6. A Man of Contrasts
America’s third president was a man of many contrasts. As a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote some of the most stirring words to have ever been penned in the cause of freedom, liberty, and equality. The phrase at the start of the of Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has moved and inspired idealists for centuries.
Yet, Jefferson pursued his happiness as the master of a plantation, and led a life of luxury that was only made possible by the labor of hundreds of chattel slaves. He called human bondage a “moral depravity” and “a hideous blot”, thought that slavery was contrary to the laws of nature by which every human being had a right to personal liberty, and told anybody who would listen that it was necessary to end the detested institution. Those views were quite radical in the environment in which he grew up and lived. However, despite whatever he stated against human bondage, Jefferson owned slaves throughout his life.