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The life of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, is one of the most interesting and instructive among those of the distinguished persons whose names are identified with American history. In the character of this extraordinary man, as well as in the events of his life, we are presented with a combination of philosophical attainments and political talents, of benevolent feelings, and ambitious aspirations, rarely found united in the same individual, and still more rarely resulting in the popular veneration bestowed upon his name by a large portion of his countrymen; while by others he has been regarded in an unfavorable light as a statesman and a ruler, particularly in the effect of his political principles upon the American people, over whom he acquired such an astonishing ascendency.
The family of Jefferson were among the early emigrants from Great Britain to Virginia. “ The tradition in my father's family," the subject of this sketch says, in his own memoirs, “was, that their ancestor came to this country from Wales, and from near the mountain of Snowdon ; but the first particular information I have of any ancestor, was of my grandfather, who lived at the place in Chesterfield called Osborne's, and owned the lands, afterward the glebe of the parish. He had three sons: Thomas, who died young; Field, who settled on the waters of the Roanoke, and left numerous descendants; and Peter, my father, who settled on the lands I still own, called Shadwell, adjoining my present residence. He was born February 29, 1707-8, and intermarried, 1739, with Jane Randolph, of the age of 19, daughter of Isham Randolph, one of the seven sons of that name and family settled in Goochland. They traced their pedigree far back in England and Scotland, to which let every one ascribe the faith and merit he chooses."
At the above-named place, Shadwell, in Albemarle county, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson was born, on the 2d of April (old style), 1743. His
father, Peter Jefferson, a man of some distinction in the colony, died in 1757, leaving a widow (who lived until 1776) with two sons and six daughters. These children inherited a handsome estate from their father : Thomas, the eldest, received the lands which he called Monticello, on which he resided, when not in public life and when he died.
At the age of five, his father placed him at an English school, and at nine years of age he commenced the study of Latin and Greek, with Mr. Douglass, a Scotch clergyman, who also instructed him in French. On the death of his father, he was placed under the tuition of another clergyman, Mr. Maury, a classical scholar, with whom he pursued his studies two years. In the spring of 1760, he entered William and Mary College, where he continued two years. Dr. William Small, of Scotland, was then professor of mathematics, and is described by Mr. Jefferson as profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, and an enlarged and liberal mind. He, most happily for me,” he adds, “became soon attached to me, and made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science, and of the system of things in which we are placed. He returned to Europe in 1762, having previously filled up the measure of his goodness to me, by procuring for me, from his most intimate friend, George Wythe, a reception as a student at law under his direction, and introducing me to the acquaintance and familiar table of Governor Fauquier, the ablest man who had ever filled that office. Mr. Wythe continued to be my faithful and beloved mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life. In 1767, he led me into the practice of the law, at the bar of the general court, at which I continued until the revolution shut
the courts of justice."
“ It has been thought,” says Mr. Wirt, “ that Mr. Jefferson made no figure at the bar; but the case was far otherwise. There are still extant, in his own fair and neat hand, in the manner of his master, a number of arguments which were delivered by him at the bar, upon some of the most intricate questions of the law; which, if they shall ever see the light, will vindicate his claim to the first honors of his profession. It is true, he was not distinguished in popular debate ; why he was not so, has often been matter of surprise to those who have not seen his eloquence on paper, and heard it in conversation. He had all the attributes of the mind, and the heart, and the soul, which are essential to eloquence of the highest order. The only defect was a physical one: he wanted volume and compass of voice for a large, deliberative assembly; and his voice, from the excess of his sensibility, instead of rising with his feelings and conceptions, sank under their pressure, and became guttural and inarticulate. The consciousness of this infirmity repressed any attempt in a large body in which he knew he must fail. But his voice was all-sufficient for the
purposes of judicial debate ; and there is no reason to doubt that, if the service of his country had not called him away so soon from his profession, his fame as a lawyer would now have stood upon the same distinguished ground which he confessedly occupies as a statesman, an author, and a scholar.
“ At the time of Mr. Jefferson's appearance,” the same writer remarks, " the society of Virginia was much diversified, and reflected pretty distinctly an image of that of England. There was, first, the landed aristocracy, shadowing forth the order of English nobility; then the sturdy yeomanry, common to them both; and last, a fæculum of beings, as they were called by Mr. Jefferson, corresponding with the mass of the English plebeians.
“Mr. Jefferson, by birth, belonged to the aristocracy: but the idle and voluptuous life which marked that order had no charms for a mind like his. He relished better the strong, unsophisticated, and racy character of the yeomanry, and attached himself, of choice, to that body. He was a republican and a philanthropist, from the earliest dawn of his character. He read with a sort of poetic illusion, which identified him with every scene that his author spread before him. Enraptured with the brighter ages of republican Greece and Rome, he had followed with an aching heart the march of history which had told him of the desolation of those fairest portions of the earth ; and had read, with dismay and indignation, of that swarm of monarchies, the progeny of the Scandinavian hive, under which genius and liberty were now everywhere crushed. He loved his own country with a passion not less intense, deep, and holy, than that of his great compatriot (John Adams): and with this love he combined an expanded philanthropy which encircled the globe. From the working of the strong energies within him, there arose an early vision, too, which cheered his youth and accompanied him through life-the vision of emancipated man throughout the world."*
While he was a student of law at Williamsburg, in 1765, Mr. Jefferson heard the celebrated speech of Patrick Henry, in the Virginia house of delegates, against the stamp-act; animated by the eloquence of Henry, he from that time stood forward as a champion for his country.
In 1769, he was chosen by the people of his county to represent them in the legislature of the colony, a station that he continued to fill up to the period of the revolution. In that capacity he made an effort, which was not successful, for the emancipation of slaves in Virginia.
In January, 1772, Mr. Jefferson married Mrs. Martha Skelton, a widow of twenty-three years of age, daughter of Mr. John Wayles, an eminent lawyer of Virginia, who left her a considerable fortune.
On the 12th of March, 1773, Mr. Jefferson was chosen a member of the first committee of correspondence established by the colonial legisla
• Wirt's Eulogy on Adams and Jefferson.