NAME: Thomas Jefferson. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Thomas Jefferson II (c. 1677-1731), a prominent landowner, militia captain, and justice of Chesterfield County, Va.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Tall (6 feet 2.5 inches) and thin, Jefferson had small hazel eyes, an angular nose, thin lips, sound straight teeth, a pointed chin, a long neck, and reddish hair that turned sandy as it grayed. In his youth he was heavily freckled and rather gawky. His hands and feet were large. He walked in a loping gait and maintained poor posture. “He sits in a lounging manner on one hip, commonly,” observed Senator William Maclay, “and with one of his shoulders elevated much above the other.” He paid little attention to fashion but dressed in whatever was most comfortable, often mixing styles from different periods. When Anthony Merry, a British minister to the United States, called on President Jefferson, he was appalled to find the chief executive “not merely in undress, but actually standing in slippers down at the heels, and both pantaloons, coat and under-clothes indicative of utter slovenliness and indifference to appearances, an in a state of negligence actually studies.” His health generally was good, except for severe headaches that struck usually after a personal loss and sometimes lingered for weeks. In later years he suffered from rheumatism. From 1786 his right hand was crippled (from an accident which occurred when Jefferson attempted to leap a fence while strolling with Mrs. Maria Hadfield Cosway, with whom he had a post-marital affair. He was 43 and she was 27 years of age at the time.)
PERSONALITY: “Mr. Jefferson displays a mild easy and obliging temper,” commented the duc de La Rochefoucald-Liancourt, “though he is somewhat cold and reserved. His conversation is the most agreeable kind.” Jefferson was open and approachable, yet he maintained an impregnable core of inner feeling that has frustrated his biographers. He had an insatiable curiosity about all aspects of life. His fondness for structure and order can be seen in the meticulous records he maintained on plant life and weather conditions at Monticello. Despite his many years of politics, he never acquired to attributes usually considered essential to success in that profession: a thick skin and a gift for oratory. He was acutely sensitive to public criticism and, although captivating in small groups, delivered notoriously unmoving speeches before large crowds. He tended to mumble softly out of earshot of much of his audience.
SOURCE: DeGregorio, William A. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. 7th ed. Fort Lee: Barricade Books, 2009.
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