Pragmatic Jefferson

By Lillian DeMarco and Kaytlyn Walter

"I see too many proofs of the imperfection of human reason to entertain wonder or intolerance at any difference of opinion on any subject, and acquiesce in that difference as easily as on a difference of feature or form, experience having long taught me the reasonableness of mutual sacrifices of opinion among those who are to act together for any common object, and the expediency of doing what good we can when we cannot do all we would wish." - Thomas Jefferson to John Randolph, 1803.

Who Was Thomas Jefferson and How Was He Pragmatic?

(1) Thomas Jefferson was a democratic theorist but an elitist landowner. He is portrayed as the advocate of the common man yet served as president of the American Philosophical Society; (2) as an advocate of limited government and strict constitutional construction, yet as president he massively extended the national domain without clear authority...He insisted that freedom of the press was the best check on government integrity but was very sensitive to criticism and encouraged prosecution of critics for allegedly printing false and injurious facts. (3) He proclaimed the natural rights of all men but owned many as slaves. Such paradoxes and inconsistencies expose him to severe criticism.

  1. Jefferson often contradicted what he believed in. He supported the rule of the common man, and not the exclusive rule of the rich and well-born. Jefferson, however, was a man of great wealth, property, and status. This reveals itself as hypocritical at first, but proves to be pragmatic when considering people's natural tendency to listen to individuals of wealth. He wouldn't have much say or attention if he was just some unknown country farmer from some random town. He needed power and status to help him represent the common folk, and get his say.
  2. Jefferson interpreted the constitution word for word and believed that it should be strictly followed. His view was contradicted by his actions during a certain land purchase called the Louisiana Purchase. He felt that he was going through with this deal was the best way to save the Union, even if this went against his beliefs.
  3. Jefferson did in fact believe in the natural rights for all men, even slaves. Ironically, Jefferson owned about 2,000 slaves. He did not release them for fear of what the society may do to them or think of them.

Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase

The event of the Louisiana purchase shows two cases of Jefferson's pragmatic way of thinking. The first occurs in the process of the purchase itself. America had its eye on the chunk of land that was purchased for a long time, and were waiting for the right time to snatch it from the Spanish. During Jefferson's Presidency, Napoleon would gain this land in his effort for power and use it as a way to feed his soldiers. Events would eventually make this point meaningless and Jefferson would take the chance to get the land by offering a deal. This deal would force Jefferson to cut certain corners and agree to a peace treaty with the French.
Ways Jefferson Was Pragmatic

1. Jefferson was pragmatic when he placed the safety of the country before his belief in the strict interpretation of the constitution. When Jefferson decided to go through with the Louisiana Purchase, he literally said he felt that the whole act was somewhat unconstitutional. This point will be proven further by the examination of his intentions when the purchase took place. Jefferson wanted to obtain the land because he saw the French as a threat towards America's boarders. The country was weak, and he was under no illusion otherwise. To prevent the French from possibly taking over in later years, Jefferson sent in his men and sealed the deal.

2. When Jefferson bought the land in the Louisiana purchase, he entered a peace treaty with France. Jefferson agreed with Washington on the topic of creating no permanent alliances with other countries. Again, however, Jefferson thought of only avoiding the destruction of the U.S. by the French and made the decision to break this rule, thus he is pragmatic.

The Economy

Jefferson was against Hamilton's financial plan before his presidency. Jefferson believed that the Constitution did not give the federal government the power to create a National Bank. He thought that such powers should go to the states, for he was a supporter of the rights of the states and the individuals.

How the Event Turned Pragmatic

When Jefferson became president, he recognized the country's debt. It was a huge, towering foe that was around since the revolutionary war. Jefferson decided to keep 3 main parts of Hamilton's plans for the sake of the people, even if he disagreed strongly. They were the National Bank, the founding of the debts at par, and assuming the Revolutionary war debts of the states.

On Slavery

Jefferson is well known for writing the Bill of Rights. This man also believed that certain rights of freedom were given to all men, regardless of his skin. DNA testing has even shown that he had children with one of his own slaves. This appears hypocritical at first, but shows true pragmatism when further looked in to, like most of Jefferson's doings that stir debate. This man did not release his slaves for fear of their safety. Jefferson believed that the society wasn't ready for this step, and he foresaw the dangers that the African-Americans would have faced without his protection. Today, we cannot blame this for his actions due to events like the Civil War and the segregation that would last afterwards.

Why Jefferson's Pragmatic Over Hypocritical

Lecture 5 4 Thomas Jefferson Hypocrite or Pragmatist

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