I’ve already read and reviewed several books in the Childhood of Famous Americans Series, but I believe that this one is my favorite thus far.
Although born at his family’s home, Shadwell, Thomas Jefferson spent some of his earliest years living at Tuckahoe, the home of his father’s friend, Tom Randolph. He enjoyed his time there, but Tom wanted to return to his family’s real home– he had heard that there were mountains there!
At the age of nine, Tom did return to his home. He had been so young when he left it that he didn’t remember anything about it – the rooms, the servants, the furniture, nothing. But he wasn’t disappointed by it – and he loved the mountains.
Although he had learned to read and write while living at Tuckahoe, Tom’s father decided that Tom needed to go to school. So he began studying with Mr. Douglass in Goocheland County, where he learned Latin, Greek, and French.
Tom’s father died when Tom was fourteen, but Tom continued his education, knowing that was his father’s wish. He began attending the College of William and Mary when he was sixteen. It was while he studied there that he met Patrick Henry and began to form a friendship with him. It was also during this time that Shadwell burnt down along with all of Tom’s notes from the books that he had read. Tom began to make plans for the new house that he would build in Shadwell’s place. He started the house’s construction when he was twenty-five and continued to make changes and improvements to it for the rest of his life. He named the house Monticello.
As a man, Thomas Jefferson contributed greatly to the founding of our nation. Although not present at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Jefferson was the primary author of that other great document of our nation’s founding, the Declaration of Independence. He also served as the third President of the United States, and helped to found a college for less privileged young men in his state. He himself listed the following three items as his most important life’s work.
1) The Declaration of Independence.
2) The law which gave each person the right to worship God in his own way.
3) The University of Virginia.
Early on in the biography, Tom learns that however hard or unpleasant it was, leaders must do what is best for their people.
When an older man is telling Tom a story, his excitement causes him to interrupt the story. However, he catches himself and apologizes for his disrespect.
As a young man, Tom describes the method I most like to use when discussing serious issues with people.
“Look here, Tom. If you don’t ever argue with folks, how do you always manage to make them think as you do?”
“Most of the time you do. How?”
Tom thought for a minute. Then he grinned. “I always try to be polite, for one thing. Sometimes, maybe, I ask a question or two to set the other fellow thinking. ‘Don’t you think?’ ‘I wonder if—-‘ You know—things like that. Pretty soon he is figuring things out for himself. That is what I am after. Now he doesn’t think of it any longer as being my idea. It is his idea.
“Folks always like their own ideas. He begins to feel that I am agreeing with him, not he with me. That’s all right. I don’t mind. We are agreeing. That’s the important thing.” [pgs. 171-172]
I can’t begin to express how much I agree with Tom’s analysis of people and ideas – or how many times I have personally witnessed and used its effectiveness.
In the first chapter, it is noted that Tom was taught to memorize things without understanding them. Thus he learned his ABCs without understanding that they would someday make words. He also memorized the Lord’s Prayer without understanding that prayer was the act of talking with God. Because of this, the story tells us that
“Somehow, though, he thought that, if you could say your prayers, you could make anything happen that you wanted to happen. He thought it was like a witch’s spell.” [pg. 24]
He later laughs when he remembers his foolishness for thinking that prayer was like reciting a spell.
Tom has Indian friends and in one scene Ontassete prays to ‘the Great Spirit’.
When Tom and his friends are discussing what they want to do when they are older, Tom says that he wants to fix things so that the poor can go to school just like the rich. It is unclear whether by this he means public, government-funded schooling, or privately-sponsored schooling.
‘Shucks’ is used once.
Conclusion. Like the other books in the Childhood of Famous Americans Series, Thomas Jefferson is interesting and informational while written at the level of younger readers.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret