Essay I wrote for an AP US History class in 11th grade. Written at mediocre high school level and may have some discrete plagiarism because of this. Cited in old MLA style, probably incorrectly.
13 October 2011
The Two Thomas Jeffersons: Anti-Federalist and President
“WE hold these Truths to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
Most are familiar with these words printed by Thomas Jefferson in the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Most are familiar with these words printed by Thomas Jefferson in the 1776 Declaration of Independence. This great American patriot made a simple statement establishing America’s hopes, but the author himself may not have been so simple. In reality, Thomas Jefferson was a walking contradiction. He held strong Anti-Federalist views at the start of America’s making that were soon contorted when he was elected President. Jefferson’s hypocrisies ran both political and personal, stemming out to views as sensitive as slavery. Although he is revered in history as a brilliant, untouchable superhero, analyzing Thomas Jefferson’s character shows that he was nothing more than a regular human being desperately wrestling with his own views.
As a patriot during America’s making, Thomas Jefferson had strong views for his future country. While the historic Constitution was being argued in favor for, Jefferson was still in favor of keeping the weak Articles of Confederation as the main legal code. The Articles ensured his dream of strong state governments rather than one strong central government. Self-sufficiency, self-government, and individual responsibility, were, in the Jeffersonian view, among the most important ideals that formed the basis of the American Revolution. He wanted a small, agrarian country that could not be subjugated to the “economic manipulation” of movements such as the Industrial Revolution. This ideal went in hand with Jefferson’s support of America’s isolation from other European countries. He deeply believed in avoiding “entangling alliances,” (as Washington had hoped) thought downsizing the military would make America the model for a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy. Within his personal views, Jefferson was deeply fascinated by the Native American culture. He knew deep down slavery was wrong and wrote statements against it, first in “Notes on the State of Virginia” and again repeated times. Overall, it is with these deep Anti-Federalist views that Jefferson aroused enough support to stir the first makings of political parties, pitting the Hamiltonians (Federalists) against his Democratic-Republican thoughts.
Although principles of Jeffersonian democracy are clearly outlined even to this day, the person who was most in conflict with these views was more often than not Jefferson himself. To use a contemporary phrase, Thomas Jefferson was quite a flip-flopper. His first case of disregarding old views came when Jefferson eventually supported the Constitution and advocated for strict interpretation of it. The original opponent to an Executive Branch, it was Jefferson who became president in 1801. Once in office, Jefferson found out the realities of President and the global world were far different than what he had plans for. It was in 1803 that Napoleon offered him the territory of Louisiana and a chance to double the size of America for a mere 15 million dollars. Jefferson was immediately at conflict. He had wanted a small society for America, but the offer was too grand to pass up. He eventually agreed to the purchase, and didn’t even wait for a Constitutional amendment to make the decision legal despite his adherence to follow the Constitution closely. But that was not the only time Jefferson was in argument with himself. At the start of his term, the president had greatly downsized the military—arguing that America didn’t need it. But it was attacks from Tripolian pirates that forced Jefferson to create the wimpy “mosquito fleet” and go after the North African states in the first Barbary War. In his second term, Jefferson became even more mixed up in the politics of the world. The biggest political contradiction to his original views and perhaps the president’s largest mistake was the unpopular Embargo Act of 1807. America had become a victim in Britain and France’s constant bickering. It’s ports were used by them to acquire supplies and food stuffs despite America’s neutrality in their wars. In response, Jefferson closed all the country’s exports from his country. He had single-handedly enlarged the federal power he condemned so much and intruded on state and capital rights. The embargo especially hurt the farmers he had been so found of, more so than Britain and France themselves. Under his sleeve, many were forced to open new factories to improve the failing economy, thus bringing the Industrial Revolution further into America. This final act of his presidency removed all of Jefferson’s hallmark views and posed him to be very separated from the original Anti-Federalist views.
Thomas Jefferson was constantly in argument with himself, but perhaps his greatest contradictions lie in personal issues. Jefferson supported the yeoman farmer but was a plantation owner himself. He wanted the common man to rule the country but argued that only truly educated people should be allowed to vote. He loved the culture of Native Americans and wanted peaceful integration with them but ended up taking over their land and identity. More famous than any, Jefferson, who was a staunch opponent of slavery, owned about 200 slaves in a typical year. All of his inherited slaves were of the Hemings’ family; Jefferson freed only two of them during his lifetime and five in his will. DNA evidence points toward the idea the Jefferson even had an affair with one of his slaves—Sally Hemings. It was clear he had a personal, conflicted view toward slavery. Morally, he knew it was wrong and described it to be an “abominable crime.” However, he did believe Africans to be racially insuperior and realized the vitality of slaves to the economy. More than any issue, Jefferson proved to be very confused on his standing with slavery, and eventually died still a slave-holder. Despite saying that “all men were created equal,” Jefferson was very confused as to who should apply to “all men.”
Thomas Jefferson is considered to be one of the greatest figures in America’s history. However, it is clear Jefferson is not the brilliant superhero so many have endowed him to be. Instead, Thomas Jefferson was a deeply conflicted man, in both his views and his personal life. As President, his stands changed dramatically than from when he was a simple patriot rooting for state’s rights and a small country. He was often conflicted by what he deep down thought was morally wrong and what society and personal issues needed. Although it is without a doubt true he did much for the country, Thomas Jefferson was nothing more than a regular man, constantly at war with himself and his doctrines. This character is common and one that will be seen much throughout history and even in today’s political sphere. Above his great accomplishments, Jefferson’s contradictory archetype will not make him forgotten any time soon.
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