As the crafter of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson is widely viewed as the creator of America. His vision of human rights forms the basis for the Declaration, and his early years formed his vision of the world. By looking at Jefferson’s childhood and early adulthood we can learn what shaped the man who shaped America.
Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia on April 13, 1743 (Miller, 13) and was the oldest son of a family with 8 children (Jefferson, 4). His father, Peter, had little formal education but self educated himself to the point that he was selected to create the first map of Virginia (Jefferson 3). Although his father passed away when Thomas was 14 (Brodie, 38) the desire to learn had already been passed down from father to son (Brodie, 35). Thomas began his formal education at age five, being tutored at “the English school” on the plantation where he lived (Brodie, 49). At age nine he was sent to another school and began learning languages, although he was dismissive of his teacher’s abilities (Jefferson, 4). His father also insisted that Thomas be comfortable in the wilderness around the family home, encouraging him to ride horses, hike, swim and hunt (Brodie, 35).
After his father’s death Jefferson began meeting men who would influence him for the rest of his life. He studied classical languages and history under the Reverend James Maury; a foundation that allowed him to read classical literature his entire life (Miller, 14). He then went on to William and Mary College in 1760, where he studied under Dr William Small, a man who influenced young Thomas Jefferson so strongly that Jefferson later stated he “fixed the destinies of my life” (Jefferson, 4). Dr Small introduced Jefferson to George Wythe and Governor Francis Fauquier, older men who brought Jefferson to parties and discussions they hosted, which rapidly expanded his horizons and experiences (Jefferson, 4; Miller, 14). In addition to these discussions Jefferson was an avid reader and extremely studious, organizing his day into blocks of study time and then devoting hours to various disciplines: law, history, philosophy, rhetoric, politics, agriculture, chemistry and more (Miller, 17).
After completing his studies at William and Mary College, Jefferson decided to pursue the law as a career. Law schools did not exist at that point; you had to study under a lawyer until you were ready to begin practice on your own (Miller, 19). Jefferson decided to learn from his friend George Wythe, who he describes as his “faithful and beloved Mentor.” He became a lawyer of the Virginia General Court in 1767 (Jefferson 4-5) and took on clients both from within his hometown as well as from west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, one of only a few lawyers to do so. This increased his exposure to people from other backgrounds, continuing to broaden his horizons. His caseload grew to over 198 cases in 1769, the same year he entered the House of Burgesses (Burstein...