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Jefferson's Education

Jefferson drew upon his education in law and Enlightenment philosophy when he wrote the Declaration of Independence (1776) and A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), two treatises that grappled with liberty and slavery.

At the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, colonial Virginia’s capital, he studied mathematics, natural philosophy (science), and political philosophy with Scottish scholar William Small. Through Small, Jefferson was exposed to the leading thinkers of the Enlightenment, who believed rational thought and useful knowledge guaranteed the progress of humanity. Later, as a law student under prominent jurist George Wythe, Jefferson absorbed the most important legal principles of the day.


William Small, professor of natural philosophy and mathematics at the College of William and Mary, was Jefferson’s mentor.  Small instilled in Jefferson a life-long appreciation of science, math, and the Enlightenment thinkers, including Newton, Bacon, Locke, and Adam Smith.

William Small by Tilly Kettle, ca. 1765.

College of William and Mary


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