Students Assess Jefferson's Controversial Legacy
While learning about journalistic opinion writing, David Cutler's American History students responded to how CBS News ranked the founding father as the nation's 7th best president. Overall, the verdit goes against Jefferson's favor. Here is a sampling.
Judging Thomas jefferson
By Chlöe Berlin
When CBS News recently ranked Thomas Jefferson as the nation’s seventh best President, they lost sight of his contradictory administrative decisions. In reality, the so called “King of Monticello” is hardly deserving of such a title.
In 1776, Jefferson boldly proclaimed that “all men are created equal.” This assertion would go on to define the nation’s ethical blueprint for generations to come. His definition, however, was hardly inclusive of all the demographics affected by his jurisdiction.
Jefferson’s personal choices repudiated his broad claims of universal equality. Despite having referred to slavery as the “banality of humankind,” he profited from the industry greatly.
As one of the largest slave owners in Virginia, Jefferson frequently engaged in human trafficking. He enslaved more than 700 people, physically disciplining those he deemed incompetent. The brutal treatment he enacted upon other human beings demonstrated his utter disregard for the rights of others.
But his hypocrisy pervaded more than just his personal affairs. The third President’s leadership was riddled with inconsistencies when it came to slavery. As President, he did little to combat the industry of forced labor and dehumanization, despite citing it as a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberties.”
Much of this language is evocative of the Founding Fathers’ texts. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution explore rights as innate accessories to the human condition. Jefferson understood the power and legitimacy that this rhetoric held over his audience. Framing this language to serve against its intended meaning further demonstrates his apathy towards those who were not white, male and wealthy.
While it was very much within his authoritative power to fight against this “complete contradiction to American values,”Jefferson did nothing of the sort; he actually intensified it. As President, he believed that the continuation of Southern slavery was crucial to the advancement of Westward Expansion. By neglecting to spread slavery Westward, he maintained, was to “perpetrate” an “act of suicide on themselves, and of treason against the hopes of the world.”
Furthermore, it is dubious that Jefferson was even entitled to the land he sanctioned as an American entitlement. His insistence in moving westward resulted in the slaughter, pillage and displacement hundreds of indigenous tribes. This philosophy, which served as the origins for the Manifest Destiny, uprooted countless Indian families and served as the foundation for the nation’s legacy of exploiting native land.
Jefferson’s views on governance and administration were similarly inconsistent. He strongly opposed federal authority. True to his ideology, he founded his own party—the Democratic-Republicans. This party prioritized local governance over nationwide supervision, serving as a near antithesis to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist party.
Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and their cohorts appealed to conservatives and businesses which favored banks, a supervised nationwide economy, and laws applying to the country as a whole. Under Jefferson’s leadership, the Democratic-Republicans rejected these regulations and the patriotic ideals of national legislation imposed by their opposition.
Around centralized banking, the Democratic-Republican party tended to rely on the notion that the “government that governs least governs best.” This was certainly Jefferson’s sentiment when it came to banking. As Secretary of State under George Washington, Jefferson outwardly criticized the federal banking system and its intention to assume state debts.
This struggle carried through well into his presidency. In a letter to his wife, Martha, the President alleged the national charter to be “wreaked of abuse of power.” Jefferson’s outspoken criticism of the Federalists, and of Hamilton himself, only heightened tensions between the two parties. This rivalry intensified the disparate views on either side of the opposition. That is, Jefferson grew to hate the national charter more than before.
But the President soon employed the very monetary infrastructure he eschewed to finance the expansion of the United States navy. During the time of his presidency, the nation’s fleets were plagued by piracy off of the coast of Tripoli. Jefferson claimed that funneling funds from the national charter was “essential to squashing” this maraud. Undoubtedly, the expanded use of US naval power made passage off of Barbary coast safer for international trade, but negated the tenets of his credo.
Similarly, Jefferson depended upon the national bank to fund the 1800 Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Purchase allowed for American acquisition of “827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River”. The Purchase cost the nation a mere $15 million, and was an incredible bargain, even by the era’s standards.
Many historians regard the land deal between the United States and France to be a revered tactical decision which bolstered American economy and allowed for future financial success. Whether or not this was a commendable exchange is unimportant. It was not an example of minimal governance.The President previously viewed the system with vehement opposition, only to depend upon it when necessary. This contradiction further delineates him as a weak-willed, deceitful leader.
President Jefferson’s achievements were by and far impressive. He supported the nation through strategic military tactics, a radical expansion of land, and advocacy for free public education. A truly great leader needs to be consistent, however, both in words and actions. Jefferson fell short.
time to reassess jefferson
By Olivier Khorasani
CBS News recently dubbed Thomas Jefferson the seventh best president of the United States, but that conclusion is extremely problematic.
The “Sage of Monticello” was, in fact, hypocritical and racist, and he bent the Constitution to his will.
On slavery in the United States, Jefferson once said, “if something is not done and soon done, we shall be the murderers of our own children.” Here, though he expressed a sense of urgency over the critical topic of slavery, he failed to specify a plan of action. In fact, during his presidency, he owned more than 600 slaves.
Slavery also contradicted Jefferson’s famous statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Yet in his 1785 Notes of Virginia, he wrote that “[blacks] are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.”
Jefferson benefitted directly from the institution he sought to abrogate. A wealthy white Virginian, he cared for his own comfort beyond that of the nation’s. In this respect, he leveraged his privileged position of power by engaging in an intimate relationship with his wife’s half-sister, Sally Hemmings, a slave. Jefferson repeatedly sexually assaulted Ms. Hemmings, and she bore six of his children at Monticello.
She, along with her children, were the only slaves freed by Jefferson after his death. Instead of abiding by his decree of liberty, Jefferson’s estate auctioned off the hundreds of other slaves he owned at the time of his death with no regard for separated or fractured families.
Politically, the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 was a substantial component of Jefferson’s presidency. However, Jefferson struggled to get congressional support for the Louisiana Purchase and contradicted the Constitution to enable it.
Jefferson also contradicted his own word when he declared neutrality in the Haitian Revolution in 1799, and in doing so increased tensions with the French. After he received word that France wanted to retake its empire in the Western Hemisphere, he refused to help them. In refusing aid, Jefferson indirectly allowed for arms to be transported to Haiti and thus helped the Haitians in their pursuit of freedom.
The French loss in Haiti ultimately forced that nation out of the Western Hemisphere, and led to the French surrender of the Louisiana Territory to the United States for a mere $15 million (the equivalent of about $335 million today). Although considered by many to be one of Jefferson’s chief achievements as President, the purchase was nothing more than a way for Jefferson, who believed in small government, to expand his political power.
Purchasing the Louisiana Territory was a bargain by any standard, but Jefferson went against the very things he firmly believed in while doing so: the Constitution, state vs. federal power, and small, limited government.
Jefferson was staunchly opposed to the idea of Federal Bank when Alexander Hamilton first proposed it, but he used it to fund the Louisiana purchase. Though he aggressively fought to eradicate Hamilton’s idea, he nevertheless abused the power of the presidency to achieve his own ends.
President Jefferson displaced an astonishing number of Native Americans due to his aspirations for westward expansion, and he had trouble integrating the indigenous population into the United States. A displaced Native American man was disgusted with the way his peers were being treated and lamented that the people of the U.S. thought it fit “to dispossess us and to destroy our dwellings.”
Regardless of what he thought about the horrors of slavery, Jefferson sat idly by and did nothing to support the new citizens, and the local legislatures in newly incorporated Louisiana forbade blacks to “ever consider themselves the equal of whites.” Slaves living in the Louisiana territory had enjoyed more freedom under both French and Spanish rule than under Jefferson’s ostensibly pro-liberty United States of America.
White men, women, and children all kept the rights they obtained when they were under French and Spanish rule (such as women being co-owners of family property), but the rights of free blacks slowly decreased under American control.
After the Louisiana Purchase, American relations with the French and British continued to deteriorate. These two powers were desperate and concerned for their own safety in the Napoleonic Wars, and therefore saw fit to capture American soldiers.
Jefferson imposed the Embargo Act of 1807 to prevent American ships from being abducted by the British and French navies. Despite Jefferson’s intensions of retaliation against Britain and France, the Embargo Act had devastating, and lasting, impacts on the Northern and coastal economies of the United States.
More importantly, however, the Embargo Act of 1807 was another astounding exercise of federal power, originally condemned by Jefferson, that he displayed in his presidency.
As a member of the United States’ founding generation and as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson advocated for liberty and peace. His presidency, however, was full of contradictions. He spoke against slavery but owned hundreds of slaves. He argued for small government but doubled the nation’s size by abusing his presidential authority. Despite his contributions to the founding of the United States, his presidency does not deserve to be counted in the top ten in history.
Jefferson’s Complicated presidency and Legacy
By Miles Munkacy
Thomas Jefferson, the noted third president from Virginia, is lauded as a figure of paramount importance in American history. An expansive memorial stands in his honor in our nation’s capital, and he was chosen as one of the four presidents represented on our nation's preeminent presidential monument. A recent CBS News ranking even listed him as the seventh best president.
Yet, Jefferson does not deserve this ranking. At best, he is a hypocrite. At worst, he lacked an effective moral conscience.
Venerating presidents like Jefferson is a highly questionable pursuit. We need to delve deep into Jefferson’s actions and look beyond the few accomplishments he may have had in order to see his true character.
Even those few accomplishments may be of dubious benefit. Jefferson’s most famous achievement came in the second year of his presidency. He negotiated with France to acquire the Louisiana Purchase, more than 800,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River, for $15,000,000, almost universally considered to be a bargain.
There were two problems with this deal. The first was its legality. Jefferson was known for a strict interpretation of the Constitution, only exercising his power if explicitly allowed. However, the Constitution did not address purchasing land from foreign powers. After the treaty with France was ratified, Jefferson became worried that his actions were not lawful. To alleviate his fears about legality, he retroactively proposed a Constitutional amendment that would allow presidents to purchase land for the country. However, Jefferson realized he had little support in Congress, and capitulated.
Despite having sacrificed his principles, Jefferson was elated with the purchase, calling it a “great achievement”. Years later, he wrote, “It is incumbent on those who accept great charges to risk themselves on great occasions”, essentially arguing that it is alright to ignore one’s most basic principles in face of a potentially great achievement. That is a dangerous precedent for presidents to set, as it can be used to justify extreme, and possibly illegal, actions.
The second issue with the Louisiana Purchase was its effect on the issue of slavery. The acquisition of a large area of fertile land quickly ignited a debate on the extent of slavery in the United States. Would slavery be allowed in the new land? Would it be allowed in part of the territory? Jefferson unfortunately didn’t have answers to these questions. The ensuing decades would see this controversial debate grow, deepening the divide between northern and southern states, something that would eventually lead to the Civil War.
Jefferson’s own personal relationship with the terrible act of slavery has affected his presidential legacy far more than any treaty or constitutional crisis. Supporters of Jefferson might stop here and posit that his “all men are created equal” proclamation set the United States on the course for equal rights for all Americans. However, Jefferson’s habit of hypocrisy appears in full force here.
In his lifetime, Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves and was an active member of the slave trade, buying or selling more than a hundred individuals. These slaves were treated inhumanely at his plantation, Monticello. They were forced to work long hours doing menial labor, which at Monticello meant farming, house work, or working in a nail factory.
Jefferson’s slaves were also punished in ways typical for the era. He delegated most management of slaves to other people, including Gabriel Lilly and William Page, who were both known to be too eager to use their whips. Lilly once whipped a slave three times in one day, until the slave was not able to hold his head. Any man connected to an atrocities like that can never claim to be moral, no matter what he wrote decades before.
Aside from owning slaves, Jefferson’s attitude toward and actions with black people clearly made him a man of questionable morals. He argued that black people were “inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” He also had a long time physical relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, with whom most people agree he fathered multiple children. The nature of their relationship is largely unknown, however it is unlikely their relationship was consensual due to the power imbalance between the two.
The Louisiana Purchase and his relationship with black people encapsulates Jefferson’s shortcomings as president. The former gives an example of him abandoning any semblance of ethics in order to cultivate his legacy. The Louisiana Purchase also stoked tensions that would lead to the deadliest conflict in American history. The latter shows his clear racism and highly questionable morals.
In this light, a ranking of seventh seems spurious and unsubstantiated. A president whose major accomplishment had a mixed result, who also owned slaves, should not be held in high regard. As a country, we need to be more discerning with who we hold to be heroes.
This awareness starts in school, with lessons that force students to question common and fundamental misconceptions about powerful figures. For those already out of school, a refocused effort to separate myths from reality is needed. Neither of these occurring will lead to undesirable people taking power, a danger to our country.
By Charles Beagle
While most presidents’ legacies are romanticized in line with their actions, Thomas Jefferson stands out as a grotesque outlier. Regularly receiving praise for his role in both the nation’s founding and his presidency---being ranked as the 7th best president in a recent survey---few are quick to mention the rampant hypocrisy and incompetence that dogged his era.
The truth of the matter is that Jefferson, public sovereign that he was, lived a callous and deeply hypocritical lifestyle; ruthless to those under him and unafraid of sacrificing his character if it meant getting his way.
Jefferson was a true connoisseur of the slave trade, owning over 600 slaves over the course of his life, roughly 200 of which he gained through outside means. Jefferson saw these people in statistics, measuring their worth in possible net gain and acting accordingly if any of them did anything to affect that.
Young women suffered the most under this mindset. As any children reared by them were automatically his property, Jefferson ‘encouraged’ breeding, even stating that "I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm.”
It wouldn’t be long before he participated in this behavior himself. Sally Hemings was at most sixteen when Jefferson fathered her child on a trip to France in 1787, a practice he would both repeat six times with her alone
Of course, while he was a tyrant to the few hundred he ruled over, he was a retrospective joke on the world stage. While at the center of several defining moments in U.S. History, you’d seldom find any that weren’t drenched in hypocrisy and poor foresight on his part.
Events such as the Louisiana Purchase, while monumental for the nation, perfectly exemplify Jefferson’s loss of character. Arguably one of the most important deals in American history, the purchase, overseen by Jefferson, nearly doubled the landmass of the U.S. for a paltry $15,000,000---roughly four cents an acre.
The deal would go on without a hitch, though not without further complicating matters for Jefferson on a moral level. The purchase stressed his ideals to their limits, and he gave under the pressure on almost all counts.
The payment alone was a blow against his character. In desperate need of capital in fear of the deal falling through, Jefferson acquired the money from the National Bank—the symbol of his rival, Alexander Hamilton, and the exact opposite of what he had had in mind for the country.
Back in 1790, the two secretaries had fought gruesomely over the structure of America’s economic system---Jefferson wanting to keep the current system of state banks while Hamilton wished to employ his idea for a national one. Jefferson feared that this move would give too much power to the government, allowing the Legislative and Executive branches to sidestep the restrictions put in place by the Constitution.
Around the same time, Congress was in a deadlock over where the capital---and the influence that came with it---should be located. Biting the bullet, he along his longtime partner James Madison, struck a deal with Hamilton that would satisfy both parties. In exchange for backing their campaign to move the capital south, the two of them would give Hamilton the votes he needed to establish his bank. It was underhanded for everyone involved, but it was the first time Jefferson had really put his wants over his ideals, a trend that would repeat itself several times over his courier.
This all circles back to the purchase. In using the national bank to fund it Jefferson conceded the fight---as well as his character---to the system Hamilton had created. A loss that only highlighted the moral decay already present a few years back.
In the lull between the revolution and his time in office, Jefferson made his misgivings with the navy abundantly clear. He saw the ever-increasing budget spent on it as detrimental and even dangerous towards the nation, citing the messages of war and trade it broadcasted to the rest of the world and, more importantly, America itself. Jefferson’s vision of America was that of an agrarian, self-sustaining nation that only traded for luxury, and saw the navy as a beacon of ambition that would eventually lead it to its doom.
As he ascended, however, he started to change his tune. His once furious attacks on the navy’s supporters began to die down, and---while trying to be subtle about it to save face---he actually began to endorse it on certain occasions. In his first annual address to congress after taking office, he advised them to begin the construction of ships and equipment in times of peace, in an attempt to bolster the navy.
While the reason for this came in the form of the very real threat of the Barbary States demanding tribute, it once again shows the man trading his ideals for pragmatism. And while these traits would be admirable in a present-day authority figure, for a fledgling nation in desperate need of a moral center, it’s a risk they cannot afford to take.
Jefferson strengths as a leader and as a person cannot be denied, but neither can his weaknesses. For all he was brilliant and charismatic, he was a deeply prejudice and flexible man in an era where that didn’t amount to much other that suffering.
When it Comes to Jefferson, CBS News Has it Wrong
By Camille Cherney
Thomas Jefferson is revered in history class as a defender of liberty, but in reality he was a brutal hypocrite who only fought for freedom when it served himself.
CBS News recently ranked Jefferson America’s 7th best president, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
I the Declaration of Independence, which he authored, Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” yet his actions did not reflect this fundamental American value.
As the “King of Monticello,” Jefferson owned over 600 slaves, and he wasn’t afraid to use brutal physical violence to enforce order on his estate.
Jefferson argued that some slaves “require a vigour of discipline to make them do reasonable work.” This blunt statement exposes Jefferson’s apathetic attitude toward human bondage and his failure to afford basic human rights to all people.
Jefferson publicly presented himself as an abolitionist, insisting, “there is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.”
In his lifetime, however, Jefferson only freed seven slaves. Two of them were his sons Madison and Eston Hemings, whom he fathered with his slave Sally Hemings. It is unclear whether the relationship was consensual or not, given the fact that slaves had no right to refuse sexual advances from their slaveowner.
When he obtained office, Jefferson also made no effort to abolish slavery or promote emancipation. He continued to enjoy the economic benefits of slave labor, choosing to appear ignorant to America’s greatest evil.
Ironically, without the inclusion of slaves in state populations, Jefferson would never have been elected president. The 3/5 compromise, which counted 3/5 of a state’s slave population in determining electors, allowed Jefferson to obtain the electoral votes he needed to win the presidency.
Besides his attitudes toward slavery, Jefferson’s bold actions as president further exemplify his extreme hypocrisy.
As a Democratic-Republican candidate, Jefferson scorned federal power, but as president, he repeatedly abused his executive power.
In 1803, Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory from France for $15 million. Although the purchase doubled the size of the United States, it was an extreme abuse of federal power. The Constitution did not give permission for a president to acquire land from a foreign power.
Jefferson even admitted in an 1803 letter to senator John Breckinridge that “the constitution has made no provision for our holding foreign territory, still less for incorporating foreign nations into our Union.”
Despite knowledge of his wrongdoing, the third president followed through with the Louisiana Purchase.
The deal would eventually be called the ultimate bargain, but the ends do not justify the means. Although the purchase led to large economic gains, nothing excuses Jefferson’s disregard for the Constitution.
Even the Federalist Party, which supported a strong federal government, thought Jefferson had overstepped. One federalist declared, “We are to give money, of which we have so little, for land, of which we already have too much.”
Jefferson also got America involved in its first war since the Revolution. Between 1785 and 1796, pirates from the Barbary states of Africa captured several American ships, preventing trade with the Mediterranean.
Initially, the American government paid a ransom and annual fees to keep the peace. In 1801, however, Jefferson refused to pay and Tripoli declared war on the United States.
After viciously criticizing John Adams’ expansion of the navy, Jefferson still chose to employ its power in full force during the Barbary Wars.
Jefferson’s entanglement in international affairs would have disappointed George Washington, who implored future presidents to maintain neutrality.
In 1803, a war between Britain and France led to the impressment of American sailors. In response to this relatively minor interference with the American economy, Jefferson instituted the Embargo Act of 1807, which prohibited almost all foreign trade.
The Constitution gave the government the right to “regulate,” trade but not to prohibit it completely. By enforcing the policy, Jefferson employed the Federalist doctrine of implied powers, which he had previously condemned.
The embargo was a staggering act of executive power that ruined the economies of port cities and decreased exports by over eighty percent.
For a new economy like the United States, trade was vital to healthy economic growth. Jefferson’s embargo stunted economic progress and prevented traders from earning a living. Moreover, the Act made no impact on Britain or France, who were too preoccupied to notice.
The Louisiana Purchase, the Barbary Wars, and the Embargo Act all illustrate Jefferson’s propensity to act against his convictions. Jefferson was elected in order to reduce federal power, yet as president he repeatedly made decisions beyond the powers specified in the Constitution.
Most abhorrent were Jefferson’s morals when it came to slavery, or lack thereof. He spoke of emancipation, but never took concrete action.
As president, Jefferson had the power to end the wicked institution of slavery, but he knew that the economic and political power he enjoyed was a direct product of the slave trade.
In Jefferson’s world, not all men were created equal. Looking back, Americans can see that not all presidents were created equal. Jefferson was certainly not one of our best.
A fool of history
By Libby Foley
We all know Thomas Jefferson. As a giant of American history, his many titles certainly add validity to his name. Nicknamed as “The Pen of the Revolution,” Jefferson surely signed his name onto America’s roots.
CBS News recently ranked each of our nation’s presidents, with Jefferson coming in at 7th place, grouped with many notable figures.
Despite the news organization’s acclaim, I feel it necessary to question their decision-making. How can anyone of repute rank Jefferson as one of the nations’ best presidents—especially when his actions directly contradict everything that today’s Americans represent and stand for? He was a trickster who manipulated the nation solely for his betterment. With respect to differing views, the time has come to put Jefferson in the doghouse, right where he belongs.
Jefferson was the owner of a wealthy plantation filled to the brim with slaves. In fact, in his lifetime, he owned upward of six hundred slaves. He benefited economically from each one of these slaves, therefore expanding his prominent grasp on society.
As chief author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson enshrined into America’s consciousness, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
By owning slaves, Jefferson directly contradicted these words, which were his own. Clearly, all men were not created equal. He did make attempts to abolish slavery, but never ended up freeing any of his own slaves. This not only proves how reliant on slavery he was, but also speaks to his stubborn personality.
He allowed for the mistreatment of hundreds of human beings—at his own hands. Clearly, he didn’t have any kind regard for the people of his nation. It seems inequitable to rank a president as the seventh best in history when Jefferson clearly did not understand basic ethical principles.
Yet another burden on Jefferson’s name was his attitude towards other political figures. One such treatment was that of Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury. Political discord is natural, and I don’t mean to imply that each and every system of government should run seamlessly. However, many of Jefferson’s actions crossed the line. When referring to Hamilton’s methods and idea for a National Bank, Jefferson remarked that they “flowed from principles adverse to liberty, and was calculated to undermine and demolish the republic.” The nerve that Jefferson had to make such a comment is astounding. It seems foolish to worship somebody who was capable of such harsh words.
Jefferson and Hamilton endured fierce stages of debate throughout the process of establishing the National Bank. Jefferson was in strong opposition. He believed that the Constitution did not grant Congress the authority to create a bank. Additionally, Jefferson believed that the bank would only be a resource for the privileged, and that it would also prevent state banks from growing.
Hamilton was solely attempting to better the nation. Jefferson’s imputations against Hamilton seen childish. He was immune to good ideas, and this was one of them. The fear he held of power being stripped from his bare hands blatantly overruled his ability to make good decisions.
One of the elements that defines a great president is their management of the government. Jefferson’s wavering and unstable system undoubtedly contradicts this belief. Originally, he aspired to create a limited federal government. In fact, the credo of his party was “The government that governs best, governs least.” Jefferson believed in local self-government,
and thought that the government should step lightly in affairs that were not their own. During his presidency, he took many steps to limit federal power. One of these steps was reducing the amount of government employees and abolishing the army and navy.
However, his changes would not last for long. Jefferson changed his mind, going against all of his original principles and beliefs. The danger of Jefferson’s modifications is something that cannot be ignored. A president who rapidly changed his ideas surely did not have any of his “ducks in a row.” To put faith, understanding, and trust in a man who contradicted his own speech is just absurd.
In 1803, Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory for $15 million from the French. In doing so, he expanded his power as a political figure, broadening his grasp on the country. While many view the Louisiana Purchase as a positive thing, I have much cause to believe it was quite the opposite. The Louisiana Purchase was solely a manipulative move. Jefferson knew what he was doing, and jumped on the opportunity to expand his control of the nation.
By purchasing the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson became the exact thing that he feared: a symbol of a “large government.” Both Jefferson’s thoughts and actions were unbound. In fact, Jefferson used Alexander Hamilton’s National Bank to fund the purchase, an idea to which he was originally against. He was using a system that he had originally declared “unconstitutional.” In this case, however, it was Jefferson who was invalid. He went against his word, which made him a weak man and president. It seems foolish to place so much trust into a man capable of such inconstancy.
Thomas Jefferson wasn’t everything that we've chalked him up to be. It is essential that CBS reevaluates their thinking. Before determining the greatest figures in our history, we need to take a step back to look at their values and ethics before handing out gold medals.
CBS News Gets it Right on Thomas Jefferson's Legacy
By Caroline Champa
Few political figures deserve more credit in helping to establish our nation’s identity and ideals than Thomas Jefferson. CBS News has it right—he should be ranked as the seventh-best person to hold the highest office in the land.
Greeting Nobel Prize winners at a White House dinner on April 29, 1962, John F. Kennedy said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
While many consider Jefferson a hypocrite, owning slaves while proclaiming liberty, he was a brilliant writer, a passionate leader, and a fiscally responsible statesman who governed for the greater good of the people. Here is why.
First, in 1776, this future president crafted the Declaration of Independence, shaping the American principle that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In his inaugural address, Jefferson acknowledged, “every difference of opinion, is not a difference of principle.” While the principles of the Declaration of Independencewere agreed upon in theory, Jefferson’s views of implementation differed greatly from Federalists who controlled the presidency.
During George Washington’s presidency, the Federalists envisioned a strong centralized government—a European style of rule, which conflicted with Jefferson’s preference of a small government, that favored state autonomy.
Jefferson first fought for state’s rights as Secretary of State, when he argued with Treasurer Alexander Hamilton over establishing a National Bank to assume state debts and create a line of federal credit. As the federal government was not specifically given this authority in the Constitution, Jefferson believed that individual states had the right to charter banks.
Furthermore, when elected president in 1800, Jefferson stayed true to his belief in self – government. He reduced the power of the federal government, cut the number of government employees, decreased the size of army and navy, and he eliminated all taxes except for the tariffs on imported products. He slashed the national debt and lessened government spending.
Despite Jefferson’s reduction in the size of the armed forces, he was still able to protect American commerce. Between 1785 and 1796, American ships were confiscated by pirates in Triopoli, enslaving the sailors and taking the goods – holding off trade with Europe. To create peace, the federal government paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Barbary Pirates.
Jefferson demanded that there would be no increase in the price paid for peace. Tripoli, current day Libya, declared war on America. After a four year war, in 1804 America claimed victory. Tripoli signed a peace treaty, assuring American’s freedom to trade with Europe. This solution was only a short term success for America because Tripoli again captured the American ships which Jefferson had built up to fight the war. While Jefferson was not committed to excessive federal spending he accepted the need for an larger navy instead of requirement to increase ransom payments.
As Jefferson attempted to keep peace with the Barbary states he also focused on generating revenue at home while the Federalists favored expanding trade with England.
Jefferson thought that economic growth lay in land expansion in the west. In 1803, for $15 million he purchased the Louisiana territory from France. This gave America the land from the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi river to the Rocky Mountains. This marked a vast achievement that more than doubled the size of the nation and ended French control of the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains.
He also encouraged the exploration of the Pacific Northwest by Lewis and Clark, explorers who discovered many new territories. They provided geographical data on the new vast land as well as information on the Native Americans who were knowledgeable traders. These discoveries presented more opportunities for American growth.
Jefferson’s contribution to America’s development is controversial. Many people think of him as a hypocrite.
While he supported equal rights and liberty for all men, he was a product of his time and of his home state of Virginia. Though he owned upward of 700 slaves, this peculiar institution was very much a part of southern life. It is only fair to judge him based on the time and climate in which he lived. Although contemporaries such as Alexander Hamilton and John Adams never owned slaves, they also worked in lived in the north, which harbored strong abolitionists sentiments and had an economic system that was not dependent of slaves.
Although he believed in a small government, Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory, a deed that was not specified in the Constitution. However, Jefferson believed the acquisition was ensuring the future democracy and growth of the United States.
Though some think of him as a hypocrite, his legacy should be viewed as a whole—not just as a slave owner. His belief of self-government, the rights of individuals and of states are still remembered 200 years later and passionately important to Americans today. Jefferson’s ideals of democracy still live on in the Constitution and helped to shape the virtue and morals of America.