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Over the years in America and the west generally, the nature and means of education have dramatically changed. But it is an error to think that before the contemporary era of schooling on a mass scale that no one was deeply or broadly educated. Many in colonial America were exceptionally well-educated, yet largely self-taught or taught by a tutor or mentor. Such was the case with scientist, lawyer, theologian, statesman, patriot and father of seven, Roger Sherman.
In his astonishingly productive life as one of the leading citizens of colonial America, Sherman studied privately with Rev. Samuel Danbar, worked as a shoemaker and then as a land surveyor and an author of an almanac filled with astronomical calculations. He read for the bar (as was the custom of his day) and became a lawyer, though he did not earn a college degree. He also read deeply in theology and received an honorary degree from Yale, where he became treasurer. He was even a professor of religion for many years.
Sherman was widely respected and known in Connecticut, as a list of the legislative, judicial and executive positions to which he was elected demonstrates: both houses of the Connecticut legislature, justice of the peace, judge of the Superior Court of Connecticut, member of the Continental Congress, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Mayor of New Haven, member of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate.
Sherman is the only member of the Continental Congress who signed the Articles of Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. He died at the age of 71 and was buried near his beloved Yale. Not bad for a man who was not a college graduate.
That is all well and good; but, you are likely asking, what does the life of Sherman mean for us today? I think a few things:
First, the next time you think that you have learned enough about a topic or about your profession, well, then, consider taking up another! Men like Sherman never stopped learning, even though they did not have the benefit of easy access to schools. A good strategy to get that extra skill or body of knowledge is to commit to writing a book about the topic, then start your research. That is precisely the approach of Paul Johnson, the British journalist and historian. He decides he wants to learn something. So he goes to the library and starts reading. Eventually he produces a book on the topic. Then he starts again. Not a bad way to earn a living, if you think about it.
Second, commit yourself to making an impact in your community. Sherman was an elected governmental official for most of his adult life. He played an enormous role in American history during the country's formative years. Now, you don't necessarily have to run for office, but you do need to do something to impact the community beyond your own immediate self-interest and gratification. Figure out what the best approach is for you in light of your gifts, talents and interests. Then start and never look back!
Third, remember this simple truth: life is not about how little you can do, but about how much. Roger Sherman died when he was nominally 71, but probably squeezed 120 years of productivity into that time. Yes, he was an exceptional individual. But he was also one of us, a flesh and blood human being with both strengths and weaknesses. Yet look at all that he did! If Sherman were alive today, he would affirm to you this simple truth: you can do more, be more, learn more and serve your community more than you are currently!
What are you waiting for?
Copyright 2005 Mark Cole
Mark Cole, an attorney, has degrees from Baylor, Yale, Notre Dame & University of Houston. To learn more about how the Great Men can inspire and motivate you, visit http://www.ConversationsFromthePast.com
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