I have nothing definitive to say about Jefferson, a person of such complexity and seeming inconsistencies that he may be impossible to understand or explain. Jefferson, for the purpose of this course, is strictly being presented for his literary achievements. Jefferson brought to political and government writings an excellence that had not been seen since the days of the Revolution.
His words and ideas have both inspired, confused, and horrified readers for over 200 years. The writing is eloquent and clear. His support of individual freedom and dignity helped forge the creation of American Identity, central to our literary traditions while remaining a slaveholder who both exercised the worst of its features but also feared and despised the "Peculiar Institution." Click HERE for excerpts from his Notes on the State of Virginia which contain some of his statements concerning slavery (Source: University of Virginia whose founding Jefferson was instrumental in creating).
His major contributions to American literature would be his penning the main portion of the Declaration of Independence and leaving his library as the foundation of the Library of Congress. For additional reading on the complexity of Thomas Jefferson, read American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
For Jefferson, the values of political and moral equality, the scientific interest in variety and complexity in nature and culture, and a kind of skepticism, a doubt that absolute truth can be unequivocally attained in any generation, put him in the line of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James. At the same time, the fact that he seems to represent the voiceless and the marginal as a political leader even while his own interests and social position put him among the white male elite of his time points to certain tensions in his positions, of which he was not himself always aware.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Jefferson published only one full-length book, his Notes on the State of Virginia, but the Declaration of Independence and his letters are also significant literary achievements. The Declaration matters because of its significance for our national culture, the letters because of their frequent power to express Jefferson's public ideals and commitments, the importance of the many ideas and issues that fall under his consideration, and the clarity of his consideration. We should remember that Jefferson's sense of the historical moment conditioned practically everything he wrote.
The distinction between private audience, as for personal letters, and public audience, as for the Declaration, is interesting to pursue because Jefferson blurred them in interesting ways. Some of his letters were published, usually against his will but not without his recognition that personal letters could always become public, and yet he was somewhat reluctant to publish [complete text] Notes on the State of Virginia.
Source used: Frank Shuffelton. Georgetown University.
Below is a link to a brief biography from the Yale University.