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Declaration of Independence
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
Election of 1800
Message to Teachers
Over the centuries the American Dream has taken many forms. Some versions are simple like owning a house with white picket fence. Other versions are grander such as the ideals of racial equaility presented in Martin Luther King Jr.'s
"I Have a Dream"
speech. What does this have to do with Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Jefferson was an elite, slave-owning Virginia planter who died almost 200 years ago. What could he possibly have to tell us about dreams of middleclass stability or hopes of racial harmony? Why is Thomas Jefferson relevant today, or is he?
Those are tough questions that Americans have to ask themselves as they look at Thomas Jefferson and his stature in American history and government. Why should Americans know about him and his legacy? The short answer is he was a visionary with a big dream for the United States. Thomas Jefferson's role in early American history was varied and controversial.
He wrote the
Declaration of Independence
. It is a document that is often cited for inspiration when people think about what is best about the United States and democracy. The enduring hope that is America is summed up in his words:
"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, & the pursuit of happiness..."
In the present day, we see this statement in a way that Thomas Jefferson could have never envisioned. He may have scoffed or even been appalled to see an African-American man elected President of the United States. So, do we throw out those enduring words of inspiration when we look at Thomas Jefferson's life and realize that he did not live up to our version of the ideals he gave us? Do we cease to acknowledge him as inspiring and important because of his flaws? Of course not. Do we gloss over his flaws and glorify him as an "American Saint?" Again, the answer is no. Thomas Jefferson, like all people in American and world history was not perfect and did not always make the right choices. The key to understanding and appreciating his legacy is remembering that history was not inevidable. Nothing had to happen. Thomas Jefferson and the other
did not have a crystal ball that told them everything would turn out okay. The consequences of their choices were unknown to them just as the future is also unknown to us.
The purpose of this wiki is to help students look at the legacies Thomas Jefferson left for the United States. We should acknowledge Thomas Jefferson's shortcomings, but also put them in the context of his time. The links are to pages containing background information and links to primary documents related to the events, policies, and controversies that were linked directly to Thomas Jefferson.
Declaration of Independence (1776)
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
Presidental Election of 1800
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