Return to Thomas Jefferson (person)

Thomas Jefferson was a complex person. There were deep ambiguities in his thinking, which made any effort at consistency impossible. Alhtough Federalist historians have cited these ambiguities as evidence of a moral taint, a constitutional shiftness of mind, they may in fact be traced to a continuously ambivalent personal and political history. He valued much more highly the achievements of his father, whom he intensely admired, than the social status of his mother, whose influence he never acknowledged; but from the beginning he was aware of both the asssurance of the aristoracy and the real merits and talents of men who came from unkown families.When he came to maturity, Jefferson was a slaveowner and yet a revolutionist, who could say that man's rights were "unalienable" at the very moment when heowned several dozen souls. All his life he circulated among men of wealth, learning, andd distinction, and as befitted one who disliked acrimony he learned to accommodate himself to them- but he also absorbed the most liberal and questionable opinions of his age and associated on congenial] terms with men like THomas Paine and Joel Barlow. In American politics he became a leader of yeomen farmers- but also of great planters. He was the head of a popular faction that stood against the commercial interests- but it was also a propertied faction with acquisitive aspirations of his own. He wanted with all his heart to hold the values of agrarian society, and yet be believed in progress. Add to all this the fact that he lived an unusually long life, saw many changes, and tried to adapt his views to changing circumstances.

One of his most famous quotes is from his First Inaugural Address:

"that man cannot be trusted with the government himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others?"