U.S. President Thomas Jefferson After the Presidency

About the U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, biography and history of his post-presidential career.


3rd President



Some of Jefferson's friends urged him to seek a third term, but with the public furor over the Embargo Act, he knew he would face a bitter fight. Instead, the 65-year-old Jefferson chose to return to Monticello and watch his two close friends and proteges, James Madison and James Monroe, occupy the presidency for the next 16 years. During that time, as the "Sage of Monticello," he offered his advice on key decisions, and he continued to exert a powerful influence on the government until his death. Jefferson's only major problem during the peaceful and fruitful years of his retirement was financial; his expenses had always exceeded his income, and his openhanded hospitality at Monticello, combined with gestures such as cosigning notes for friends, brought him to the verge of bankruptcy. In 1815, this situation was temporarily improved when Congress authorized $23,950 for the purchase of his personal library--reputed to be the finest and the largest in the nation--as the basis for the new Library of Congress. Acquired in the purchase were some 6,500 volumes, which required 10 wagons for transportation to the capital. Despite such help, the former President's financial affairs continued to be chaotic until, in the final year of his life, he was at the point of losing Monticello to his creditors. The mansion was saved at the last moment by a gift of $16,500, contributed by friends and admirers after a nationwide fund-raising drive. Beginning in 1819, Jefferson pursued what he called "the hobby of my old age": the founding of the University of Virginia, only a few miles from his home. Jefferson not only designed the buildings (which, along with Monticello and the old State Capitol in Richmond, are the major examples of his skill as an architect), but he supervised their construction, laid out the curriculum, and personally selected the faculty. He lived to see the first classes open in March, 1825, one year before his death at the age of 83.

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