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Jefferson’s Shame?

June 2023
1min read

How do we deal with the moral failings of our heroes? Jefferson’s is the most agonizing one to consider. Next to his transgressions as a slave owner (even without the Sally Hemings factor) stand his unparalleled achievements on behalf of us all. In addition to Mr. Weisberger’s excellent conclusions, here is another one that came to me.

We are always reminded that Jefferson, though a large spirit, was formed by his era. But if someone who could rightfully be called one of the greatest geniuses of that era could be so blind, could possibly take physical advantage of his dead wife’s sister and treat his own offspring as slaves, then how can we expect lesser men to do otherwise? If you or I had been born the scion of a plantation dynasty, would we have freed our slaves? That is why it’s so important for all of us to work together on the social contract in our own time—because if the contract is flawed, it’s tough for even the very finest of us to stand against it.

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