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An honorable goal to work for

July 16, 2013 Posted by: Daniel

The human heart is in conflict with itself.  That's worth writing about.  We saw that today with Jefferson.  He wrote a declaration of freedom and wrote that "All men are created equal" with ink brought to him by a slave the age of an eighth-grader.  He fathered the nation.  He also fathered children with his slaves, an act that would probably be seen as sexual assault today.  He was absolutely brilliant in his quiet way and his arguments may have helped America get support for the war.  But as he did such incredible deeds in the name of Freedom, he must have known how hypocritical he was.  Jefferson wrote his struggle into the declaration in what he did not say, he did not amend his words of "All men are created equal" to only mean white men.  It is because in part of this that Jefferson built the challenge to make our nation equal that we are still working to meet that challenge.  It's because Jefferson let the struggle of his heart leak onto the Declaration that we have such an honorable goal to work for.


12 Comments Comments Icon

  1. Steve - Philadelphia, PA
    July 24, 2013 at 10:35

    Congratulations, Daniel, on crafting a poignant, concise statement without sacrificing complexity in order to achieve rhetorical impact. In regard to Amy's question: I don't think that Jefferson was conflicted about writing "all men", rather than "all men and women". The words "men", "man", and "mankind" were part of a linguistic tradition referring to the entire human race as male. These words are commonly used the same way today. Even though he was speaking of all human-kind, Jefferson did not believe that treating everyone equally necessarily translated to treating them the same. His use of the word "equal" had a very specific and limited meaning that was based in generations of philosophical writings, not to mention constitutional and legal precedents. He drew the phrase "all men are created equal", as well as much of his own personal definition of that phrase, from the writings of John Locke. He couldn't have imagined how far we'd extend the implications of that phrase. I don't think he'd view himself as an hypocrite, but I am certain that he'd respect the fact that the U.S. has made so much progress that we can now look at him as relatively primitive in comparison to our current generation. One of my favorite quotes of Jefferson's is, “we might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” He'd not only respect our progress; he'd be proud of it. (You can read the full letter, from which the above-quote is excerpted, here: http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=JefLett.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=244&division=div1 )

  2. J. Publius - Deptford, NJ
    July 20, 2013 at 01:29

    Powerfully written! You set up nice contrasts between what Jefferson (and others) believed and wrote about what they practiced. The image of Jefferson being brought ink by "a slave the age of an eighth grader" is particularly jarring and provocative. It puts a human face on the institution of slavery and is a reminder that Jefferson and other 18th century people saw the contradiction of American liberty and American slavery every day.

  3. Erin - Philadelphia, PA
    July 17, 2013 at 08:43

    It really struck me how you said "he fathered the nation" and in the very next sentence said, "he also fathered children with his slaves." This really captures the conflict and tension of the founding fathers (and, what it means to be a father, I think!) Things may have been different back then, but does that mean we let people off the hook for doing insensitive and sometimes violent things?

  4. Catherine - Philadelphia, PA
    July 17, 2013 at 07:16

    You have revealed a quality that all posses from Thomas Jefferson to people today; yet your piece still leaves with a question: why is the human heart in conflict with itself? Is it because we will never know the truth? What is right/wrong? What is reality/belief?

  5. Lois - Wynnewood, PA
    July 17, 2013 at 09:00

    Saying/writing what is right is the a step towards doing what is right. We are still in walking the road to doing what is right in this nation. Thanks to Jefferson we are on the road.

  6. MRS. E - FALLS, PENNSYLVANIA
    July 16, 2013 at 05:49

    We must realize that Jefferson lived in a different time with different values. Women had no value they were thought of as something owned as were slaves. Give them rights, do not be silly would you give your chair rights or even your dog? Was Jefferson really struggling with putting "all white men." Remember the slaves were called "boy". Were they considered men? Daniel thank you for making me think.

  7. JW - Philadelphia, PA
    July 16, 2013 at 03:28

    Human beings are great at ignoring the logs in their own eyes. Myself included (Does that mean that I am able to see the log in my eye that tells me I have logs in my eyes?). As a human, Jefferson was no different.

  8. john - seneca falls, ny
    July 16, 2013 at 02:36

    Daniel: You have stated in a few words what many people have debated for many years. Good job!

  9. Bethany - Philadelphia, PA
    July 16, 2013 at 02:02

    I really appreciate the way you dealt with the complicated nature of Jefferson's writing/life/role in history.

  10. Amy - Lowell, MA
    July 16, 2013 at 01:53

    You have eloquently expressed some powerful thoughts. Do you think Jefferson might have struggled with not including "women" in the declaration, too?

  11. JC - Philaelphia, PA
    July 16, 2013 at 01:36

    Wouldn't it be easier if people were all good or all bad--or if we could recognize malice by just looking a a person? How do we reconcile that human beings are so complicated?

  12. Bill - Philadelphia, PA
    July 16, 2013 at 01:29

    What a beautiful way to express the contradicitions of our nation's founding, Daniel.

 

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