Historical Figures

What is written on Thomas Jefferson's gravestone?
Answered by HowStuffWorks
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  1. Thomas Jefferson had an extremely distinguished life. He was the Governor of Virginia, the United States' first Secretary of State, the second Vice President and the third President of the United States. Jefferson studied architecture, horticulture, language and music, to name a few subjects, and he is now considered one of the most important voices and thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment. He oversaw the Louisiana Purchase, which literally doubled the size of the United States, and he contributed numerous original ideas that are still important to political discourse today. Yet despite all of these monumental achievements, Jefferson only wanted three facts about his life enshrined in writing on his gravestone.

    One thing Jefferson wanted carved on his tomb was the fact that he founded the University of Virginia, which is today the only American university that is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Another achievement for which Jefferson wanted to be remembered was his authorship of the Declaration of Independence, which, in addition to its vital rhetorical role in the fight for American independence, has served the world as an indefatigable argument for freedom and representative government. The third fact that Jefferson wanted written on his gravestone was his role as the creator of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which formed the basis for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

    Jefferson's belief in religious freedom under the law -- which was quite progressive at the time -- is often attributed to Jefferson's own lack of religious affiliation. Thomas Jefferson seemed to profess slightly different amounts of religious belief and unbelief at different times in his life, but he is generally remembered as a Deist, or a person who believes in a supernatural creator but refuses to ascribe to the dogma of any particular religion. For example, Jefferson believed the Christian Gospel authors were not properly intellectual, but "ignorant, unlettered men" [source: Waldman]. He thought they fabricated the stories of Jesus' miracles, and he did not trust the oral tradition that gave birth to the Gospels. At the same time, Jefferson thoroughly admired Jesus as a moral teacher, even if he did not believe in his divinity.

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