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The Man Behind the Man Behind the Declaration of Independence

George Wythe lived a hell of a life.

He signed the Declaration of Independence. He served as one of Virginia’s representatives to the Continental Congress and the Philadelphia Convention. He was America’s first law professor.

Yet I am ashamed to admit that prior to visiting Colonial Williamsburg this month, I had not heard of George Wythe.

But I had heard of his protege: Thomas Jefferson.

Wythe was a legal mentor to Jefferson, who was 17 years his junior. Wythe shared many dinners with a young Jefferson providing an informal political and cultural education. It was an investment of time that paid off for us all. Can you imagine the pride Wythe must have felt reading the Declaration of Independence that his star pupil penned?

It is also a great reminder. Our LinkedIn profiles celebrate our professional accomplishments. Our legacies, however, celebrate the fact that we shared what we learned through those professional accomplishments with the next generation.

When we do that our impact may forever reverberate through the echoes of history. And then, just maybe, someone we mentor may have this to say about us, as Jefferson wrote of Wythe:

No man ever left behind him a character more venerated than G. Wythe. his virtue was of the purest tint; his integrity inflexible, and his justice exact; … a more disinterested person never lived. … and his unaffected modesty and suavity of manners endeared him to every one.

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