Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

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Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson - Patriot.
It was in 1765 that 22-year-old Thomas Jefferson was stirred by Patrick Henry's  celebrated speech against Great Britain's Stamp Act which put a tax on every piece of paper used by the colonists.  Henry resolved that only the Colony of Virginia should be able to levy taxes on its citizens.  From that time forward, Jefferson became a champion for American Freedom.  Note: Patrick Henry's famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech was to come ten years later 

Like most of the founders, Jefferson began his education at an early age: at 5 years he entered grammar school, and at 9 years he began his formal study of the classics.  He was the eldest son of Peter and Jane Jefferson, who had another son and 6 daughters.  At age 14, Thomas Jefferson inherited Monticello when his father died. 

In 1760, after two years' of study at William and Mary College, Jefferson became a "student-of-law" in the law firm of George Wyeth (also a future signer of the Declaration of Independence).  By age 26, his talents and abilities were so well known he was elected as a member of the Virginia Legislature, and three years later, Jefferson represented Virginia as a member of the Continental Congress.  Even at 33, Thomas Jefferson's talents and intellect were so well known that he
 was appointed by the delegates of the Continental Congress to write a draft of the Declaration of Independence, which he did in a matter of days.  With a few verbal amendments by Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, the Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776. 

How Old Were the Leaders of the American Revolution?

The average age of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was 44, and along with Thomas Jefferson, a dozen of the signers were 35 years old or younger!    We will revisit the genius of Thomas Jefferson and his many remarkable accomplishments in the future.  But here, the focus is on his and other Patriots', ages during these momentous times. Historian and author, David McCoullough, noted in a 2005 speech that "We tend to see (the Patriots) as much older than they were because we're seeing them in portraits by Gilbert Sturart and others when they were truly the Founding Fathers--when they were President or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and their hair, if it hadn't turned white, was powdered white...We see them as elder statesmen.  At the time of the revolution, they were all young.  It was a young man's--young woman's cause." 

Join us for the next Constitution Corner installment on your WOW web page, May 19, 2017