Life Of Thomas Jefferson


Michael Benton, Contributor

| updated

Copy Link Code

life of thomas jeffersonThomas Jefferson's life began in 1743 at his family's estate, known as Shadwell, in the Piedmont region of Virginia. Born to a planter and surveyor named Peter Jefferson and the daughter of a ship's captain, Jane Randolph, the baby Thomas was destined to a life of privilege and expectation. It was here, between the civilized world of colonial aristocrats to the East and vast, uncharted territory to the West, that the young Jefferson formed his relation with the world. The qualities that he would demonstrate later as a Founding Father and the third President of the United States, were first developed in his experience on this border between European civilization and one that had more carefully preserved its natural beauty. For Thomas Jefferson, early life on this frontier may have inspired the passion for natural science and exploration that the elder President would display with his call for an expedition led by Lewis & Clark. The renowned architecture he designed, including the original University of Virginia campus and his Monticello estate, may find its roots in the constant remodeling of Shadwell under his father. Even his political career depended on the legacy of his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather having served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. It must be true that for Thomas Jefferson, personal life inspired the objectives of his public life as well.

In 1757, Thomas Jefferson's father died unexpectedly, leaving most of his land and property to his eldest son. But the young Jefferson could not collect his inheritance until the age of 21 and the Monticello estate, along with nearly 30 slaves, were kept in trust. When he turned 16, Jefferson left for Williamsburg, VA and enrolled in the University of Virginia where he would establish himself as a polymath whose curiosity could not be extinguished in any given subject. Under the tutelage of the renowned professor Dr. William Small, Jefferson completed his major studies in only two years. It was then that he chose law as a profession and began five years of study through a clerkship with the eminent attorney George Wythe. In 1767, Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia State Bar and opened a law office in Williamsburg where he built up a clientele of well-established families. The life of Thomas Jefferson would take a drastic turn, along with everyone in the colonial world, when American independence became a reality.

After the passage of the Intolerable Acts by British Parliament in 1774, Thomas Jefferson published a series of resolutions on the right of free men to govern themselves. It was finally as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress that Thomas Jefferson truly emerged in the national light as he was selected to draft the Declaration of Independence. Although controversial aspects of his personal life would later come to light that may have tainted his legacy, Thomas Jefferson still laid the foundation for future efforts towards equality and freedom for all Americans.