Thomas Jefferson and the Meanings of Liberty

1. a.) Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were both representative of their time in the fact that they still held prejudices against different races. This was nothing but the norm for the 18th and 19th century. Jefferson owned slaves and Franklin, for most of his life, adamantly believed that African Americans were lesser.

b.) But, quite unlike the mainstream ideals of their time, both men held strong ideals of equality. Franklin did at the end of his life reverse his ideas about African Americans, and dedicated many of his later years to equality for blacks. Jefferson also believed slavery to be an atrocious blot on the face of America. Their strong opinions of equality resonate in today’s world but were not considered the correct morals in their time.

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2. a.) The conspiracy between Jefferson and his affair with Sally Hemings, his slave, first surfaced in a publication written by James Callender.

b.) The purpose of the publication was to essentially drag Jefferson’s name through the mud. Written by a vindictive publisher in a time of increased political slander, it was used against Jefferson in his campaigns.

c.) The varying interpretations indicate the use of “presentism” throughout the periods in which the affair has been analyzed. During the civil rights movement, use of the term “blacks” to describe the slave population was seen as one of the main points of insensitivity, because African Americans of the time had such little cultural footing in America. After the 60s, students began to reflect on Jefferson’s unwillingness to see integration as an option, because African Americans were still struggling to integrate after the civil rights movements. Modern day, the concern lies in Jefferson’s blatant stereotyping of slaves as lesser and even as “musical”. These all reflect the current ideals of the time in which the same story is being interpreted.

3. a.) I do agree with Wilson point of view because Revolution is relative and Jefferson was the master of revolt in his society. Of course, that is not excusing Jefferson’s hypocrisy, but I think it is better to realize the background before the product. Jefferson owned slaves, but it’s important to know first that he detested the slave trade, and had only grown up knowing nothing but slave-owning.

b.) Jefferson didn’t necessarily free his slaves for a variety of reasons. He was enormously in debt, and slave labor was obviously cheap. He also owed much of political career to slavery, as slavery helped him rise up in the ranks of government with money. He also could have feared for his slaves, in the almost crueler freed world where ex-slaves were ostracized in society to the point death and life destruction.

c.) This question is not necessarily presentist because hypocrisy is definitive. Aspects of the question can be construed as presentist though because the disgust at Jefferson owning slaves is presentist as it imposes modern morals of anti-racism onto an inherently racist society.

4. a.) In the Declaration of Independence, liberty means both individual freedom and universal freedom. On one hand, the Declaration shows liberty as meaning one’s own right to pursuit of happiness, unbound by laws, whether good or bad. On the other hand, liberty means freedom for the people, and not just personal and selfish freedom. It can also be seen as the idea of national freedom, where the country itself is free from all tyrannical bonds. The Declaration of Independence most likely wanted to include all of these interpretations; freedom for the individual, freedom for man, and freedom for country.

b.) In the eighteenth century, freedom for the individual was rampant. In the early stages of America, defiant anti-federalists saw liberty as a means for near anarchy. They wanted no restrictive laws so they could make a living and exist contentedly under the veil of selfishness.

c.) Now, the idea of freedom for all of man is much more prevalent. I think this change has occurred as our country has prospered. Jefferson did warn against a stagnant government mingled with a progressive population. Social rights movements are more numerous than they had been in the eighteenth century, when personal or party gain was more important than morality.

5. a.) Revisionism that stresses the faults of great figures can lead to an overwhelming negativity toward some great heroes who ultimately bring lessons of morality to the table. It perpetuates the idea that human beings, even the best of us, are always crawling with gaping character flaws. But, it also helps us humanize these great figures whose reputations often run away with them. It helps us to remember that political success does not equal morality.

b.) This trend in historical writing alludes to a growing sense of both negativity and revolution in our society. As we begin to reject common figures of greatness and replace them with our own versions, modern-day youth culture is beginning to establish their own identity separate from current systems. This straying from the norm of decided importance implies a lack of trust or satisfaction with current institutions of morality, politics, and society.

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Thomas Jefferson and the Meanings of Liberty. (2017, Feb 11). Retrieved from