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Apr 19, 2021

Lillian Burry Wishes Thomas Jefferson a Happy Birthday

By Lori Draz and County Commissioner Lillian Burry

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He served as the first Secretary of State under George Washington and as vice president under John Adams. Jefferson’s fervent belief in democracy, republicanism, and religious freedom are felt each day in the liberties all Americans enjoy.

During his presidency, Jefferson doubled the size of the country after orchestrating the Louisiana Purchase and launched the Lewis and Clark expeditions to explore the lands west of the Mississippi. He signed the act that prohibited the importation of slaves. He waged war against the Barbary pirates. After retiring from public life, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia.

Jefferson was a true renaissance man. He was a farmer, a naturalist, and a devotee of ornithology (the study of birds) and oenology (the study of wine and wine making). He was considered a gourmet cook and was a prolific writer. Jefferson spoke and read in several different languages including English, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, and Latin. He was an astronomer, architect and lawyer.

Jefferson is one of the four presidents sculpted on Mount Rushmore, along with Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, and died on July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

County Commissioner and respected historian Lillian Burry has long been recognized as an admirer of the third President of the United States. She wrote the following in commemoration of Jefferson’s birthday.

“Thomas Jefferson, where are you? I often wonder where ingenuity, intelligence, curiosity, patriotism, dedication, and education are lurking. Here is a man who epitomized every one of these virtues, who practiced each with a sincerity that put him a level or two above the average man.  

“This has been my opinion since I was a little girl. Through my elementary and high school years, I read and learned more about him. Majoring in history in college, my convictions were sealed that Thomas Jefferson was a man for his time, most assuredly, but more than that, for all time.

“You can go through the alphabet citing the Virginian’s talents…astronomer, architect, culinary expert, economist, farmer, paleontologist, stargazer, traveler, university founder, wine connoisseur, and writer, to name a few. 

“We observe Thomas Jefferson’s birthday on April 13, celebrating the day he was born at Shadwell, Virginia, a British subject. But it appears Mr. Jefferson himself did not believe in celebrating his own birthday. It appears he discouraged any public observances throughout his life. That point was made vividly clear in 1803, while he was president, and others wanted to celebrate the day with proper respect. He respectfully, but firmly told his Attorney General in a letter, ‘The only birthday I ever commemorate is that of our Independence, the Fourth of July.’ Continuing, he explained, ‘…disapproving myself of transferring the honours and veneration for the great birthday of our republic, to any individual, or of dividing them with individuals, I have declined letting my own birthday be known, and have engaged my family not to communicate it.’

“Four years after Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, Virginia Congressman John Roane declared that both the Fourth of July and the 13th of April should be celebrated. And so, the first public celebration of Jefferson’s birthday was held April 13, 1830, at the Indian Queen Tavern in Washington, with Congressman Roane presiding over a party with more than 150 attendees.

“Happy Birthday, Mr. Jefferson. We all need to celebrate your natal day and the birth you gave to our nation.”