THOMAS JEFFERSON was born near Charlottesville, Virginia, April 13, 1743. His father was a sturdy backwoods surveyor, of giant size and strength, whom his son always remembered with pride and veneration. His mother belonged to one of the prominent families of Virginia, and from her young Jefferson inherited his love for nature, music, and books.
Jefferson's father owned a farm of nearly two thousand acres, on which he had thirty slaves; he raised large crops of wheat and tobacco. He was a stern, though kind, just, and generous man. He often said to his son, "Never ask another to do for you what you can do for yourself." He died when Thomas was fourteen years of age.
From early childhood, Jefferson was a bright boy. He had his mother's gentle and thoughtful disposition, and, by nature, took readily to reading. His love of outdoor sports saved him from overstudy. He became a keen hunter, was a dead shot with a rifle, a fine dancer, and rode a horse with great skill.
He entered William and Mary College, at Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia, when he was seventeen years of age. The college stood at one end of the main street, the old capitol at the other. On the same street there was situated an inn, known as Raleigh Tavern, in which was a room called "The Apollo," used as a dancing-hall. Here Jefferson was one of the leaders. He was described as a tall, thin young student, "with red hair, a freckled face, and pointed features," whom everybody liked, and who was brilliant at the college.
After graduating, he began to study law. When he became twenty-one years of age, he celebrated the event by planting an avenue of trees near his home. Some of those trees are still standing, a memorial to his love of nature and his desire to make things beautiful.
Among the friends of Jefferson, at this time, was a jovial young fellow, noted for his "mimicry, practical jokes, and dancing." Nobody thought he amounted to much, for he was most always frolicking. He and Jefferson became bosom friends, and spent much of their time together. They saw in each other qualities of mind of which the world did not yet know.
One day, while Jefferson was standing at the door of the capitol, a member of the House of Burgesses was delivering a most eloquent address. Everybody was amazed at the wonderful oratory of the man. Jefferson recognized him as his friend, Patrick Henry, who was making his famous speech against the Stamp Act.
Jefferson never forgot the scene. The sublime words that poured from Henry's lips took his breath away, and he listened as one enraptured. He resolved, from that moment, that he too would serve his country, and at once redoubled his studious habits, often spending as long as fifteen hours a day over his books. The result was, Jefferson became one of the most accomplished scholars in America. He was a brilliant mathematician, and knew five languages besides his own.
At the age of twenty-four, Jefferson began to practice law. His voice was not strong, and he was never a good speaker. His manner was hesitating and embarrassed, and his ideas did not find easy expression in spoken words. But he was a great writer and thinker, and, in a few years, he was known as the best lawyer in Virginia.
Jefferson was also a farmer. He loved to look over his broad fields and to attend to his growing crops. He once said, "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of a garden."
He delighted in experimenting with new things, and imported a large number of trees and shrubs to beautify the grounds of his home which he named "Monticello." He was as proud of being a successful farmer as he was of being a great lawyer.
Jefferson wrote the rules which he considered essential for a practical person to follow:
His manners were plain and simple. When he was President of the United States, he did not stand aloof from the people, as other great men of the day did, but he encouraged everybody to be on familiar terms with him. He did not have the splendid parties and balls at the White House that other Presidents had, but lived quietly and without much display.
Jefferson's great fame lies in the fact that he wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was then thirty-three years of age, and one of the youngest members of the Continental Congress. It is among the greatest of our national documents. He secured legislation in Virginia, exempting taxation for the support of any church, and was the founder of the University of Virginia.
At "Monticello," he entertained with lavish hospitality, sometimes having as many as fifty guests in his house at one time. Some of these visitors stayed for months, imposing on his hospitality, with the result that in his old age he was much reduced in his circumstances.