Quick note on Jefferson and adolescence

Yesterday, on his Wallbuilders Live program, David Barton called adolescence a “progressive, liberal phenomenon.” He also said there was no adolescence during the founding era.

The term adolescence is derived from the Latin adolesco which means to grow up and mature. The concept and the term itself are not modern creations, although each age and culture develops different norms for teens.

Thomas Jefferson’s father died when Jefferson was 14. Did he identify that time of his life as in some way different than adulthood? He certainly appeared to in his 1808 letter to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. In that letter, he spoke of that time in his life, and noted characteristics of adolescence.

When I recollect that at 14, the whole care & direction of myself was thrown on myself entirely, without a relation or friend qualified to advise or guide me, and recollect the various sorts of bad company with which I associated from time to time, I am astonished I did not turn off with some of them & become as worthless to society as they were.

Jefferson recognized that at 14, guidance of an adult was needed. He then credited his mentors, Randolph, Wythe and Small, for helping get through those times by their examples. And why did he need their example?

Knowing the even and dignified line they pursued, I could never doubt for a moment which of two courses would be in character for them. Whereas, seeking the same object through a process of moral reasoning, & with the jaundiced eye of youth, I should often have erred.

Curses on that “jaundiced eye of youth!” Jefferson recognized a formative period, call it youth or adolescence. His plans for public education took into account the intellectual and physical changes associated with youth and adolescence. Unless Barton would like now to  reverse course and consider Jefferson liberal and progressive, I can’t understand the point of taking on adolescence as some kind of liberal invention.