Tuesday, April 13, 2010

President Jefferson's Dogs

Today is the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, who was the third president of the United States.  Mr. Jefferson was born in 1743, and if he hadn't already died, he would be 267 years old today.  But Thomas Jefferson did die, and it was on July 4, 1826, which was the exact same day that John Adams died.

People say that Mr. Jefferson was a very smart man.  He started studying Latin and Greek and French when he was 9 years old.  Then when he was only 16, he went to the College of William and Mary, and he graduated two years later.  After that, he studied law and became a lawyer.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jefferson's father died and left him 5,000 acres of land plus a whole bunch of slaves.  So Mr. Jefferson built a house called Monticello on that land.  He lived there for about 70 years, all together, and during that time, he owned over 600 slaves.

Mr. Jefferson did not like dogs when he was a young man, which makes me think that he was not nearly as smart as people say he was.  The reason he didn't like dogs was because dogs kept bothering his sheep and sometimes they killed and ate his sheep, which would be a perfectly natural thing for a dog to do, in my opinion.

But Mr. Jefferson was very unreasonable about this, and here's what he wrote in a letter to a friend:  "I participate in all your hostility to dogs and would readily join in any plan of exterminating the whole race.  I consider them the most afflicting of all follies for which men tax themselves."  Mr. Jefferson also thought that dogs should wear collars with their owners' names on them, so everyone would know who to blame if a dog didn't behave himself.  This may be how the idea of license tags for dogs got started.

Anyway, Mr. Jefferson went from his colony of Virginia to attend an important meeting called the Second Continental Congress, and he was part of a committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence.  In fact, Mr. Jefferson wrote the whole first draft of this paper, so he got most of the credit later.  Then the men who were at the meeting signed the Declaration, and this made the British mad, so the Revolutionary War got started.

When the War was over, George Washington got to be the president, and he picked Thomas Jefferson to be the United States' minister to France.  So Mr. Jefferson was in France from 1785 to 1789, and while he was there he probably started messing around with one of his slaves, whose name was Sally Heming.  And more importantly, he discovered a kind of dog that he liked!

This dog was a native French sheepdog, which was called the chien berger de Brie.  Mr. Jefferson liked these dogs so much that he bought a pregnant female to take back to America, and she had two puppies on the boat.  Mr. Jefferson called her Buzzy, and he was very fond of her.  Later on, Monsieur LaFayette sent Mr. Jefferson some more of these dogs from France, and Mr. Jefferson bred them, and they ended up being the start of a line of American briard-type dogs.

Mr. Jefferson gave pairs of briards to some of his friends so that they could breed them, too.  But he warned everybody that if they neglected their dogs or let them go hungry, they would go out and kill sheep and ducks and turkeys and pigs.  So in this way, Mr. Jefferson was teaching people to be responsible dog owners.

The first time Mr. Jefferson tried to be the president, he lost to John Adams, so Mr. Adams was the president, and Mr. Jefferson was the vice-president.  Then Mr. Jefferson ran again in 1800, and this time he tied with Aaron Burr, so the House of Representatives had to decide, and they picked Mr. Jefferson.

I don't know if President Jefferson had any dogs with him in the White House or not, but I do know that President Jefferson's secretary, Captain Merriwether Lewis, was chosen to go explore the new Louisiana Purchase land that the U.S. bought from France.  And Captain Lewis was smart enough to buy a good dog, the Newfoundland Seaman, to take on the trip with him.  But of course, I told you all about Seaman in a previous blog entry.

So after Mr. Jefferson got done being president, he went to Monticello to live with his dogs and his slaves and at least one of his daughters, because his wife had died many years earlier.  And the only other thing I will say about Mr. Jefferson is that I'm glad he finally started liking dogs, and I wish he hadn't made all those people be his slaves.


  1. Dear Piper....all I can say, is I agree with your last paragraph AND I did enjoy the history lesson! Amazing what one can forget after being out of school for a few years :)
    Love, AP

  2. Dear Aunt Patty,
    Mom also forgot a lot of history that she learned in school, but since I am just now learning it for the first time, I can teach it to her again. I wish we had studied history in obedience class, but all we learned about was dumb stuff like Sit and Heel!
    Love, Piper