For thousands of years, human affairs had been governed through Aristotle's ancient formula, which considered some men worth of ruling while others as only destined to be subjected. However, in 1776, the Declaration of Independence put forward by Thomas Jefferson, stated, "All men are created equal," and that slavery was "execrable commerce...and as an assemblage of horrors." The assertions of President Jefferson and his contribution to the establishment of the United States have made him one of the greatest and high revered leaders of the country. However, while most of the historians and political pundits consider him a great leader, questions remain on whether he was a statesman whose actions were ethical and according to what he expressed as his beliefs, or whether he was a hypocrite whose actions went contrary to what he advocated for publicly.
The ability of a leader to advance the best interests of the nation is a major aspect of administrative ethics and a defining concept of statesmanship. In the quest for ensuring the best interest of the state, leaders often make decisions that are unpopular and which can threaten their credibility. One of the greatest depictions of Jefferson's statesmanship was his decision to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France despite the lack of support and consent from the Congress. Such a decision has the potential to influence impeachment proceedings, yet Jefferson knew it was for the best interest of the country, and thus put his reputation on the line. He knew that to secure the economic and military independence of the U.S. a purchase, rather than a military takeover was the best option at the time. Among many other decisions, Jefferson showed that he was a statesman who was ready to go beyond his beliefs and those of his followers to secure the economic and security needs of the United States.
Despite the statesmanship decisions that Thomas Jefferson made which continue to place him among the greatest leaders of the United States' history, some of his life activities discredited his standing and reputation greatly. For example, the Declaration of Independence, which is a hallmark of his legacy, and often viewed as a reflection of his morals and convictions, was against the practice of slavery. However, President Jefferson went against what he stood for and continued to hold approximately 200 slaves who worked at his Monticello Plantation. Despite terming slavery as an "assemblage of horrors," continuing to hold slaves himself was a major indictment on his character. Consequently, his declaration of slavery as an activity that should be stopped in the United States, continuing it at his Monticello Plantation was a depiction of hypocrisy.
A major controversy that mars the legacy of Thomas Jefferson are the allegations that he not only held slaves but also had an illegitimate sexual relationship with one of his slaves known as Sally Hemings resulting to the birth of at one or all of her children. For a long time, there were no definitive answers to the questions as historical documents, and evidence proved to be inadequate. However, the 1998 Dr. Eugene Foster's DNA study concluded that, indeed, Jefferson bore at least a child with Sally Hemings. Although controversy persists on the certainty of the findings on whether Jefferson had illegitimate children, there is no contention on whether he had a concubine. The fact that President Thomas Jefferson had a slave concubine shows that he was not a man who practiced what he wanted the public to believe. In other words, he was hypocrites who continued to practice what the tenets of the constitution which he helped create.
The actions of Jefferson towards his slave, Sally Hemings, and her children put into question on whether he believed in the equality of all people in the United States. It is noted that Jefferson freed the Hemings nuclear family in its entirety, an action that had never been heard of in the United States at the time.His actions only added the allegations that he was indeed the father of Sally Hemings children. If then his actions were based on the fact that he released his children, it becomes a clear indication that he was biased, and thus did not believe in equality of human beings regardless of their race. Indeed, by the time Thomas Jefferson died, there was no indication that he ever intended to free his more than 200 slaves. Such actions show an individual who spoke highly of freedom and the equality of all people yet continued to act contrary to his assertions.
The last major indication that President Thomas Jefferson was hypocritical is towards his relations with Native Indians. In his address to a delegation of Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation, Jefferson assures them of peace if they do not advance war against their native tribe neighbors. However, there was always a shadow behind the obvious of what President Thomas Jefferson said. The double speaking of the president became evident when despite his assurances for peace still went ahead and implemented policies, which were resisted by native tribes, leading to the 1812 resistance war against the U.S. government. Although the war came after President Jefferson left office, it is believed that his policies of "civilization" towards the natives were based on his notion that the native communities were inferior, and hence deserving to be taught the ways of Europeans. The purchase of Louisiana Territory from France was the ultimate betrayal of what he stood for. At the time, the constitution did not have a provision whereby the President would buy land on behalf of the state. Therefore, it was an indication that Thomas Jefferson did not believe in the constitution he helped create and was ready to selfishly violate it with total disregard to the rule of law, or even his word.
The actions of President Jefferson led to many successes that the United States is proud of in modern times. For instance, his input in the Declaration of Independence created the pathway for the eventual abolishment of slavery when he stated, "all men are created equal." Additionally, with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, the president displayed statesmanship with his ability to take bold decisions for the sake of the nation. However, the move to buy the land from France revealed that President Thomas Jefferson was willing to defy the constitution that he had helped pass, and thus hypocrisy. Further, his promises to the Cherokee Nation among other native tribes on keeping the peace were negated with the forceful takeover of their land. Additionally, despite his views on the inhumanity of slavery, Jefferson continued to hold more than 200 slaves and even sired children with one of the slave women. When he released the whole Hemings family, it became clear that the President did not believe in equality, and only released the family, as the children were his. Consequently, President Jefferson went against many of his public assertions and thus proved to be a hypocrite.
Newbold, Stephanie P. "Statesmanship and ethics: The case of Thomas Jefferson's dirty hands." Public Administration Review 65, no. 6 (2005): 669-677.
Stanton, Lucia. "The other end of the telescope: Jefferson through the eyes of his slaves." The William and Mary Quarterly 57, no. 1 (2000): 139-152.
Taylor, Gordon. "Teaching History Students to Read: The Jefferson Scandal." The History Teacher 22, no. 4 (1989): 357-374.
The Avalon Project. "Jefferson's Indian Addresses." Yale Law School, last modified 2008. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jeffind4.asp
Wiencek, Henry. "The Darkside of Thomas Jefferson," Smithsonian, last modified October, 2012. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-dark-side-of-thomas-jefferson-35976004/
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