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Yoon Jin Yi

History Writing Assignment
Questioning Where Thomas Jefferson’s Immortality Lies
John F. Kennedy once described a White House reception for Nobel
laureates as “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human
knowledge, that has ever gathered together at the White House, with the
possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” Thomas Jefferson
was a man noted not only for his great intelligence, but also as a man who
believed in the rights of the people to govern themselves. As one of the
nation’s Founding Fathers, and as its third president, Jefferson regularly
displayed both qualities. During the first five decades of this nation’s
history, Jefferson was pre-eminent among his peers as an advocate of the
rights of man. The inspiring appeal of his philosophy and the eloquent
force of his expression have made him a powerful symbol of freedom
throughout the Western world, and his influence has been even greater in
death than in life. Even in today’s society, he is still known throughout
the world – he is immortal. Some dwell on Thomas Jefferson’s character and
portray him as scoundrel and focus on his immorality, while others prefer
to explore Jefferson’s system of ideas on government, economics, and
slavery. However, people should focus on what makes Thomas Jefferson, the
paragon of reason, one of the most talked about man. During his public
address, Woodrow Wilson said “The immortality of Jefferson does not lie in
any one of his achievements, but in his attitude toward mankind”. However,
I believe that Thomas Jefferson’s immortality lies in his work that
reflects his attitude toward mankind. The Declaration of Independence,
founding the America’s public education system, Louisiana Purchase are some
of works Thomas Jefferson’s works that show his moral character.

The Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest American
poems. His document shows not only his strongly held belief in that people
were created equal, but his acceptance of belief. Everybody subscribes to
it in a way. Jefferson states that “all men are equal” and argues that
every man has the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

Thomas Jefferson intended it to be a very emotional argument in a great
poem in which he itemizes all those things against the king. It turned out
to be a very powerful document.


Few people realize that Thomas Jefferson was the founder of
America’s public education system. This is another example of his work that
reflects his moral attitude towards mankind. During the last years of his
life, he was “entirely absorbed in endeavors to effect the establishment of
a general system of education” (T. Jefferson). Thomas Jefferson believed
that the most important bill in the whole code is the diffusion of
knowledge among the people. He believed that no other sure foundation can
be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness. To achieve this
goal, Jefferson made sure that the students studying under his system left
school with a clear understanding of the “laws of Nature and Nature’s God;
the US Constitution, which embodies these laws; and American history, which
celebrates the founding of a nation based on the self evident truth that
all men are equal”.

Unlike the first two examples, the Louisiana Purchase reflects
Thomas Jefferson’s moral character in a different way. It shows that he
made decisions based on the people’s best interest. The Louisiana Territory
was bought from France for $15 million. The area totaled about 830,000
square miles and just about doubled the size of our nation. The boundaries
were indefinite. The Mississippi River was the eastern border. On the south
the territory extended to the Gulf of Mexico, on the west to the Rocky
Mountains, and on the north to Canada. This land deal was arguably the
greatest achievement of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency but also posed a
major philosophical problem for Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson was strongly
anti-federalist. While he might have written the Declaration of
Independence, he definitely did not author the Constitution. Instead, that
document was mainly written by James Madison. Jefferson spoke against a
strong federal government and instead advocated states’ rights. He feared
tyranny of any kind and only recognized the need for a strong, central
government in terms of foreign affairs. Jefferson changed his attitude
toward England and France, as soon as France threatened our use of the
Mississippi River. It was strange for him to be pro-English, but he did it
for the nation’s best interest. “The Constitution has made no provision for
our holding foreign territory, still less for incorporating foreign nations
into our Union” (T. Jefferson) No officer of the federal government, no
department had the right to exercise any power or do anything unless that
power was expressly and clearly stated in the Constitution. But nowhere in
the Constitution did it say the president can buy a massive area of land.

On the other hand, the Constitution did say in the Tenth Amendment that any
power not given to US and not denied to the states did belong to the states
and the people. “But we shall not be disavowed by the nation, and their act
of indemnity will confirm and not weaken the Constitution, by more strongly
marking out its lines.” (T. Jefferson) Jefferson saw that what must be done
for reasons of national interest would violate his basic principles. His
inclination was to take the issue to the Congress. . Luckily, the people of
the United States basically agreed that this was an excellent move.

Thomas Jefferson was a man who wanted to be remembered more for his
achievements to the people, rather than to government. It is only fitting,
for a man who believed that government was the servant of the people. It is
his achievements that reflected his moral character and altruistic towards
mankind. Anyone can be those things, but to reflect upon those, is
courageous and something to revere. In his epitaph, it shows that he did
want to be remembered for his achievements. In his own epitaph, rather than
make mention of his long and varied public service, mentions only several
of his contributions to society. “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author
of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for
Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”