The History of Education: The American Educational System, Early National Period (Thomas Jefferson)

[Editor’s Note: This is the 24th in a series of blogs that examine how education developed throughout history until the present. Links to previous blogs are included at the bottom of the post.]

Most people don’t associate Thomas Jefferson with education, but his views and actions both influenced formal instruction in the nascent United States. Following the Second Continental Congress in June 1776, where he drafted the Declaration of Independence, he returned to his native Virginia and served in the House of Delegates as part of the General Assembly of Virginia.

In the Assembly, he introduced one bill that would have created a tax-supported elementary education for everyone except slaves, and another bill that would have both created a public library and updated the curriculum of the College of William and Mary. Among the revisions he proposed were the teaching of ethics, law, history, natural science, and ancient languages, to give the school a bolder and more modern approach to education. Unfortunately, both bills were defeated.

However, Jefferson didn’t accept defeat. In the years after his presidency, he created the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, a visionary new school that was to introduce America’s youth to the new country’s ideas about government and equality. And realizing that different students had different academic needs, he introduced electives into his curriculum that allowed for varied coursework.

Jefferson designed every aspect of this university, including the survey of the site, the plans of the buildings, and the process of construction. He also created the school as a place where both students and faculty could enjoy the freedom and the ability to learn, providing them with the “unlimitable freedom of the human mind to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of its contemplation.” UVA Charlottesville opened its doors in March 1825, and other colleges and universities followed.


Next week: Early National Period,  Thomas Jefferson


To read part 1: Introduction, click here.

To read part 2: Purpose of education, click here.

To read part 3: Prehistory to pre-industrial, click here.

To read part 4: Mesopotamia and the Sumerians, click here.

To read part 5: Ancient Egypt, click here.

To read part 6: Ancient Greece and Rome, click here.

To read part 7: The Greek philosophers, click here.

To read part 8: China, click here.

To read part 9: The Olmecs and the Maya, click here.

To read part 10: The Islamic World: Basics, click here.

To read part 11: The Islamic World: The Golden Age, click here.

To read part 12: The Renaissance, click here.

To read part 13: American Educational System Overview, click here.

To read part 14: European Influences, Jon Amos Comenius, click here.

To read part 15, European Influences,  Froebel, click here.

To read part 16, European Influences, Herbart, click here.

To read part 17, European Influences, Herbert Spencer, click here.

To read part 18, Colonial Period, Puritans, click here.

To read part 19, Colonial Period, New England Books, click here.

To read part 20, Colonial Period, Massachusetts Education Laws, click here.

To read part 21, Colonial Period, Harvard College, click here.

To read part 22, Early National Period, Benjamin Franklin, click here.

To read part 23, Early National Period, Benjamin Rush, click here.



[1] Lightcap, Brad. (June 15, 2004). “Benjamin Franklin.” History of Education Web Project. Retrieved from


Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to

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