Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans - Edward Eggleston
Thomas Jefferson was one of the great men of the Revolution. He was not a soldier. He was not a great speaker. But he was a great thinker. And he was a great writer.
He wrote a paper that was the very beginning of the United States. It was a paper that said that we would be free from England, and be a coun-try by ourselves. We call that paper the Declaration of Independence.
When he was a boy, Jefferson was fond of boyish plays. But when he was tired of play, he took up a book. It pleased him to learn things. From the time when he was a boy he never sat down to rest without a book.
At school he learned what other boys did. But the difference between him and most other boys was this: he did not stop with knowing just what the other boys knew. Most boys want to learn what other boys learn. Most girls would like to know what their school-mates know. But Jefferson wanted to know a great deal more.
As a young man, Jefferson knew Latin and Greek. He also knew French and Spanish and Italian.
He did not talk to show off what he knew. He tried to learn what other people knew. When he talked to a wagon maker, he asked him about such things as a wagon maker knows most about. He would sometimes ask how a wagon maker would go to work to make a wheel.
When Jefferson talked to a learned man, he asked him about those things that this man knew most about. When he talked with Indians, he got them to tell him about their language. That is the way he came to know so much about so many things. Whenever anybody told him anything worth while, he wrote it down as soon as he could.
One day Jefferson was traveling. He went on horse-back. That was a common way of traveling at that time. He stopped at a country tavern. At this tavern he talked with a stranger who was staying there.
After a while Jefferson rode away. Then the stranger said to the landlord, "Who is that man? He knew so much about law, that I was sure he was a lawyer. But when we talked about medicine, he knew so much about that, that I thought he must be a doctor. And after a while he seemed to know so much about religion, that I was sure he was a minister. Who is he?"
The stranger was very much surprised to hear that the man he had talked with was Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson was a very polite man. One day his grandson was riding with him. They met a negro. The negro lifted his cap and bowed. Jefferson bowed to the negro. But his grandson did not think it worth while to bow.
Then Jefferson said to his grandson, "Do not let a poor negro be more of a gentleman than you are."
In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote these words: "All men are created equal." He also said that the poor man had the same right as the rich man to live, and to be free, and to try to make himself happy.