Although best remembered as the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson also had a storied diplomatic career.  He served as the minister to France during the crucial few years following the Revolutionary War, from 1785 to1789.  Upon his return, he was appointed by George Washington as America’s first Secretary of State.  When Jefferson became “father” of the country’s oldest (as well as highest-ranked) cabinet department, the United States operated just two diplomatic posts and ten consular posts.  The Department of State itself consisted only of a chief clerk, three assistant clerks, and a messenger.  In 1791 the total domestic and foreign expenditures of Jefferson’s State Department were $56,000. 

During his tenure as Secretary of State, Jefferson emphasized a posture of neutrality toward European conflicts, a policy guidepost that would endure long past his time.  Although he failed to resolve pressing issues of American foreign policy, such as the protection of American territorial integrity from European powers, he laid important groundwork for his successors.  Later, as president, Jefferson used his sophisticated grasp of diplomacy in such notable achievements as the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from France.

  • Bernstein, Richard B. Thomas Jefferson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Brodie, Fawn McKay. Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History. New York: Norton, 1974.
  • Ellis, Joseph J. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
  • Hitchens, Christopher. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America. New York: Atlas Books/HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.
  • Howard, Hugh. Thomas Jefferson: Architect. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2003.