Thomas Jefferson: Drafter of the Declaration: How One Man's Foresight Shaped a Nation

Article excerpt

If you have gone to school, attended a worship service of your choice, reflected on your rights and individual freedom or recognized the remarkable control U.S. citizens have in shaping their government, you can thank Thomas Jefferson.

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Perhaps more than any founding father, Jefferson laid the foundation for the United States as a nation today. He led with incredible foresight--an almost prophetic ability to anticipate the needs of a young democracy and the principles required to safeguard its success. United with this ability were Jefferson's sharp decisiveness and his refusal to waiver in his beliefs, even when they defied the conventions of his day.

Volumes have been written on Jefferson's contributions, intellect, politics and legacy. But those two traits alone--foresight and decisiveness--make him a perfect inspiration for today's entrepreneur.

"We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed."

Thomas Jefferson was born April 14, 1743, the eldest son among eight children. His father, Peter, placed a high value on education and instilled in his son a love of learning. The elder Jefferson died when Thomas was only 14, and the future president sought paternal role models in his teachers.

One professor is credited with recognizing the young man's genius and stretching his mind: William Small of Scotland, who taught Jefferson at the College of William and Mary. Small introduced him to some of Virginia's greatest minds, and together, the young Jefferson and his mentors debated science and philosophy, ethics and politics. These mentors helped mold the mind that would in turn mold the nation.

Jefferson studied law, and by the time he was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767, was well-respected among his peers. He astutely observed that the law was a window onto the moral fabric of the nation.

Jefferson served as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1769 to 1774. At the time, colonial resentment against the British was growing, and Jefferson wrote an argument against the authority of the British Parliament to make laws in the colonies. And while his speech was said to be halting, his writing was eloquent and, combined with his radical opinions, thrust him into the public spotlight as a leader of the fledgling independence movement.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable Rights; that among these, are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness ..."

Jefferson's greatest legacy is the Declaration of Independence, the tightly worded rejection of the British crown's tyranny and the fledgling republic's rights. When the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in 1776, Jefferson was appointed as one of the writers of the declaration, along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. However, the four men chose Jefferson to write the first draft of the document because of his renowned writing style and his representation of the most influential Southern colony, Virginia.

Jefferson wrote the draft to include his personal ideas of a representative and egalitarian society, foreseeing the need for protection of fundamental human rights. The declaration was approved July 4, 1776.

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"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government."

Jefferson's love of learning played out in another important way: It l ed him to believe in universal education. Without education, he believed, a citizenry could not self-govern.

After penning the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, where he led the way to decisive new legislation, including what was seen as a radical new system of free public education. …