Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography

By Merrill D. Peterson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Prologue to Fame

I confess, there are some men's constitutions of body and mind so vigorous, and well framed by nature, that they need not much assistance from others; but by the strength of their natural genius, they are, from their cradles, carried towards what is excellent; and, by the privilege of their happy constitution, are able to do wonders. But examples of this kind are few; and I think I may say, that, of all men we meet with, nine parts of them are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education. It is that which makes the great difference in mankind. The little, or almost insensible, impressions on our tender infancies, have very important and lasting consequences: and there it is, as in the fountains of some rivers, where a gentle application of the band turns the flexible waters into channels, that make them take quite contrary courses; and by this little direction, given them at first, in the source, they receive different tendencies, and arrive at last at very remote and distant places.

John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education. 1693.

TO BECOME my own biographer is the last thing in the world I would undertake," Thomas Jefferson remarked in his seventy- second year. "No. If there has been anything in my course worth the public attention, they are better judges of it than I can be myself, and to them it is my duty to leave it." Few men ever left a richer or more abundant record of a life well spent. From the time he became conscious of his own fame and of posterity's immense stake in the events with which he was associated, Jefferson dutifully

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