Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 630

Wibberley tells his readers that he intended to include several features in his biography of Jefferson. The author wanted to “discover how he [young Thomas] got to be Jefferson, how his mind started to work.” To accomplish this goal, Wibberley tells more than the events of Jefferson’s life. He reveals what was happening in the Colonies at that time and what people in different regions thought about those events. He introduces characters who influenced young Jefferson and shows how Jefferson reacted to their influence. He explains the issues that the colonists faced and, in doing so, delves into the analytical methods that Jefferson learned to use when he developed arguments.

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Wibberley then sets all this information in the format of a novel, “a novelist’s story of Jefferson.” He creates dialogue, rehearses ideas, and lets motives show through the acts that they provoked.

Jefferson had encyclopedic talents and interests. He was a philosopher, scientist, political leader, farmer, builder, architect, musician, and family man. Wibberley does not tell all these stories, instead showing Jefferson primarily as an emerging political leader. He includes parts of the other stories only when they are important for the growth of this political thinker.

The first person to influence Jefferson was his father, Peter. Wibberley presents Peter Jefferson as a hardworking man whose thoughts were ahead of their time and whose sense of social responsibility prompted him to serve his colony and his neighbors whenever they had need of him. Peter Jefferson died when his son was only fourteen. Young Thomas learned that his father not only had worked hard but also had earned enough money to provide for his family after his death.

When Jefferson had exhausted the service of the local school, he went to college in Williamsburg. It was his first visit to a city, and for a year he studied little and enjoyed himself much. Then he came under the influence of Small, who became his teacher and his friend. Small introduced the seventeen-year-old student to Fauquier, the British governor. The governor invited Jefferson to his mansion often, for both musical evenings and serious discussions.

Wibberley develops the relationship of Patrick Henry and Jefferson with great care. The two met early in their lives and became friends even though their approaches to life were often at odds. Henry was a talker who could persuade people easily but who found little use for careful study or careful argument. Jefferson was a careful thinker but not a spellbinding speaker. Wibberley takes care to show how Jefferson tried to emulate Henry’s way of speaking but failed. Yet Jefferson continued to see the value of Patrick Henry as one who could rally people in support of a cause.

When Jefferson was graduated from the College of William and Mary, he began to study law under the direction of George Wythe, a prominent Williamsburg lawyer. Wibberley demonstrates that Wythe and Jefferson worked well together and became close friends. Wythe was both a studious lawyer and an individual whose ideas of freedom and equality were far ahead of his time; his ideas challenged young Jefferson.

Wibberley is concerned that the young adult reader understand the issues of the time, from the last French and Indian War to the beginning of the American Revolution. Wibberley presents these issues as anecdotes out of which philosophical and legal principles flowed. He is careful to tell the story in an easy-to-read way, but he is equally careful to display the arguments on both sides of the debate.

The book is serious yet exciting. It presents Thomas Jefferson as a young man who reacted strongly to what happened around him and who prepared himself carefully for the role he would play in American history. It is, as Wibberley said, “non-fiction fiction.”

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Critical Context