Thomas Jefferson is one of the most intriguing historic figures because he is the author of the Declaration of Independence and developer of the ideals of freedom and equality valued in the American society. However, in spite of Jefferson’s significant contribution to the development of the American democratic society, historians cannot agree on his personality because of focusing on many contradictions observed in his character and actions related to the public and private life.
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From this point, it is important to research rather opposite views supported by John Hope Franklin and Jan Lewis regarding Jefferson’s role in the American history and his personality in order to create the complete picture and to determine Jefferson’s best and worst characteristics. Specializing in the African American experience, Franklin is inclined to condemn Jefferson for his contradictions and violation of the norms of people’s equality, when Lewis accepts the human nature of Jefferson and discusses him as the tragic person full of contradictions.
In spite of the fact that Franklin and Lewis are inclined to criticize Jefferson because of his position regarding the question of slavery, the historians agree that the best qualities characteristic for the author of the Declaration of Independence are his focus on science and mind, his talents of being an influential social and political figure, and his qualities of being the loving father and grandfather (Thomas Jefferson: Archives, n.d.). Nevertheless, it is possible to notice that Franklin and Lewis concentrate more on Jefferson’s worst characteristics. Moreover, if Lewis tries to find reasons for Jefferson’s actions, Franklin chooses the opposite position and provides many arguments to discuss Jefferson as the person who cannot become the hero in the American history.
While speaking about Jefferson’s best features, Franklin pays attention to Jefferson’s talents of being a political scientist, a historian, and a sociologist. Franklin states that Jefferson was a humanist, but his humanism was reflected only in the words of the Declaration about the people’s equality. However, these words were not supported by Jefferson’s practical activities. The historian agrees that the role of Jefferson in stating the standards of equality is great, but Jefferson himself cannot be discussed as the standard or example to be followed because he did not make his slaves free. Franklin states that the person who set standards for others should follow these standards strictly. According to Franklin, Jefferson’s actions are unfair because he is rather superior in relation to blacks, and he focuses on their physical qualities to provide disparaging commentaries (Thomas Jefferson: Archives, n.d.).
Jefferson’s life is the example of the destructive force of contradictions, and his actions cannot be justified with references to the fact that many persons acted similarly in the 18th century. Franklin does not provide Jefferson with excuses, but the historian states that this historic figure is rather selfish and arrogant to follow the standards set by him. While being asked about discussing Jefferson as the tragic figure, Franklin states that this person cannot be considered as tragic because all his actions are the results of his rational conclusions.
On the contrary, Lewis is inclined to sympathize with the personality of Jefferson while describing him as the tragic figure who became the victim of contradictions typical for many people, but Jefferson was the good friend, loving father and grandfather, talented politician and sociologist, humanist and supporter of the idea of happiness for everyone. Lewis draws the clear line between the actions and ideals of Jefferson as the father, politician, and slave-owner. Lewis is able to find the reasons for all Jefferson’s behaviors because of stating that the author of the Declaration was just a man, but he was more talented and gifted than any other person during his time. Jefferson stated the ideals of liberty, equality, and happiness. As a result, his contribution to the development of the American society cannot be overestimated.
Nevertheless, the personality of Jefferson is full of contradictions, and he fails to be judged according to his own standards (Thomas Jefferson: Archives, n.d.). Lewis’s ideas correspond with Franklin’s ones on the point that Jefferson’s fault is in demanding much in relation to the other persons in the situation when he cannot follow his extremely high standards. According to Lewis, Jefferson achieved much as the politician and supporter of the ideas of equality and freedom, and he also demonstrated how to pursuit happiness in relation to his family, but Jefferson could not apply his own standards and principles to the situation of slavery in his lands.
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Although John Hope Franklin and Jan Lewis follow different approaches to discuss the personality of Thomas Jefferson, these historians agree that Jefferson failed to demonstrate his talent of being a humanist while discussing the slavery as his own problem. It is possible to note that the contribution of Jefferson to the development of the principles of liberty and equality in the American history and society is great, but his personal contribution to criticizing and abolishing slavery is rather little because he did not follow the idea of equality for everyone in his family and lands.
Thomas Jefferson: Archives. (n.d.). Web.