This week I give another overview of the coins issued during the administrations of various presidents from George Washington to date with a small selection of illustrations. To include all of the design types—never mind different dates and varieties—would far exceed the space available. For that information see A Guide Book of United States Coins.
Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President (1801—1809)
Coinage: From a numismatic viewpoint, Thomas Jefferson is in the front rank of presidents. Not only were there many important issues during his administration but in later years he was showcased as well—most famously on the Jefferson nickel minted from 1938 to date, with two different portraits.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 to 1806 was commemorated two centuries later by several varieties of nickels made for general circulation.
The 1903 Louisiana Purchase commemorative gold dollar is another entry in his legacy.
During his term in office, coinage included copper half cents and cents, silver half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars, and gold quarter eagles, half eagles, and eagles. This era is laden with rarities, topped by the famous 1804-dated dollar, the first examples of which were actually coined in 1835 and back-dated. The 1803 half cent is a scarce issue.
Among copper cents the 1804 is scarce, and many die blunders have attracted attention, such as 1/000 instead of 1/100. The 1802 half dime is the most famous rarity in its series. All of the several dozen known examples are in circulated grades. Certain dimes and quarter eagles, both being of the same diameter, use the same reverse dies.
Among quarters the 1804 is by far the rarest date. Nearly all are in circulated grades. Half dollars include the Capped Bust design inaugurated in 1807.
All of the gold coins range from scarce to rare. Most famous is the 1808 quarter eagle, the only year of the Capped Bust type. Gold $10 eagles were minted until 1804, after which time the denomination was suspended as most coins were exported, thus preventing them from being used in domestic commerce.
Life dates: April 13, 1743 • July 4, 1826 (John Adams died the same day)
Term: 1801 to 1809
Political party: Democratic-Republican
Vice-presidents: Aaron Burr 1801 to 1805, George Clinton 1805 to 1809
Family: Married 22-year-old widow Martha Wayles Skelton on January 1, 1772. The couple had six children: Martha Washington Jefferson (called “Patsy”), Jane Randolph Jefferson; infant son (1777), Mary Jefferson (called “Polly”), Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson; and Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson. Mrs. Jefferson died in 1781. Before and after his marriage, Jefferson was well known as a ladies’ man. There was no spousal “first lady” in his White House, although his daughter, Patsy, now Mrs. Thomas Mann Randolph, stayed there for protracted periods, helped with entertaining, and gave birth to a son there.
Especially remembered for: Drafting the Declaration of Independence, the design of his home Monticello, skill in architecture, and knowledge of science. Work on finance during the Washington administration. His Embargo Act of 1807 was widely considered to be a failure. Nicknames: “Man of the People,” “Sage of Monticello.” One of four presidents honored on Mount Rushmore. Portrait widely used on coins (nickels) and paper money (especially the $2 denomination).
Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, Virginia, to a prosperous family. His father. Peter Jefferson, owned a plantation of 5,000 acres, which eventually passed to his son. His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, was well known in society.
Thomas graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1762, and afterward read law. Of a literary turn of mind, Jefferson read widely and built a memorable library (later to become a part of the Library of Congress).
Jefferson was talented as a writer, less so as an orator. Most of his contributions to the Virginia House of Burgesses (where he served from 1769 to 1774), and the Continental Congress (1775 to 1776 and again from 1783 to 1785) were letters and documents, including many with astute recommendations of policy. In 1776, he drafted the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson became minister to France in 1785. He was governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781, and minister to France from 1785 to 1789. In 1786, his draft of an act allowing religious freedom was signed into law. His sympathy for the French Revolution led him into conflict with Alexander Hamilton when Jefferson was the first Secretary of State in Washington’s Cabinet, a post he resigned in 1793. The aftermath of the French Revolution had consequences in the Adams administration (see above). In 1796 he ran for president but lost by three Electoral College votes to Adams. Due to a flaw in the Constitution (later corrected), Jefferson as runner-up became vice president.
In 1800, the Electoral College, controlled by Republican votes, endeavored to name both president and vice president from their party, the two contestants being Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr but were stalemated. The House of Representatives settled the tie, with Jefferson as the winner. Burr, named as vice president, later became involved in deep scandal and condemnation.
Jefferson opposed a strong centralized government and advocated the rights of states for most matters, bringing decisions closer to the people. By the time he was inaugurated in 1801, the first such ceremony to take place in Washington, the conflict with France had ceased. When the Barbary pirates sought to exact tribute from American vessels on the Mediterranean, the president sent forces to “the shores of Tripoli.” He engineered the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from that country, despite questions of its constitutionality. He also reduced the federal debt by a third and made many internal improvements. Attacking Federalist policies, he opposed a strong centralized government and championed the rights of states. Seeking to keep American vessels from depredations during the Napoleonic Wars between England and France, Jefferson signed the Embargo Act in 1807. This proved to be a disaster for American commerce and precipitated many difficulties.
It is part of the current trend to highlight the fact that he raised slaves and kept them in captivity, starting with fewer than two dozen and eventually comprising over 600 unfortunate souls—more slaves than owned by all other early presidents combined. Despite this, statues of Jefferson and institutions named after him have been seemingly immune from modern pressure to diminish the fame of other slaveholders.
After his presidency, Jefferson retired to Monticello, where he became an active correspondent with government leaders, participated in the design of buildings for the University of Virginia, and spent time in cultural and leisure activities. In his mansion, he had many medals on display for visitors, although Jefferson is not known to have been a numismatist.
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