Happy 241ist Independence Day! I’m grateful for America’s many forefathers that bravely forged the nation we are privileged to live in today. Just this weekend I read an intriguing and influential article by Tom Vick, the State Bar President of Texas, and this inspirational message is one I would like to pass along to you, our valuable colleagues and clients. Below is an overview of his article.
In July, we commemorate the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the foundation for this new and independent nation. Of the 56 signers of the declaration, 25 were lawyers. In fact, lawyers outnumbered merchants and plantation owners, the two next most common jobs held by the signers. The most famous of the lawyers who took part in the declaration’s creation are certainly John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. But who were the others? There’s Samuel Chase, William Ellery, Roger Sherman, Oliver Wolcott, and many more.
But among all those scribbled names, there exists probably one of the most influential lawyers of that time, and it’s someone you may not recognize today. In the third row, several signatures below John Hancock, sits the elegant scrawl of George Wythe.
By all accounts, Wythe profoundly inspired Jefferson, the principal author of the declaration. Wythe, who was about 50 at the time of the signing, was Jefferson’s law teacher and mentor. In fact, several biographies list Wythe as the first known law professor in the country. He was a respected legal mind and a teacher in 1761 when he was appointed to the board of visitors of the College of William & Mary. It was there that he taught many of the nation’s first college-educated lawyers, including Jefferson and future U.S. President James Monroe, as well as future senators, judges, and eventual Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.
It was in 1779, three years after the declaration’s adoption, that Jefferson, as governor of Virginia, appointed Wythe to the first chair of law at a college. Today, George Wythe is the Wythe in the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary.
Why would any of this be important to you? To have impact and influence, to change the course of history, you don’t need to be the loudest person in the room or even the one most remembered. You can be that teacher or that mentor. You can be that thinker, that mediator, or that volunteer. Never doubt the importance of the work done by mentors and teachers who came before you or your ability to make an impact on those that are coming after you.
Have a safe and relaxing holiday,