The position of being a president of the United States of America comes with it a great responsibility to lead that is generally a reflection of the individual values and views of the president. For this reason, these values and views are constantly evaluated from the onset of the election process through the life of the president and beyond. This helps to continue to use the lessons learned through the direction of the nation based on these views and values in an effort to both repeat the successes and avoid the mistakes of former presidents. Two presidents that have been relentlessly evaluated are Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. While Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln have a status of being among the greatest American presidents in history in common, they are mostly quite different; in fact, they differ in characteristics such as their definitions of equality, their views on slavery and their reputations in their personal lives.
The first difference that can be found between Jefferson and Lincoln is in their definitions of equality. In fact, “each struggled with the meaning of equality and the dilemma of race and democracy” (Thomas 1479). While Thomas Jefferson stated that all men were created equal, this only referred to white men and the possibility of including the slaves was not relevant at that time. However, Lincoln believed that the certain inalienable rights were meant to apply literally to all men and therefore pressed forward to include the African Americans into this context of equality.
Following the discussion of equality, the natural order of differences leads to Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s views on slavery. Jefferson maintained that slavery was necessary for the continued progress of the nation. The economy and function of the new nation depended on the free labor afforded the white men at the cost of the slaves. However, Lincoln believed that “slavery was an evil” (Danoff 49). Lincoln was not willing to hold onto a nation that was based on the inhumane treatment of individuals who also deserved equality of human rights. Therefore, he brought to light the Emancipation Proclamation and subsequently ended slavery.
Although the personal life of the president may not directly affect their ability to lead a country, it can affect their decisions in the political realm. Thomas Jefferson was not viewed as having a positive position on slavery. He did not want to free the slaves because that would allow them to walk among the whites. However, there is significant evidence to suggest “that Thomas Jefferson fathered at lea.st one child by his slave Sally Hemings” (Marshall 153). This scandal shows that Jefferson had an affair, either consensual or not, with at least one of his slaves. Lincoln’s character was not in question in this manner as an “old friend of Lincoln’s said that Honest Abe not only advocated temperance, he never once tasted liquor” (Lightner 104). In other words, Lincoln tried to live up to the moral values that he wanted to lead by even in his own private life.
Perhaps it is not necessary to determine which of these two presidents were greater than the other, but it is important to note that they were both capable of moving the nation forward in their own ways and with their many differences. Both of the presidents made a difference in the equality of citizens, but Lincoln expanded the equality to all men. They both recognized why slavery had been in place, but Lincoln moved the nation beyond this evil. Jefferson was found to have an affair with a slave even though he advocated against interracial mingling while Lincoln tried to keep his personal life in line with his political agenda. These differences continue to be studied in relation to the successes of these two presidents of the United States of America.
- Danoff, Brian. “Lincoln And The “Necessity” Of Tolerating Slavery Before The Civil
War.” Review Of Politics 77.1 (2015): 47. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
- Lightner, David L. “Abraham Lincoln And American Values.” Canadian Review Of American
Studies 25.2 (1995): 103. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
- Marshall, Eliot. “Which Jefferson Was The Father?.” Science 283.5399 (1999): 153. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
- Thomas, William G. “Jefferson, Lincoln, And Wilson: The American Dilemma Of Race And
Democracy.” American Historical Review 116.5 (2011): 1479. MasterFILE Premier.
Web. 16 Mar. 2016.