American Literature-ENG 201-40

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Literary Analysis Research Paper

"This paper on Thomas Jefferson, I feel, is my favorite. Although, I didn't receive feedback on this paper to allow me to make changes, I made some very valid points on Jefferson's behalf. It shocked me to find out that he owned slaves and the ones that he freed was HIS CHILDREN that he bored with Sally Hemming. I really wanted to elaborate on this particular aspect of his life, but I wanted to focus on the government. This part of his life that stills haunts us today"

Thomas Jefferson?

Why is Thomas Jefferson mentioned in The Heath Anthology of American Literature? What is contribution to America? It is extremely difficult to identify a more accomplished American and one with more curiosities about the human and natural worlds—than Thomas Jefferson is. Jefferson served as the third president of the United States from 1801- 1809;he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and influential Founder of the United States. "But this tall, red-headed Virginian was an architect, a musician, an inventor, and a scientist. Above all, he was America’s foremost champion of freedom and democracy (Grolier Books 1)".

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 to one of Virginia’s most famous families. Besides being well born, Jefferson was well educated. "Jefferson was graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1762, then studied and practiced law (Thomas Jefferson 990)." Thomas Jefferson was no stranger to the national scene. He was elected to the House of Burgesses showing to be an effective committeeman and skillful draftsman. As a member of the Continental Congress in 1776, Jefferson was chosen together with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman to draft, what he is best known for, The Declaration of Independence. The Declaration established the United States as an independent nation, which declared our independence from Great Britain. "…Selections form his prodigious letters-reveal an individual, and a young nation, struggling with issues of slavery, racial and cultural distinctiveness, political and national identity, the shape of government, modes of economic development, and the processes for creating a responsible, educated citizenry. (Thomas Jefferson, 990)" Jefferson did not try to be original in the Declaration; he only tried to state clearly what everybody believed. Jefferson "…emphasized the self-evident character of the principals at stake (Ellis 4)". Jefferson tried to write the common sense of the subject. On July 4, 1776, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was approved by second Continental Congress signed by John Hancock, and certified by the secretary. After many versions, Jefferson finally had written an eloquent birth certificate of the new United States.

The Declaration of Independence, like many other documents that live and shape our history, have had the magical power to be filled with new ideas. Whereas, Jefferson’s accomplishments holds relevance of today’s America; his failures do also. The examination of Thomas Jefferson provides us with our nation’s racial legacy. "Congress’s decision to remove Jefferson’s condemnation of Great Britain’s role in the North American Slave trade, with ins implicit criticisms of the institution itself, points to the turbulent political atmosphere that Jefferson negotiated (Thomas Jefferson 991)." The horror of slavery and subsequent discrimination is found in Jefferson’s home. Jefferson’s philosophy of human nature with his ownership of several hundred slaves has always been a challenge. For years, Jefferson having a slave mistress, Sally Hemming, who bored several children for him compounded this challenge. Despite his affair with Sally and his wife awareness it "…remains elusive, but their association attests to the dissonance between public and private engagement with the institution of slavery (Thomas Jefferson 992)".
The events of Thomas Jefferson early life and career contributed to America’s political landscape. "Jefferson’s political successes were matched by innovation in policy and administration (White, 7)". Jefferson’s strong legacy in America has been used to support and refute ideas, movements, and policies throughout our nation’s history. Although much of his life was spent in the public service, Jefferson had served his nation as: a member of the Continental Congress; Virginia House of delegates; governor of Virginia; member of Congress; minister to the court Louis XVI; and Secretary of State. After a brief retirement he becomes President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson became president of sharply divided country.

Thomas Jefferson inauguration in 1801 transferred power in the United States from one political group to another that was just. "The achievements of Jefferson’s first term bore directly on his great objects of quieting party antipathy and reducing the activities and the cost of the general government. The "monarchy-minded leaders of the Federalist he believed could be attached to the Republican Party by forbearance and skill". 1 In his inaugural address Jefferson tried to play down the differences between himself and his opponents: "we are all Republican, we are all Federalist" in their devotion to the Union. Jefferson promises were (1) equal and exact justice to all men of ever shade of political and religious opinion; (2) friendship with all nations but no alliances; (3) respect for the rights of the states while still serving the "constitute vigor" of the national government; (4) encouragement of agriculture and commerce; (5) freedom of speech, press, and elections; (6) economy and honesty in the management of country’s finance. Jefferson felt as though "…governments is established by free individuals and limited to preserving their natural rights, if it ever ceases to perform its function, those individuals that formed it may dissolve the government and establish one that will properly serve their interests (Sheldo 11)". This liberal view meant that a limited government is devoted to preserving rights, is evident in his inaugural address: "America requires a wise and frugal government which shall restrain man from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement (Brodie 386)." Jefferson felt as though the Federalist was unhappy with their leaders and was ready to become Republicans if he followed a moderate course. Jefferson believed that his election had turned the country away from militarism and monarchy. "Jefferson's term was marked by his belief in agrarianism, individual liberty, and limited government, sparking the development of a distinct American identity defined by republicanism (Wikipedia 2)".

In the 1800 presidential election, Jefferson and Aaron Burr deadlocked, creating a constitutional crisis. However, Jefferson received sufficient votes in the Electoral College. Jefferson called his election triumph "the Second American Revolution". Jefferson unlike Hamilton did want an industrialized nation of cities. He hoped the country could remain a community of farming who governed themselves in local assemblies. Political philosophers were concerned about the balance between the restrictions needed to make a government and the individual liberties guaranteed by that government. Jefferson’s idea on the government in Washington should confine itself to managing the nation’s dealings with foreign powers. Pursing this policy, Jefferson aimed to reduce the army and navy, and to apply the public revenue to paying off the public debt. Albert Gallatin, secretary of the Treasury, insisted on strict economy in government. .

Many American thought their rights to govern themselves would be safer if these were stated in writing so that the government official could see them and citizens would never forget them. The new state constitution followed a pattern. It began with a brief declaration of independence. This section declaring rights in which citizens reserved for themselves against any government. These rights included but are not limited to the following: the freedom of the press, the right to petition the government against abuse, freedom from unreasonable search of the homes.

Although Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, asserted that "all men are created equal", there were many ways in which the government treated people as if they were unequal. "…Jefferson’s revolutionary statement that "all men are created equal" came with significant caveats during his day but laid the philosophical foundation for a modern acknowledgment of universal rights, a concept that continues to serve and challenge, the United States today (Thomas Jefferson 993)". "…To acquire for the Federal government more consistency that the constitution seem to promise, to the end that triumph altogether over the states, Jefferson, on the addition of the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights, pronounced it "unquestionably the wisest yet presented to men (Bowers, 145)." Jefferson believed that every individual has certain inalienable rights. "Out of such a complex environment, Jefferson crafted a text that stands with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as foundational documents of United States nationhood, an articulation, as well, of international concepts of person and civil liberty (Thomas Jefferson 991)." That is, these rights exist with or without government; man cannot create, take or give them away. The right of liberty is one that Jefferson is notable for expediting.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." (Boyd 3) Even though the government couldn’t create a right to liberty, it can indeed violate it. A proper government, for Jefferson, is one that only prohibits of other individual society from infringing on the liberty of other individuals, but also restrains itself from diminishing individuals’ liberty.

Although "…Jefferson was opposed to "monarchising" the Constitution, and in favor of there preservation of all states rights "not yielded by them to the union. He was for a "government rigorously frugal and simple, and for "free commerce with all nations, political connection with one (Brodie, 386)". Jefferson lived up to the quotation "That government is best which governs the least." Thomas Jefferson was a fervent believer in State’s rights. He felt strongly that unguarded concentrations the Federal Government would ultimately lead to destruction of the United States. Jefferson wanted to be remembered not for his presidency, but for the roles he played in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and the University of Virginia.


Bowers, Claude G. Jefferson in Power. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1936 p.145
Boyd, Julian P. The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text. Ed.Gerard W. Gawalt. (Library of Congress and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc., 1999.)
Brodie, Fawn M., Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, ed. Richard Burton. New York: WW Norton & Company. P.386
Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers, The Revolutionary Generation. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2000. p.4
Grolier Books. The Story of America, (Connecticut: Danbury, 1996) p.1
Sheldo, Garrett Ward. The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. P.11
"Thomas Jefferson." The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. Paul Lauter. Vol. A. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 991-993
White, Leonard D. The Jeffersonians. New York: The Free Press, 1965. Pg 1, 7-8


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