Age of Impact
Examining an important individual who chose to make an impact at a young age
He was born the third of ten children on a plantation in Virginia. His father, a self-taught man with no formal schooling, ensured his son wouldn't suffer the same trial and entered him into school early at the age of 5. His son was a natural student, a voracious reader and a lover of science. His father died when he was thirteen and he finished his schooling with friends of the family, where he studied history, science, and learned the violin.
He enrolled in college at the age of 16, where he studied math and found a love of philosophy. He regretted how much he money he had spent along with the time dancing at parties early on in his education, so he dedicated himself to studying fifteen hours a day. He graduated in two years.
From there he worked in a law office and dedicated himself to his study of natural science, philosophy, and ethics. His first library of 200 books burnt in a fire, but in 3 years he had amassed 1250 books to his new collection. By the time he had died, he had sold that collection and had a new one of over 2000 books.
He was admitted to the Virginia bar and represented his county in the Virginia legislature, where he pursued slavery reforms, a professional stance that was sorely lacking in later in his personal life. At 25, he argued against slavery, stating that "everyone comes into the world with a right to his own person and using it at his own will. This is called personal liberty, and is given to him by the author of nature, because it is necessary for his own sustenance."
At age 33, he was one of the youngest delegates to the Second Continental Congress at the outbreak of the revolutionary war. He sought out friends and likeminded individuals valuing independence, and presented a final draft of his ideas to the group.
Thomas Jefferson, a few years older than me, changed the course of history with words we are a familiar with today.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
"A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."
"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
The Declaration of Independence is worth a re-read if you have a few minutes.
At his age, he would be a millennial today. He had had government experience, and by all accounts, he was a Renaissance man. But what is the use of all the talents in the world if you don't utilize them in the time they're needed?
All the men involved in the signing of the Declaration of Independence stood for something larger than themselves, an idea untested in history. They stood for an opportunity to make a government of the people for the people, by the people, a possibility. None of these men were perfect, certainly not Jefferson himself. But they knew the importance for all individuals to have chance to decide their own fate and direction in life, with their lives outside of the reach of a dictator.
America had a long, long, way to go after this was signed. And it still walks that road toward the more perfect union the Founding Fathers had in mind. While Jefferson had his own demons to fight, his decision to stand tall at 33 and use his talents created the existence of an experiment (still unfinished) that we benefit from today. He and others of his time took a leap and made a stand, enhanced by the intellect and ideas of the other men around him.
Our personal "Declaration of Independence" moments might not seem so obvious. There might not be a King George to stand up against. We might not feel prepared or ready to take the necessary stand against injustice and wrong doing in our own lives. We might not have the experience.
We can all take a lesson from Thomas Jefferson here in that you don't have to be established or of a certain age to make your mark on history.
Jake Smith is an engineer, son, athlete, scholar, corn chip connoisseur, lover, and "a stand up cat". You can reach him email@example.com