 16, 2007. The day before the general release, the U.S. Mint held an official release ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. One of the highlights of the release ceremony was the unveiling of results from a Gallup Poll the Mint did, asking Americans some basic questions about the first four U.S. presidents. If you'd like to try the quiz, and see how you stack up against the 1,000 random Americans they surveyed, you can find the questions in my article about the Thomas Jefferson Dollar release event.
Thomas Jefferson on U.S. CoinsThomas Jefferson is one of our nation's favorite Founding Fathers, and has been featured on several U.S. coins prior to the Presidential Dollar that honors him. The most well-known is the Nickel (5 cent piece.) Jefferson's portrait has appeared on the Nickel since 1938, when it was changed from the Buffalo Nickel design. Jefferson has also appeared on two commemorative coins. The first one was a gold Dollar issued in 1903 to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The Purchase was negotiated 100 years earlier by Jefferson during his first term as president. The other commemorative coin to honor Jefferson was a silver Dollar issued in 1993 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Jefferson's birth. It featured a portrait of Jefferson on the obverse and his residence, Monticello, on the reverse.
Thomas Jefferson also appears on two additional coins issued by the U.S. Mint, although the coins aren't specifically about him. The South Dakota Statehood Quarter, issued in 2006, depicts Mount Rushmore, of which a sculpture of Jefferson's face is a part. Another coin which commemorates Mount Rushmore is a Half Dollar issued in 1991 to note the 50th anniversary of this majestic mountainside sculpture. Jefferson also appears on the U.S. $2 bill and the $100 Series EE Savings Bond.
Thomas Jefferson Prior to Becoming U.S. PresidentJefferson was born in 1743, in Virginia, to well-off parents from whom he inherited a 5,000 acre plantation. (He later inherited 11,000 more acres from his father-in-law.) Jefferson had the benefit of an excellent education, and he was admitted to the practice of Law in the General Court of Virginia in 1767. In 1775 he was elected to Contentintal Congress, the body of legislators that would issue the Declaration of Independence the following year. The 33 year old Thomas Jefferson was the man they chose to write the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, and although the document enjoyed numerous revisions before reaching its final state, the eloquent and inspirational words were largely his own.
Following his work on the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson would go on to serve terms as Governor of Virginia (1779-1781), Foreign Minister to France (1784-1789, where because of his service in France he missed participating in the Constitutional Convention where the Constitution of the United States was drawn up and ratified,) first U.S. Secretary of State (1790-1793), and finally Vice President under rival John Adams(1797-1801.)
Thomas Jefferson as PresidentJefferson ran for the United States Presidency against John Adams in 1797. As the second vote-getter, he attained the office of Vice President under Adams as a result of the way the Constitution stipulated such things should be done at the time. Jefferson went on to be elected President in a very close electoral situation in 1801, eventually serving two full terms until 1809.
Some of the major events that took place during Jefferson's presidency included the negotiation of the Louisiana Purchase and the seminal Lewis & Clark Expedition, (which included among its party a young Native American girl called Sacagawea, who also appears on a U.S. Dollar coin.) Jefferson faced down international threats to U.S. shipping interests by sending the nascent U.S. Navy to suppress the Barbary Coast pirates, and he walked a fine diplomatic line to keep the U.S. from becoming involved in the strife between England and France.
Although Jefferson's first term as president largely enjoyed public approval, he ran into problems in his second term. Although he had done whatever he could reasonably do to protect the interests of U.S. shipping and international commerce during his first term, the situation between England and France deteriorated to the point where U.S. ships were no longer able to trade with these nations as a neutral entity. Both countries took hostile actions against U.S. shipping in an effort to prevent the opposing nation from benefiting from the commerce, and Jefferson's solution was to embargo all foreign trade where U.S. ships entered foreign ports. The Embargo Acts were disastrous to segments of the U.S. economy, and Jefferson was an extremely unpopular man when he left the Presidency.
Jefferson's Life After the PresidencyJefferson was always bitter about the Presidency after he left it, and he never returned to elected public service. He did, however, fulfill a lifelong dream when he founded the University of Virginia near the end of his life. Following the War of 1812, when the British burned the national archives, Jefferson arranged for his 6,700 books to form the foundation of the Library of Congress.
Like all men, Jefferson wasn't perfect. Although he wrote that "all men are created equal," he believed that blacks were inferior to the white race. He kept some 200 slaves on his plantations, while writing stirring documents about liberty for all. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 at the age of 83, heavily in debt.
White House profile of President Thomas Jefferson.
Well-sourced and peer-reviewed Wikipedia entry on Thomas Jefferson.
Several articles on the About.com American History Web site.