Eloquence and PassionNov 01, 2023
I have no doubt that you could put together a list of Jefferson’s strengths that’s significantly longer than what I’ll touch on here - and that’s OK by me. My goal here isn’t to be complete and comprehensive but to highlight a few key attributes he brought to the table in his work with our other founding fathers as they laid the groundwork for our great nation.
Jefferson’s way with words, and more specifically the tremendous education and experience that skill was based on, was certainly a tremendous contribution. In fact, that expertise not only provided the basis for the eloquent script we remember each year on July 4, it allowed him to do it quickly! An article from the National Constitution Center called Why Did Jefferson Draft the Declaration of Independence? shared this:
Jefferson had 17 days to produce the document and reportedly wrote a draft in a day or two. In a rented room not far from the State House, he wrote the Declaration with few books and pamphlets beside him, except for a copy of George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights and the draft Virginia Constitution, which Jefferson had written himself.
In addition to his education and writing skills, he quickly developed strong relationships in political circles. While less than a decade between him being admitted to the Virginia Bar (1767) and writing that initial draft of the Declaration in 1776, his work made an impression. In fact, that brief period served as the groundwork for the majority of his public life that followed. Not long after serving as Virginia’s delegate at the second Continental Congress, Jefferson was elected by his peers for two consecutive terms as Virginia’s Governor. (These elections were done within the two house legislature at the time and were for one year terms.) That state service during wartime set the tone for many of the federal roles he held after - including that of Vice President and two terms as President.
Although there’s no shortage of documentation of the Jefferson family’s slave ownership, Thomas was one of the first staunch advocates of ending slavery. His initial draft of the Declaration of Independence actually included verbiage denouncing King George III for imposing slave trade on the colonies, but this was one of the pieces trimmed out later on. According to wikipedia, “In 1778 Jefferson supported a bill to prohibit the international slave trade in Virginia; the state was the first in the union to adopt such legislation.”
I realize you may be wondering why I chose this particular topic as a tie to any strengths he contributed as a founding father. The point I hope to make with this is that, while he and his family were indeed involved in one of the worst evils in our nation’s history, he did indeed believe that “all men are created equal” and he dedicated a large portion of his political career to laying a foundation for change. That willingness to stand firm for what he believed in added value in many ways but it also brought out one of his worst traits - one that created more than a little turmoil and ended relationships with some of his most notable peers. We’ll pick up there next time and we’ll look at some ways he was able to compensate for that.