Article Analysis Essay on "Jefferson and Slavery" and "Jefferson and the Character Issue"

Paper Type:  Article review
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  947 Words
Date:  2022-12-27


Thomas Jefferson is a famous historian for his slogan 'all men are created equal.' He claimed that holding slaves is unethical, and all people should be treated equally in society. Jefferson's claims raise the issue of presentism (Douglas 58). Some historians argue that it is morally wrong to use current values and events to make historical judgments. The purpose of this essay is to present an assessment of Jefferson's claims against slavery. It uses secondary sources to evaluate the character of Jefferson. These sources are Douglas Wilson's "Jefferson and the Character Issue," and Paul Finkelman's "Jefferson and Slavery: Treason against the Hopes of the World." Using presenteism to analyze historical situations is unfair since it holds people in the past yet they live in the present values.

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Using presenteism to analyze past events is unfair because it holds people in the past while they live in the present. According to Douglas (1992), Jefferson is a hypocrite because he argued that slavery was wrong yet he owned slaves who he had inherited (Douglas 61). The historian ought not to have said that all created equal since he did not practice what he said. However, this is presenteism thinking since slave trade was accepted in the traditional world. He advocated that they should be empowered and provided with appropriate materials so that they can also be productive.

One of the ethical standards the author uses to evaluate the work of Jefferson is human rights. The author tries to assess the basic human rights in the period of slavery and the present. People ought to have heard equal opportunities which Jefferson is advocating but with little action. However, it is unethical to use the current human rights to judge historical events (Douglas 58). Also, the author uses high ethical standards to evaluate the work of Jefferson as the author is curious about the background of Jefferson and thinks that he did not believe that all men are created equal because he did nothing and continued to hold salves despite knowing that all people are same.

Douglas says that "How could the man who wrote that "All men are created equal" own slaves? The statement itself is a manifestation that the author refutes the claims of Jefferson. If all men are created equal in society, then they should have equal opportunities (Douglas 67). It is the highest levels of hypocrisy to talk against human slavery and at the same time inheriting them. The author uses presenteism to argue against historical events because there are different perceptions to take consider when evaluating the work.

The author thinks that Jefferson does not meet high ethical standards. It is ethical for such a renowned historian to abandon and work towards abolishing slave trade instead of just saying (Douglas 70). However, it was noble for the historian to hold salves in his time because it was allowed. Therefore, it is not ethical to use current standards to judge historical situations.

On the other hand, Paul Finkelman believes that Jefferson is a hypocrite whether in the present or the past. The author argues that the historian was aware that slavery is morally wrong. However, it was natural law in the 18th century that people could hold slaves (Paul 188). Many of his friends were leaders supporting the idea that human slavery should be abolished. His lifestyle could not allow him to live without slaves even though he attempted to advocate that slavery should be abolished. Whether in the present of the past, his lifestyle could not support the abolition of the slave trade. At the time of writing the Declaration, he had 175 slaves. However, the present values cannot be used to judge his actions because slavery was accepted in the past.

The author evaluates the work of Jefferson using grand lifestyle. At the time, he was a public figure, and his lifestyle was far much better than ordinary people. He thought that his lifestyle is vital than slaves. He condemned slavery in his life yet he practiced it (Paul 112). Therefore, the author suggests that Jefferson beyond his means and could not live without salves. Based on the present values, he could use hired labor to work in his farmlands.

The author states that "Jefferson could not live without slaves. They built his house, cooked his meals, and tilled his fields." During the ancient time, slaves were used as laborers (Paul 185). Although he knew that slavery was wrong, Jefferson maintained his wild life; hence he could not do without slaves. Therefore, it is evident that he was talking from double-standards.

The author believes that Jefferson fails to meet ethical standards because he is just a hypocrite of all time. He abused his rights and privileges and exploited people. His actions are neither in the past or the present, but the most crucial consideration is that he did not support his values (Paul 184). According to Paul Finkelman, everyone in society should live to their word. As a result, Thomas Jefferson failed to meet the ethical standards of working toward abolishing slavery.


Thomas Jefferson is well known for his famous words "All men are created equal," but his actions did not support the words. Despite the fact he knew slavery was wrong, he owned many slaves and never wanted to liberate them because of his luxurious lifestyle. Nevertheless, it is unfair to use presenteism because it holds past events into presents while the values and perceptions are different in these periods.

Works Cited

Douglas, Wilson, "Jefferson and the Character Issue." The Atlantic Monthly, November 1992, p. 57-74. Web.

Paul, Finkelman, "Jefferson and Slavery: Treason Against the Hopes of the World," in Jeffersonian Legacies, Peter S. Onuf, ed. University Press of Virginia, 1993, p. 181-221. Web.

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Article Analysis Essay on "Jefferson and Slavery" and "Jefferson and the Character Issue". (2022, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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