Thomas Jefferson

Third U.S. President, and drafter of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a prominent figure in the debate over the Constitution. Founded the Democratic party, though Republicans like to say that if he were alive today he would be a Republican, as he favored small government and limited federal powers.

"Morals were too essential to the happiness of man, to be risked on the uncertain combinations of the head. [Nature] laid their foundation, therefore, in sentiment, not in science." -Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind as that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change. With the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." -Thomas Jefferson

"To restore... harmony,... to render us again one people acting as one nation should be the object of every man really a patriot." -Thomas Jefferson to Thomas McKean?

On slavery: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free." -Thomas Jefferson

Following is the extent of contemporary discourse on our country's first and only Philosopher President:

And one of many rich whites who fathered children into slavery & only barely supported or even acknowledged them...

The above is an arbitrary statement as the DNA evidence is ambiguous. Further, it reflects the idea that a person's identity -- his character -- is wholly defined by his race and social position, rather than by his choices.

I have heard historical references to Jefferson fathering children with slaves, but I have heard just as many references alleging that Jefferson freed many of his slaves at his death and was always a little uneasy about the institution of slavery. Anyway, the point of most of the discussion of Jefferson and slavery is to emphasize the contradiction between his famous words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights . . . ", and the fact that he owned slaves.

I vaguely recall something about Jefferson not believing in slavery, but not believing in having freed blacks running around either, and that what he would've wanted is to return them to Africa (which of course is expensive to do with one's personal slaves). I think that if you read Jefferson's writings, you'll find that he felt an obligation to the slaves at Monticello. Jefferson was a man with his own internal conflicts. That does not, in my mind, diminish his greatness.

Personally, I would wager that Jefferson's audience understood "men" to mean "white males". Contemporary readers are considerably more inclusive.

Other contradictions: Jefferson favored limited federal power, however, as president, he expanded federal power considerably, most notably by making the Louisiana Purchase, an act of questionable legality at the time.

Jefferson's actions say much more about him than his rhetoric, I should think. His commentary on things like federal power and slavery should be considered with his practical stance on them in mind. Whatever he thought was right, his main interest was in the rural land-owners.


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