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Thomas Jefferson--founding father, farmer, architect, inventor, slaveholder, book collector, scholar, diplomat, and the third president of the United States. It is hard to use any one word to describe Thomas Jefferson. A complex man, unassuming and somewhat timid in person, yet his achievements were numerous and monumental. He was a founding father of our nation, doubled the size of the United States (the Louisiana Purchase), wrote fundamental doctrines about freedom that shaped our country (yet owned slaves), redesigned the plow (don't laugh, this small accomplishment had an impact greater than can be imagined), created the largest library in the America of his era, designed the rectilinear grid system, and the list could go on and on.
I personally find Thomas Jefferson fascinating because he was a man ever curious about the workings of the world around him. Any aspect of nature or human endeavors fascinated him. He read endlessly, wrote prolifically, and obsessively kept records on many aspects of his life and the operation of his farm. I first became interested in Jefferson when I discovered The Thomas Jefferson Hour, a National Public Radio program in which a humanities scholar named Clay Jenkinson impersonates Thomas Jefferson and answers questions in the first person from listeners of the show. The questions of people who call into the show are often about modern day dilemmas. Jenkinson as Thomas Jefferson, answers from the point of view of an 18th century man. Although the Jefferson of the radio show often states that "the present is for the living and not for the dead," I find that the concepts that Jefferson and the other founding fathers based our nation on were surprisingly well thought out and still have a great deal of merit more than two centuries later.
An important thing to keep in mind when thinking about Thomas Jefferson, is that he was a human being. And just like anyone else, he was capable of foibles and fallacies, hypocrisy and pettiness. As a man he was wider than he was deep. He created a myth about himself that has persisted to this day. But, that does not, and should not, diminish the things that he envisioned and accomplished.