HERE WAS BURIED
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.
The above words are inscribed on Thomas Jefferson’s gravestone. Where is “Third President of the United States of America?” Before his death, Thomas Jefferson left specific instructions for a monument to be constructed on his grave site. In reference to the words to be placed on his gravestone, Jefferson said, “On the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more.”1 He continued by writing, “because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.”
Why didn’t Thomas Jefferson rank “U.S. President” as one of his top three most memorable moments? Overall, historians view Thomas Jefferson quite favorably as president – on his worst day he’s still in the top ten. He appears on our money, on Mount Rushmore, and he’s got one of the best memorials in D.C. In fact, one line from Jefferson’s resume would get a person in the history books.
“because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.”
Perhaps the three accomplishments on Jefferson’s gravestone are what he views as his best. The fact that he left explicit instructions for his gravestone’s inscription demonstrates Jefferson’s need to exert some control over his legacy. Independence, religious freedom, and education. You can’t argue with those ideas.
Jefferson’s family erected the obelisk gravestone in 1833.2 The original gravestone was eventually replaced due to visitors chipping off pieces of the it for souvenirs. In 1882 Congress okayed a measure to provide funds to replace Jefferson’s original gravestone. The original obelisk was donated to the University of Missouri at Columbia – where it now resides.
July 4, 1826
Just months after Jefferson wrote instructions for his gravestone, he passed away. According to the Monticello website, Jefferson’s last words cannot be determined with certainty.3 Jefferson’s last recorded words are “No, doctor, nothing more.” However, some believe that Jefferson’s last words were “Is it the Fourth?” or “This is the Fourth of July.” In any case, Thomas Jefferson passed away on the 50th anniversary of July 4, 1776 – arguably the most important date in American history. Jefferson was not alone. In fact, in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams passed away on the same day at the age of 90. Adams’s last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He was mistaken. Jefferson had actually died five hours earlier at Monticello at the age of 82.4
Check out our book! We the People and the President takes an infographic look at the American president and the people he serves.
Go to Jefferson’s Grave.
“MU Teams with Smithsonian to Save Original Jefferson Tombstone Marker”
I visited Monticello last summer. Below are some of the pictures that I took of Monticello and the Monticello Graveyard.
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