The Incredible Genius of Thomas Jefferson

Like Aristotle, Leonardo Di Vinci, and Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson is a universal genius.  Only thirty people throughout world history are recognized as universal geniuses, and only two Americans, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

 Thomas Jefferson is considered by many historians to be the most influential Founding Father.  He is also regarded as the most brilliant.  He is one of the most brilliant, if not the most brilliant American who ever lived. 

By occupation, Jefferson was a lawyer and plantation owner.  By preoccupation Jefferson was a politician, statesman, diplomat, writer, philosopher, and inventor.  

 A stranger once spent an evening at a traveler’s lodge where Jefferson spent the night.  He wrote: “When [Jefferson] spoke of the law, I thought he was a lawyer; when he talked about mechanics, I was sure he was an engineer; when he got into medicine, it was evident he was a physician; when he discussed theology, I was convinced he must be a clergyman; when he talked of literature, I made up my mind that I had run into a college professor who knew everything.”

 Thomas Jefferson excelled in at least fifteen fields of knowledge.

First, Jefferson was a brilliant naturalist and paleontologist.

 Jefferson meticulously recorded his observations of plants, animals, mountains, rivers, climate, and fossils.  He disproved some of the prevailing theories of the leading naturalists of the time.

He was fascinated with fossils.  Jefferson turned the entry room at Monticello into a natural history museum for his fossils and other artifacts.   

 One of his objectives for the Lewis and Clark expedition was to collect specimens of plants and animals and especially fossils.  Interestingly, Jefferson hoped the expedition would encounter living wooly mammoths

  As president, Jefferson worked hard to get paleontology accepted as a serious scientific subject.  Hence, Jefferson is considered “The Father of American Paleontology.”

Second, Jefferson was an expert economist and accountant.

Jefferson was deeply engaged in economics.  He translated the works of Europe’s leading economic theorists.  He personally handled the accounting for Monticello.  (Of course, he always spent more than he brought in.)

Third, Jefferson was an outstanding cryptographer.

  Jefferson developed a cipher system that was the basis for codes used in the 20th century.  He invented the Jefferson Wheel Cipher, which used 26 wheels containing letters and numbers on a rotating spindle.  The only way to break the code was to have an identical wheel cipher.   His ingenuity helped create the security systems we use today. 

Fourth, Jefferson was a renowned scholar and educator.

He entered William and Mary’s College at age 16 and graduated at 19.

He founded the University of Virginia, the first public university in the country.

Jefferson treasured his books.   When the British burned the Library of Congress in the War of 1812, Jefferson sold over 6,000 of his books to restart the library.  Today, those same books are in a special collection open to the public.

He could read proficiently in seven languages and he made it a rule to read books in their original language, and not rely on translations.  Little wonder Jefferson was called, “The Sage of Monticello

Fifth, Jefferson was an excellent musician

 He learned to play the violin as a child.  He later taught himself to play the cello.  He performed for recitals accompanied by his wife on the piano.

Sixth, Jefferson was a brilliant political philosopher.

  He is “The Father of the Declaration of Independence.”  He mentored James Madison, “The Father of the Constitution.” Jefferson convinced Madison of the necessity of a Bill of Rights, and Jefferson’s pupil became “The Father of the Bill of Rights.” 

Seventh, Jefferson was an outstanding architect.

Jefferson designed the rotunda for the University of Virginia, his own home at Monticello, and the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.  Monticello and the University of Virginia are on the World Heritage List. 

Eighth, Jefferson was a prolific writer and author.

Jefferson was a prolific writer.  The Jefferson Papers in the Library of Congress includes 27,000 documents, including about 18,000 personal letters of substance with key historical figures.

Ninth, Jefferson was an avid astronomer.

 Jefferson loved stargazing. He made sure astronomy was taught at the University of Virginia.  He designed and built the first observatory in America.

Tenth, Jefferson was a theologian.

Jefferson was a deist.  He believed in a divine creator who did not interact directly with mankind.

He regularly attended the Church of England with his daughter.

 He created his own version of the Bible, entitled “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,”  wherein he removed all of the references to Christ’s divinity or miracles. This is called the “Jefferson Bible.”

  Jefferson sometimes called himself a “Christian” with a small “c.”  He did not believe in the divinity or miracles of Jesus, and he detested organized religions with professional clergy.

Eleventh, Jefferson was prolific inventor and mechanical engineer.

He invented or further developed:

  •  –swivel chair
  •  –pedometer
  • folding chair
  • dumb-waiter
  • double acting doors
  •  –spherical sun dial
  •    –iron plow
  •   –revolving book stand
  •   –seven day “Great Clock” powered by the gravitational pull of cannonballs
  • simultaneous writing machine that made handwritten copies of letters.

  For his inventions and developments, he received several honorary doctorate degrees

 He also served as head of the U.S. Patent Office.  He issued the patent for Eli Whitney’s cotton gin.

Twelfth, Jefferson was a master linguist.

 Jefferson was fluent in five languages and could read over seven languages.

Thirteenth, Jefferson was an amazing archaeologist and anthropologist.

He inventoried Native American tribes with a precision and objectivity uncommon in his era.  While excavating Indian mounds, he invented the method of “stratigraphical” observation, digging, analyzing, recording one layer before going down to the next layer.  This has become the basic principle of modern archaeological investigation.

 He spent a lifetime collecting and cataloging Indian vocabularies.  He ordered the Lew and Clark expedition to collect linguistic records of all the tribes they encountered. 

Fourteenth, Jefferson was an expert in agronomy and horticulture.

 He was one of the first American farmers to use crop rotation to replenish the soil.  Jefferson was also one of the first to use contour plowing to reduce erosion.   He tested various potential fertilizers to see which ones best increased crop yield.  He is recognized as one of America’s first agronomists.

Fifteenth, and finally, Jefferson was a wine connoisseur and gourmet and “foodie”

Jefferson became acknowledged as a great wine expert.  He was also a gourmet. He introduced several foods to America, including ice cream, French fries, and macaroni and cheese.

In sum, it is little wonder that for generations, Jefferson was considered a “demigod.”

In conclusion, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy hosted a dinner in the White House honoring Nobel Prize winners.  He began his remarks, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”          

(Sources: Personal tours of Monticello and Library of Congress; “The Eagle and the Dove: Adams and Jefferson,” Parts 1 & 2, “American Ride,” BYUtv; Thomas Jefferson on Democracy, Saul K. Padover; “Thomas Jefferson, a Brief Biography,” http://www.monticello.org; Thomas Jefferson, White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov; “Thomas Jefferson,” Wikipedia)

2 thoughts on “The Incredible Genius of Thomas Jefferson

  1. This and the other true descriptions of our founding fathers and mothers has made me out of breath in awe. We don’t need to set them on pedestals; the wonder of their intellect, actions, and devotion puts them on pedestals of their own accord. It all resets my whole view of our own nation, and wells my heart with sublime gratitude. I choose to believe Jefferson’s limited view of the Savior was not fixed in stone; but maybe merely undeveloped. The insanity of doctrines that oozed from religions of the day may have soured him and caused him to spurn them. Who can blame him.

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