Thomas Jefferson's Early Life

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, on a Shadwell property near Charlottesville, Virginia. He was the third of ten children, and his father, Peter Jefferson, was a successful farmer, while his mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, came from a wealthy family. At the age of nine, Thomas Jefferson began his official education in 1752 at a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian instructor. Jefferson enrolled at the College of William & Mary in 1760 to study mathematics, physics, philosophy, and literature. In 1767, he graduated with honors, allowing him to study law. When he was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767, he was the best-read lawyer. During his unsettled years as a lawyer, Jefferson met and married a twenty-three-year old wealthy widow in January 1772. His wife Martha Wayles Skelton was a daughter of a prominent lawyer in Virginia. The couple had six children and only two daughters survived to adulthood. Jefferson practiced law, managed his father's farm, and played a key role in shaping America's political history and later became the third president of US. He died in the year 1826 at the age of 83 (Brodie,1974).

Developmental Stages of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson from his birth, education, to the progress he made in life, underwent various developmental stages, which refer to a series of changes that occur over a lifespan. Famous psychologists describe stages of development of a person and how it influences their future, believing that people show typical behaviors and capacities as they grow from one stage to another. These psychologists include Erik Erikson, Howard Gander, and Robert Sternberg. Developmental stages of Thomas Jefferson from birth, schooling, and responsibilities centered towards development in both body and mind and social world.

Body and Mind

In the case analysis of Thomas Jefferson, various theories of developmental stages apply to his growth from childhood to adulthood. Erickson's developmental theory established in 1950 comprised of eight stages from infancy to adulthood. Erikson believed that a person undergoes a psychosocial crisis during each stage that would have a negative or positive impact later in a person's development, yet after completion of each stage, personality and core values would be acquired. The eight stages in this theory comprise of five stages that apply to life from childhood to 18 years and the remaining three stages apply to adulthood.

The stages involved in Erikson's developmental stages are trust and mistrust which begins at birth up to one year. At this stage, the infant creates trust depending on the interactions he gets from the caregiver. The stage of trust is followed by the autonomy vs. shame and doubt period, which takes place from 18 months to three years, and during which the child develops control over physical skills. It is advisable that a parent allows children to explore limits of their abilities by encouraging them to improve those abilities. Success completion of this stage would ensure the acquisition of a sense of autonomy while failing it would solidify the feelings of shame and doubt. The next stage focuses on initiative vs. guilt. The stage occurs at preschool when the child begins to have the power to control their environment by planning their tasks and accomplishing them. Success in their activities leads to a sense of purpose while failure develops guilt. At the age of five to twelve years, an industry vs. inferiority stage develops. The child peer group plays a significant role in the child development process. The peer group becomes a source of a child's self-esteem. The fifth stage of identity vs. role confusion starts from age 12 to 18 years and is characterized by the exploration of the sense of self throughout the process of experimentation with different roles and behaviors. Erikson ascertains that the stage is very important as the child forms a powerful identity and sense of direction.( McLeod, 2013).

All these five stages accompany the changes in mind and body development of a child. Thomas Jefferson was born to hardworking parents and raised to depend on his parents and slaves who were his caregivers. He developed an interest in colors at the age of three. Thomas Jefferson at the age of nine developed an interest in the natural world by learning about nature especially the love of birds and riding horses. At the age of sixteen, while in college, he met a law professor. He was influenced by the professor, and he became his greatest mentor.

Howard Gander's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gander was a developmental theorist who developed the theory of multiple intelligences. The theory identified seven distinct kinds of intelligence. It focused on the extent to which a student possesses different types of mind and therefore can learn, perform, remember, and understand in different ways. The theory ascertained that we could understand the world through language and the use of the body in making things and understanding ourselves and others. The theory focused on the differences in intelligence and how it can be used to solve various tasks and diverse problems in society.(Walsh & Gardner, 2005). Gardner differed with educational systems that sought to encourage students to follow a given set of ideas in solving problems.

Jefferson was an intelligent boy right from preschool. He developed the love for music, nature and learned several languages like Latin, Greek, and French. After the death of his father, Jefferson was able to take over and manage slaves owned by his father and a large piece of land. Jefferson was a farmer obsessed with new crops, especially tobacco. He also utilized designs for the Virginia state capitol by mastering architectural designs by self-studying. He wrote many books and spoke fluently in many languages.

Robert Sternberg's Theory on Problem-Solving

Robert Sternberg's theory on developmental stages focused on how individuals perform in their everyday world. The theorist insisted that tests or scales should not define intelligence. According to him, an intelligent person should be able to define and achieve their ideas of success by modifying the environment they are in to fit their daily needs. The theory involves analysis, creativity, and practical intelligence (Sternberg,1985). Thomas Jefferson was able to use books in his father's library to learn many lessons that he needed to redeem the American people. His intelligence was of great help in solving law cases. He also used his knowledge and writing skills to write a formal document: the declaration of independence that helped America attain its independence.

The languages he learned helped him to express his political ideas since he was not a good orator. Jefferson invented a revolving bookstand, "great clock" powered by gravitational pull on cannonballs. He improved on devices used to duplicate writing and invented a swivel chair.

Social World

Erikson's theory also dealt with the social part of an individual from ages 18 through adulthood. Between ages 19 to 40, an individual concentrates on forming intimate relationships with others. The next stage, generativity vs. stagnation, takes place between 40 to 65 years, during which an individual creates and nurtures the necessity of benefitting others and the society as a whole, which gives the feeling of satisfaction and being useful to others. The final stage in Erikson's theory is ego integrity vs. despair and it is considered to commence at 65 years (Hamachek,1988). It involves reflecting on one's life and either feeling satisfied or regretting on achievements. Thomas Jefferson's life seems to be complimenting with Erikson's theory. He married at the age of 29 years and developed laws and policies that helped his country and his people improve their lives. He developed the Virginia rights and policies that led him to be elected representative of the government, legislator, and governor of Virginia and eventually the president. At his retirement, he wrote his autobiography stating his achievements. Despite all these achievements, Jefferson died with a huge debt.

Howard's theory of multiple intelligences was depicted in the social and political life of Thomas Jefferson. He used his abilities to improve the social aspects of his countrymen. He researched the laws of the country and wrote policies and amendments that helped America improve democratically.

Robert Sternberg's theory, which focuses on how people address day-to-day problems, is depicted in the social life of Thomas Jefferson. He had empathy for the slaves that worked on his farm by giving them leave during holidays. He solved various problems encountered by Americans in trade and security. Additionally, he bridged the differences between America and India. He used his eloquence to ascend to power by solving problems facing his people. He later founded the University of Virginia.


The life of Thomas Jefferson mostly complements the three developmental theories. His early life as a child, the way he was brought up, and responsibilities he developed at a young age after the passing of his father helped him to solve challenges he faced in his marriage and general life. His education, study of nature, and linguistics played a major role in his political and social life. A good development of the mind and body to adapt to changes in the environment greatly helped Thomas Jefferson in his life becoming the most famous in his lifetime.

Thomas Jefferson was able to analyze the situation surrounding him. He managed to creatively solve problems in his home country and those facing his administration. He used practical intelligence in his career and social life. As a student, he went a step forward to learn things that were not part of the curriculum. He learned several languages, wrote books, and did architectural designs, thus supporting the theories of Robert's and Howard's, which insisted on persons acquiring extra intelligence to help them solve day-to-day problems.


Brodie, F. M. (1974). Thomas Jefferson: an intimate history. WW Norton & Company.

Hamachek, D. E. (1988). Evaluating Self‐Concept and Ego Development Within Erikson’s

Psychosocial Framework: A Formulation. Journal of Counseling & Development, 66(8),


McLeod, S. (2013). Erik Erikson.(2017, September 30) Retrieved from:

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Implicit theories of intelligence, creativity, and wisdom. Journal of

personality and social psychology, 49(3), 607.

Walsh, G., & Gardner, J. (2005). Assessing the Quality of Early Years Learning

Environments. Early childhood research & practice, 7(1), n1.

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