The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson

Last week I wrote about Thomas Jefferson and his prophetic suggestion to James Madison that tenants of intergenerational justice be included in the Bill of Rights. I painted Jefferson with broad strokes of wisdom and a strong sense of responsibility for future generations. Lest you think I’m only giving you a one-dimensional portrait of the man, check out this incredible article by Smithsonian Magazine on The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson.

Of all the Founders, Jefferson was one of the most outspoken critics of slavery. In his original draft of the Declaration Jefferson went as far as decrying it as an “execrable commerce …this assemblage of horrors,” a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberties.” But something happened to Jefferson between the 1780s and the 1790s. He backtracked criticisms of slavery while he quietly continued to employ a small army of slaves at his palace on the mountaintop, Monticello.

History is full of paradoxes and Jefferson is no exception. An idealist? An opportunist? A hypocrite? Is it fair to observe the man’s great contributions to history while ignoring his potentially discrediting personal shortcomings?

Read the article from Smithsonian for a rich cross examination of one of the most important figures in United States history.

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