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Douglas L. Wilson discussed the question of presentism in source one, believing that traditional traditions of the day can be used to justify the time's dirty deeds. Jefferson's argument that "all people are created equal" was ironic, he said, since he was among those who owned slaves. Jefferson, Douglas said, exhibited hypocritical characteristics by opposing slave labor while refusing to free the slaves he owned. He also claimed that since Jefferson had practiced slavery at some stage he somehow had a strong belief in it and therefore criticizing it would portray him as a hypocrite.
Jefferson was born in a slaveholding society, and in a family which admired counterparts who owned slaves. It could not make sense for Douglas to believe that such a person whose family inherited a fortune that resulted from slave labor would state that slavery was supposed to be abolished because it was morally wrong.
From this source, Paul Finkelman does not believe in presentism by saying that Jefferson’s actions do not impose the twentieth-century values on eighteenth-century individual. Finkleman thinks that although Jefferson believed that slavery was wrong, he could not live without them because they played a significant role in getting most of his tasks such as building his house, preparing his meals and tilling his gardens to be done.
Comparing the two sources, Douglas L. Wilson seems to be under the impression that the standard practices of the recent time can justify the immoral activities of the past. On the contrary, Paul Finkelman is firm on his decision of denying to pardon Thomas Jefferson for the crimes he undertook.
What ethical standards does each of the author use to evaluate Jefferson?
Mr. Wilson believed that Jefferson did not possess the virtue of courtesy because he always criticized slave labor in a biased level. Based on the fact he wrote that “all men were created equal,” he was supposed to value all people and be on the forefront in freeing the slaves he owned. Wilson see him as a hypocrite because he pretended to be against slavery yet he was among those who owned them
On the other hand, Finkleman sees Jefferson as a person who was against human rights because he used slaves to undertake various activities like tilling his and, preparing his meals and building his house. Thinking that people were supposed to educate and train slaves on how to be self-sufficient, provide them with necessary materials and establish a colony which they could live as free and independent individuals was wrong for a person like Jefferson because he was preaching what he was not doing.
What type of evidence do they offer when evaluating Jefferson?
Wilson uses a comparison of the times to analyze Jefferson’s character by saying he did not address the issue of slavery irrespective of stating that “all people were created equal.” He also stated that the evil institution abuse of human rights was not part of Jefferson’s thoughts. Basing his argument on various writing such as the moving statement by Jefferson that “all men are created equal,” he referred him as more or less a willing hero in unwilling age.
From the second source, Finkleman used a high ethical standard for evaluating Jefferson because he saw no reason for giving leniency on his background. He believes Jefferson’s’ notion concerning slavery is entirely wrong. From the source, he stated that Jefferson could not live without slaves to prepare his meals, toil his gardens and undertake other chores.
He also mentioned that his grand lifestyle was most important for him than the rights of slaves. According to him, this was wrong because if he believed that slavery was wrong, he would have valued the rights of every person including that of his slaves. Mr. Finkelman also provided evidence which suggests that Jefferson came up with lofty statements within the declaration of independence to act as a thin veil for covering different crimes that he never requested for forgiveness.
Mr. Finkelman also stated that as Jefferson declared these high and lofty statements, his counterparts were living a lifestyle that he could only understand in theory. This aspect can be witnessed through other slave owners freeing their slaves during and after the end of the revolutionary war. Jefferson went contrary to what he always preached because even after other slave owners released their slaves, he did not consider to free his. This was wrong because if he felt it was against human rights to use slaves for various tasks, he was supposed to be on the forefront in releasing all slaves he had.
How does each author think Jefferson meets or fails to meet the ethical standard the author established?
Wilson feels that Jefferson’s did not meet the moral standards based on the fact that he addressed slavery issue on a biased level. Although he kept stating that all people were created equal, he failed to show that by freeing his slaves. Jefferson felt it was wrong for other people to depend on slave labor but was not ready to release the ones he owned.
Finkelman, on the other hand, feels Jefferson did not meet the standards because his actions were portraying him as a hypocrite. He thinks that irrespective of preaching that it was imperative for people to free their slaves and teach them about self-reliance, he continued to use them to undertake some tasks like building his house, tilling his land and preparing his meals.
What ethical standard would you use
I would state that Jefferson addressed slavery at biased level because if he thought “all people were created equal,” he would be at the forefront in freeing the ones he owned. Feeling it was not right for other people to own slaves yet himself was not ready to release them was an entirely biased view.
Using Primary Sources to evaluate secondary sources
Which of the two historians' arguments is best supported by the primary source documents? Why? Or, if you find that both arguments are well supported by the evidence, why do you think the two historians had such different interpretations about Jefferson?
From the two historians, Mr. Finkelman's arguments are more substantial because they examine the past as well as the present. Comparing the two sources, Finkleman portrays Jefferson as fork-tongued crook disguised as a public servant. Being a modern day leader, Jefferson with other people did not recognize that all human beings deserved to be given an opportunity to enjoy their rights irrespective of their skin color.
Finkleman felt that advocating for freedom while owning slaves was nothing short of preposterous. A carnal mind is a place where evilness and other vices can thrive. However, it can also deliver goodness when the reward offsets the gain that can be seized by ill will. This is the kind of argument that Finkelman attempts to make. Therefore, in the light of primary sources, I concur with Mr. Finkleman.
Based on the ethical standard you choose in part one 1 and these documents, how would you assess Jefferson’s relationship with slavery? You may consider how Jefferson’s views over time
Finkleman stated that Mr. Jefferson was not able to live without getting his tasks done by slaves. According to him, they constructed his house, prepared his meals and tilled his gardens. This statement shows that even if Jefferson expressed his concerns about slavery and had plans to abolish it, his ideas would remain a dream that would never to come true because he was among those who benefited from their services.
What has using the primary sources to evaluate the Wilson and Finkleman arguments taught you about making ethical assessments of historical figures?
Using the primary sources to evaluate the Wilson and Finkleman arguments has taught me that people should adequately examine the real character of famous people because the reality is not always apparent when passed along. This happens not because one of the sides say the truth or lie but because in some cases perception can tyrannize one’s evaluation of character or situation.
Additional primary and secondary source
Helo, Antony. “Jefferson, Morality, and the Problem of Slavery.” William and Mary Quarterly 60(3) (January, 2003): pg523-583.
In this article, Helo views Jefferson as a racist who believes in slavery which existed many years ago. He tries to explain by providing an insight of how various people in the past such as Mr. Jefferson were viewing the issue. Although slavery and racism existent in the history, it still persists in the modern society. From this source, Jefferson did not portray the virtue of courtesy by criticizing slavery at a biased level.
Wiencek, Henry. Master of the Mountain. Charlottesville, Virginia: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.
From this book, Wiencek used Jefferson’s assertions to address various social issues such as how people feel to be valued by the society they live in. According to his view, Jefferson provides less contribution in addressing issues that affect the current American society such as drugs and crime. Based on his view concerning ethical standards, Wiencek portrays Mr. Jefferson as a principled person who is firm on his stands concerning matters that affect the society.
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Douglas L. Wilson, “Thomas Jefferson and the Character issue” (1992).
Paul. Finkelman, “Jefferson and slavery” (1993)
Paul. Finkelman. “Jefferson and Slavery” (1993).
Thomas. Jefferson. Notes on the state of Virginia. (1987).
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