(3 minute read)
With America's Independence Day just two days ago, it's easy to ponder the aspirations and realities that our Founding Fathers faced back in 1776. This band of renegades having just peeled off from British rule was led by some of the most innovative characters in history. One of my favorites among them was Thomas Jefferson. Inventor. Author. Architect. Horticulturist. Philosopher. Francophile. Secretary of State. Vice President. President of the United States of America.
Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 at the age of 83. How could one person be so prolific in one lifetime?
Was there an underlying principle that has lead to his accomplishments and innovation? His leadership ability? Academic achievement? Creativity? While all of these may be significant contributors, I believe one principle played the biggest role - curiosity.
With his voracious curiosity, Jefferson realized many great achievements in his lifetime. One of Jefferson's greatest accomplishments was penning the Declaration of Independence, a document that lays out the rights of men and the part the government should play in Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. However, Jefferson did not invent these concepts on his own - he was influenced by the ideas and writing of others. He read British writer John Locke's work about man's natural born rights and how the government should benefit all, not just the rulers. Thomas Paine's Common Sense was also influential on this subject. His early curiosity about government and the rights of man directly affected the creation of a new nation and influenced the formation of government for centuries to come.
Being chosen to write the Declaration of Independence was not a light decision. Thomas Jefferson was chosen because he was a wonderful writer. We know this because Jefferson wrote letters throughout his lifetime (over 30,000 letters in total), each time making a copy of the letter to keep at his estate. He was able to accomplish this through the polygraph duplicating device. Jefferson was an avid user of this device, and although he didn't invent it himself, his curious mind offered many suggestions for improvements on the design, which the American developer of the invention implemented in next iterations.
Outside of politics and writing, Thomas Jefferson was also known for his love of architecture. In his time, there was no school of architecture, so instead he read about it in books and studied the work of architects. His travels to France also informed his studies on architecture, with their skylights and domes. For forty years, Jefferson drew plans and built his home in Virginia, Monticello, constantly adding improvements and inventions from his architectural studies. He also drew the plans for the first few academic buildings at the University of Virginia, a public college that he founded.
Finally, Jefferson was an avid reader throughout his lifetime. He was always curious and fed that curiosity through books, reading every night before he went to sleep. Through reading, he became a master of several subjects including law, language, surveying, architecture, and horticulture.
Curiosity, as shown by Thomas Jefferson, is something that should never wane throughout a lifetime. Great thinking and accomplishments cannot be made without curiosity and the desire to learn and understand.
So keep reading. Keep learning. Stay curious.