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Thomas Jefferson - Essay Example

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Thomas Jefferson is well-known for penning The Declaration of Independence. In the said document, Americans praise the ideal "That all men are equal" and "endowed by our Creatorwith Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness." Sadly, he owned a great number of slaves…
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Unit 8 Project Thomas Jefferson: "The Quintessential Conflicted American" The Founding Fathers History Travis Fields Kaplan Introduction
Thomas Jefferson is well-known for penning The Declaration of Independence. In the said document, Americans praise the ideal "That all men are equal" and "endowed by our Creatorwith Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness." Sadly, he owned a great number of slaves. In effect, at least at the subconscious level, this was a contradiction to what he wrote. The existence of slaves is detrimental to the belief on equality. It is also reported that he made acts inconsistent with Republican ideals. As a result, historians dubbed him as the "quintessential conflicted American." This short paper will attempt to account for such inconsistencies, although it is clear that a more scholarly and lengthy treatise will give justice to Jefferson than this paper.
Slavery
The contention that it is inconsistent to proclaim equality of all yet to maintain ownership of slaves is perhaps the apex of the criticism against Jefferson. In my opinion, this criticism might be valid, but it is not fully. Indeed, Jefferson owned slaves, but he sympathized with them. In the letter to Edward Coles, he blamed the British who brought the practice of slavery in the colonies. It can be inferred from the letter that he treated slaves with dignity. (Jefferson, 1894)
The criticism being valid up to a certain extent hinges on the assumption that Jefferson should have not owned slaves in the first place. But this is just a matter of opinion. Circumstances during that period, where slavery is not illegal, gave Jefferson no obligation to set his slaves free. Nevertheless, his Liberty of owning slaves should be respected as this did not conflict with his conscience, which sought for better conditions for slaves.
The Purchase of Louisiana
During the early 1800s, Spain decided to cede the Louisiana Territory to France. When Jefferson learned of this incident, he instructed his cabinet for the negotiation to purchase this deal from France. The Constitution is silent about any purchase of territory by the government, but Jefferson insisted on the purchase. ("Foreign Affairs," nd) Jefferson's strict constitutionalism precludes him from making this transaction. This is another major point of criticism against him. But this should not be the case.
Wilson (2003) quoted Jefferson as follows:
"This little event, of France's possessing herself of Louisiana. is the embryo of a tornado which will burst on the countries on both sides of the Atlantic and involve in it's [sic] effects their highest destinies."
As any student of history will attest, this purchase was done during the period when Napoleon Bonaparte ruled France. After France received from the United States, it waged war against Britain. Essentially, France was hungry for territorial expansion. Apparently, it could have taken the other way. France might have decided to invade the United States instead. The Jefferson quote above reflects his foresight. Therefore, the threat of French invasion was minimized. In other words, Jefferson's move is consistent with the one of the goals of the Constitution, namely "to secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
Conclusion
Acts and decisions committed by Jefferson, which appear to contradict the values and principles he espoused, should not be criticized and judged at their face value. A sensible person should look at the context and the circumstances which shaped those decisions. This way, the logic and the rationale of Jefferson's decisions could be viewed in more favorable light.
References
Foreign Affairs. (nd). Essays on Thomas Jefferson and His Administration. Retrieved 20 April
2009, from The Miller Center of Public Affairs - University of Virginia Website http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/jefferson/essays/biography/5
Jefferson, T. (1814). Letter to Edward Coles. Retrieved 20 April 2009, from
http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.aspdocument=307
Wilson, G. (2003). The Louisiana Purchase. Retrieved 20 April 2009, from
http://www.monticello.org/jefferson/lewisandclark/louisiana.html Read More
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