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Thomas Jefferson



Summary 1766-1770

During his first years as a lawyer, Jefferson split time between Williamsburg, the seat of his practice, and Shadwell, where he re-established a base while supervising the construction of his new estate, Monticello. He traveled widely throughout the colony in pursuit of various cases, generally relating to land claims and disputes between debtors and creditors. At times, Jefferson relied on his law practice for up to half of his income, an unusually high proportion for the gentleman lawyers of his day.

Before long, the call of public service began to intrude upon his law practice. In 1769, just ten days shy of his twenty-sixth birthday, he was named as representative of Albermarle County to the lower chamber of the House of Burgesses, in fulfillment of the lengthy Jefferson family line. Jefferson could hardly have entered into the political scene at a time more fraught with foreboding.

For several years, tensions had been building between the royal administration of the Virginia Commonwealth and the colonial membership of the House of Burgesses. As the colonies began to become more self-sufficient, the British looked to gain a more secure imperial foothold on the American continent. The British won a great victory to this effect in the Seven Years War, which established their dominance over France along the Eastern Seaboard and shored up their position inland up to the Mississippi River. However, such success came at a cost, and the British government found itself perilously close to bankruptcy.

Since the colonies had benefited from the British victory, Parliament decided that they should help to finance the spoils of peace. Thus, in 1765, by virtue of the Stamp Act, duties were established on all minor business transactions in the colonies. All revenue was to revert to Parliament with the intention of maintaining Britains vast imperial network in America. At once, King George III and Parliament were inundated with cries of protest from the colonials, who had suffered import/export taxes in the past, but never a tax on domestic goods produced and traded within the colonies.

One of the strongest objections to the Stamp Act came from the House of Burgesses, in the form of several indignant resolutions backed by the revolutionary Patrick Henry. As a law student, Jefferson had witnessed Henrys impassioned orations against British control of American interests. A few short years later, he found himself at Henrys side, plotting to undermine the increasingly harsh colonial policies levied by King George III and Parliament.

The struggle to assert colonial rights was also a regional struggle. Like Jefferson, Henry hailed from the Piedmont region, and had no vested interest in the more conservative approach of the Tidewater gentry. Whereas the wealthier members of the old guard simply stomached new taxes, the new generation of frontier legislators was less inclined to tolerate what they viewed as increasing infringements on their liberty.

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