Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
It is my honest belief that while having plenty of problems, Jefferson is not a hypocrite. I believe that like most of those involved in the American Revolution, what Jefferson proposes are ideals and eventual goals as opposed to instantaneous action. From what I have seen, I think that Jefferson’s goal was to one day abolish slavery. He seems to have had this goal but because of other, perhaps misguided, beliefs thought that slaves could not be instantly freed for their own sake as well as for their owners’. He seemed to think that if slaves were freed, they would not be able to integrate into society without first laying some ground work. So, was Thomas Jefferson a good president?
Quite a few people are willing to write Jefferson off as a hypocrite, and with good reason. Despite talking about how all men deserved freedom, he owned slaves. He profited off of slavery as well, since most of his wealth came from his father, who was a farmer. He also had children with a slave as well, and given the fact that a slave can’t really say no, this was a cruel act.
It is easy to look at Jefferson and call him a hypocrite, in the same way that it easy to look at which president was around during the nation’s smallest deficit, and decide that they are the best president America ever had. During Jefferson’s time, as unfortunate as it is, almost every wealthy person owned slaves. It was a mark of status, since slaves were viewed as property, and having large amounts of property gave you power. If Jefferson wasn’t wealthy and didn’t own slaves, then there is a good chance that he wouldn’t have been the one to write the Declaration of Independence. It is because of this fact that I believe that it is more important to look at how he acted towards slaves and his ideals for them, as apposed to just if he owned them or not.
In his letter to David Barrow, Jefferson says this, ‘The mind of the master is to be apprized by reflection, and strengthened by the energies of conscience, against the obstacles of self interest to an acquiescence in the rights of others; that of the slave is to be prepared by instruction and habit for self government, and for the honest pursuits of industry and social duty.’ Jefferson seems to be saying that while slaves should eventually be free, they must first change the mind of the masters of the slaves, and the minds of the slaves as well. Due to the terrible treatment of slaves, even if they gained freedom, they wouldn’t be able to do most forms of work, since they would have had no education. Jefferson later in that letter says that this process would take time, and could not be done instantly. This says to me that while Jefferson does condemn slavery, he doesn’t think he can just instantly free all of his slaves, for their own well being as well.
I think that Jefferson truly did believe that all men should be, and strived for all of them to be, free. There is definitely something wrong with having a child with a slave, but at least he seemed to have taken care of the children he had with that slave. He did own slaves but seemed to have hoped to eventually abolish slavery though he thought it would be an up-hill battle, based on this sentence in his letter to William A. Burwell. ‘I have long since given up the expectation of any early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us.’ I think that this proves, that while most certainly not perfect, just like us all, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t a hypocrite.