On March 27, 1775, 247 years ago today, Thomas Jefferson was elected to the Second Continental Congress as a Virginia delegate. During this time, he worked on drafts for several important documents, including the Virginia Constitution and The Declaration of Independence. Throughout his political career, Jefferson also served as the governor of Virginia, the first U.S. Secretary of State, and the third President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. His work as a writer and leader are legendary. His words continue to inspire generations of writers, philosophers, and leaders to this day.
Early Life and Career
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 on his father’s plantation of Shadwell in Albemarle County, Virginia. He grew up among the Blue Ridge Mountains and dreamed of building a house high up atop a mountain peak. Around the age of 25, he began working toward this dream. He contracted to have a clearing made at the highest point in the mountains above Shadwell, and there he began to build his dream home. He continued on this project over the next 40 years. This house atop the mountain became known as Monticello. Here, in his personal library, Thomas Jefferson accumulated thousands of books from his travels around the world which he would donate near the end of his life to form the beginning of the U.S. Library of Congress.
Thomas Jefferson joined the College of William and Mary at the age of seventeen. Here, he studied for two years before beginning his studies of law under George Wythe for the next five years. Then, two years later at the age of 26, he was elected to the legislature of Virginia, known as Virginia’s House of Burgesses at the time. Thomas Jefferson was an accomplished scholar, writer, and leader from a young age, making it natural for him to play a major role in the new nation to come. His “Summary View of the Rights of British America” was critical of King George III’s rule leading up to the war for independence in which Jefferson described the king as overstepping his authority.
Thomas Jefferson is perhaps best known for his drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Previous writings of Jefferson, while critical of the king, did not call for separation from the mother country. However, with the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson elaborated upon the reasoning for why continued participation in the British Empire had become untenable and separation was both necessary and justified. The grievances left unaddressed and unresolved for decades which led up to the need for severance were described in detail, as well as the natural rights possessed by all God’s peoples by virtue of birth – those rights infringed upon by the king; and the reason for why the king’s authority was forfeit.
Jefferson’s words ring true with resounding and timeless vibrancy across the ages of human history. That all men are created equal in the eyes of God – their creator – and that governments are endowed with authority by men to preserve the ability of those governed to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, only so long as said governments continue to do so; and not a moment longer, formed the eternal basis for understanding when a government is legitimate and may be allowed to exist, as well as when a government becomes illegitimate and must be opposed. These eternal words serve as a guiding stone for those across time and space who find themselves in the difficult position of having to determine whether an existing authority is legitimate and continues to serve the people, or whether it has gone astray and serves itself instead.
As an American and a writer myself, I am inspired at the craftsmanship of Jefferson’s writings, as well as the great accomplishments of his life. He lived the life of a farmer, architect, lawyer, scientist, and author. His achievements in life were too numerous to account for in just one article. One of his quotes which has stuck with me throughout my life is to “never trouble another for what you can do yourself.” I have always tried to live by these words, for I know others have troubles of their own, and any troubles of my own which I can bear myself saves those around me from new burdens of which they need not be appraised.
As a writer, I look to such prolific voices of the past as a measure of my own skill. I aspire to craft my words as great as those who came before and inspire the children of the future as our forebears inspire the leaders of today. Such is the way of the pen.
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