America's Founding Fathers Essay

651 words - 3 pages

This reading material consists of the first chapter of Stephen Ambrose's text “To America, Personal Reflections of an Historian”, entitled “The Founding Fathers”. In this piece, Ambrose examines several of the founding fathers, contrasting their lives with their failings in the light of modern views on racism and sexism. He begins by speaking about the life of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson's views on African American slavery, as well as the rights of women and Native Americans, are listed in detail. They are shown alongside quotes from the former president that would seem to contradict his actions and lifestyle in these regards. Ambrose also explores the legacy and accomplishments of Jefferson's life in a long term perspective. Further into the text, William Clark and George Washington are examined along the same lines. However, the most time is spent on Thomas Jefferson, perhaps because he is arguably the most widely condemned slaveowner amongst the founding fathers.

Ambrose freely admits that these men may have failed to rise above concepts that, while common in society in those day, are found to be morally reprehensible today. He also is quick to point out that their political and philosophical ideals were often at odds with their lives in the most blatant hypocrisy. However, he argues that their failings should not be allowed to discount their accomplishments. He talks in detail of Jefferson's commitment to education and religious freedom, or the merits of Washington's leadership and character. The author also attempts to show that while their personal lives may have been lacking, later civil rights movements would never have been possible without the progress our founding fathers made toward the acceptance of human equality as a concept. Ambrose discusses the ideas Jefferson put forward in his writings, including the Declaration of Independence. Many of these are in contradiction to the institution of slavery. It is suggested that the merit of these ideals...

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