Michael

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michael

THOMAS JEFFERSON, author of the Declaration of Independence, was born on April 13, 1743
and grew up on the family plantation at Shadwell in Albermarle County, Virginia. His
father was Peter Jefferson, who, with the aid of thirty slaves, tilled a tobacco and wheat
farm of 1,900 acres and like his fathers before him, was a justice of the peace, a
vestryman of his parish and a member of the colonial legislature. The first of the
Virginia Jefferson's of Welsh extraction, Peter in 1738 married Jane Randolph. Of their
ten children, Thomas was the third. Thomas inherited a full measure of his father's bodily
strength and stature, both having been esteemed in their prime as the strongest men of
their county. He also inherited his father's inclination to liberal politics, his taste
for literature and his aptitude for mathematics. The Jefferson's were a musical family;
the girls sang the songs of the time, and Thomas, practicing the violin assiduously from
boyhood, became an excellent performer.




In 1757, when Thomas was only fourteen, his father died, leaving him heir to an enormous
estate. On his deathbed, his father left an order that his son's education, already well
advanced in a preparatory school, should be completed at the College of William and Mary,
a circumstance which Thomas always remembered with gratitude, saying that if he had to
choose between the education and the estate his father left him, he would choose the
education.




At seventeen, when young Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary he was tall,
raw-boned, freckled, and sandy haired, with large feet and hands, thick wrists, and
prominent cheekbones and chin. His classmates described him as far from handsome, a fresh,
healthy looking youth, very erect, agile and strong, with something of rusticity in his
air and demeanor. The college at that time had one truly outstanding educator, Dr. William
Small of Scotland, professor of mathematics. Jefferson said in his autobiography that his
coming under the influence of Dr. Small "probably fixed the destinies of my life". Dr.
Small gave Jefferson the views of the connection of the sciences and of the system of
things of which man is a part, which then prevailed in the advanced scientific circles of
Europe. As a student, Jefferson attended the musical parties that the lieutenant governor,
Francis Fauquier hosted. Jefferson was always present with his violin and participated in
the concert, the governor himself also was a performer. From Fauquier, a man of the world
of the period, Jefferson learned much of the social, political, and parliamentary life of
the Old World. George Wythe, who was then a young lawyer of Williamsburg, often frequented
the governor's table, and contributed immensely to the forming of Jefferson's mind.




Upon his graduation in 1762, Jefferson took up the study of law, under the guidance of
George Wythe. While he was a student, he was an eyewitness of those memorable scenes in
the Virginia legislature, which followed the passage of The Stamp Act. He was present as a
spectator in the house when Patrick Henry read his five resolutions, enunciating the
principal that Englishmen living in America had all the rights of Englishmen living in
England, the chief of which was that they could only be taxed by their own
representatives. On coming of age in April 1764, Jefferson assumed the management of his
father's estate and was appointed to two of his father's offices—justice of the peace
and vestryman. He gave much attention to the cultivation of his lands, and remained always
an attentive, zealous and improving farmer. Early in 1767, Jefferson was admitted to the
bar of Virginia, and entered at once the practice of his profession. Jefferson was an
accurate, painstaking and laborious lawyer and his business blossomed. He practiced law
for nearly eight years, until the Revolutionary contest summoned him.




His public life began on May 11, 1769, when Jefferson took his seat as a member of the
Virginia House of Burgesses, George Washington also being a member. Jefferson was then
twenty-six years old. On becoming a public man he made a resolution "never to engage,
while in public office, in any kind of enterprise for the improvement of my fortune, nor
to wear any other character than that of a farmer." On the close of his public career of
nearly half a century, he could say that he had kept this resolution.




On January 1, 1772 Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton, who was the daughter of John
Wayles, a wealthy Williamsburg lawyer, from whom she inherited a large property. Her first
husband, Bathurst Skelton died before she was twenty years of age, and Jefferson was one
of her many suitors. A few days after their marriage, he took her to live in his partly
constructed mountaintop home, Monticello. The next year, the death of Martha's father
brought them a great increase of fortune, doubling Jefferson's estate.




In March 1775, Jefferson was in Richmond as a member of the convention, which assembled in
the church of St. John to consider what course Virginia should take in the crisis. The
last act of this convention was to appoint a replacement in the case of a vacancy in the
delegation of Virginia to congress. That replacement was Thomas Jefferson and on June 21,
1775, Jefferson took his seat as a substitute for Peyton Randolph, who had been called
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