Thomas Jefferson’s name is found in every history book. Thomas Jefferson was a confusing man, one that historians sometimes struggle to understand. Some historians describe Jefferson as being two different people before and during his presidency, due to his differing viewpoints and personalities. Jefferson’s morals and beliefs from prior to his election were not seen in the policies that he endorsed during his presidency. Jefferson’s presidency is questionable to many historians today, more than two hundred years later, because his actions differed from his previous ideals. This can be seen in a quote by historian Richard Hofstadter, “ There are two Thomas Jeffersons, one which existed prior to his 1801 inauguration, and the other which existed while he held office; one man, two visions, an outsider looking in, an insider looking out for all.” This is in part due to the fact that Thomas Jefferson put the interest of the American people ahead of his beliefs. Like Hofstadter said ,Thomas Jefferson was in fact one man with two visions, because it’s clear that his vision changed once he resided at the White House.
Jefferson’s opposing ideologies can be seen when looking at the issue of slavery. Prior to leading the executive branch, Thomas Jefferson was vocal about his belief that slavery was not morally right and that the practice should stop. Jefferson even made a few attempts to stop slave trade altogether, which were clearly not successful. But once Jefferson became President, he did not make further attempts to end slavery. A historian, Joseph Ellis, discussed this difference in Thomas Jefferson’s beliefs when he said “By the 1780s, and on the way into the 1790s however…he basically assumes the position that this is not an issue that this generation can solve.” The topic of slavery was often debated during this time period, it was clear that the two sides could not come to an agreement without violence. Jefferson contradicted himself on many occasions, but for a good reason.
Thomas Jefferson did not want to exacerbate the problem of sectionalism in America. To keep the country from becoming completely divided on issues, Jefferson did not always enforce policies that aligned perfectly with his views. Thomas Jefferson had the American people in mind and put the good of the country above all else. Before Jefferson became the second President of the United States, he believed that the Constitution needed to be followed exactly how it was written. Once getting into office and realizing that this was not a very realistic expectation of the government, he began to accept a more loose understanding of the Constitution. Jefferson’s more relaxed understanding of the Constitution can be seen with the Louisiana Purchase, because the Constitution did not specifically give the government permission to purchase land in the way that Jefferson did. But the Louisiana Purchase was extremely beneficial to America, which shows that once again Thomas Jefferson had the interest of the American people at heart. Joseph Ellis described Jefferson as a man who contradicted his own actions, but for the good of all.
Although Thomas Jefferson may appear a bit hypocritical or indecisive based on his many changes of heart, he in some ways did maintain the same values. From the beginning, Jefferson cared about the wellbeing of the United States. Jefferson had to put his morals and ideals aside sometimes to provide what was best for the American people. Without Jefferson’s contradicting visions, America may have been in a very different state today. Thomas Jefferson changed America for the better and helped pave the way for the growth of America during this time.