A scientist, an Enlightenment philosopher, and one of the most accomplished—and complicated—personalities in American history, Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence and served his country as statesman, diplomat, and president. In 1803, during his first term as president, he orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States and established the nation as a continental power. This expansion, more than any other, forced politicians to confront the U.S. economy’s dependence on slavery. Jefferson, who enslaved more than six hundred African Americans in his adult life, wrestled with the rift between his philosophical beliefs and his reliance on bondage.

In 1786, when Jefferson was serving as the United States minister to France, he paid a visit to see his friend John Adams, then the United States minister to Great Britain. Adams suggested that Jefferson pose for the Boston-born artist Mather Brown, who was living in London at the time. This is the earliest known likeness of Jefferson.


  • Title: Thomas Jefferson
  • Creator: Mather Brown
  • Date Created: 1786
  • Physical Dimensions: w71.1 x h91.4 cm (Sight)
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; bequest of Charles Francis Adams; Frame conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee
  • External Link: https://npg.si.edu/portraits
  • Classification: Painting

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