Jefferson’s Fallibility

Jon Meacham, in his biography of Thomas Jefferson [Thomas Jefferson: the Art of Power, Random House,2012] carefully draws the connections between Jefferson’s character/personality and his work.

Among other details, Meacham quotes Jefferson as he rationalizes a certain sexual freedom with slaves or servants. Jefferson writes, “For St. Paul only says that it is better to be married than to burn. Now I presume that if that apostle had known that providence would at an after day be so kind to any particular set of people as to furnish them with other means of extinguishing their fire than those of matrimony, he would have earnestly recommended them to their practice.”

In other words, Jefferson believes that if St. Paul had known how easy it is to have sex with one’s slaves, he surely would have thought it a great idea.

See, even great men can wear blinders at times. Jefferson fathered several children — we don’t know just how many — by at least one of his slaves over a period of several years. And yet he was one of the most important and gifted men shaping our new nation in the late 18th century.

The power of desire to control even our most rational moments is amazing. A little kid seems baffled when the world doesn’t give him what he wants. “But I want it” seems like such a solid reason for having or getting something. Grownups like Jefferson, on the other hand, may have the same attitude but are sophisticated enough to try harder at making it sound more reasonable.

The lesson, of course, is very simple: We always must be on guard against our own dishonesty. None of us is immune to self-deception as a way to get what we want. We need both to practice honesty and to stay open to friends who will have enough boldness to tell us when we are straying from being realistic and honest.

“Integrity” is not a word we seem to hear much any more. Perhaps the world is giving up on ever finding it?? Those who know we are accountable to God will never give up on integrity, knowing they will someday answer for their own. Thank you, Lord.




About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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