It is easy to speak of righteous ideals; especially when one benefits from them. Difficulty in support does not arise from the self-beneficial trait – one would be foolish to deny that which is advantageous. The difficulty occurs when the ideal is in opposition to another that one holds. A conflict between the two compels a compromise – either partially or in whole. If the individual is critical of his beliefs, he will weigh the importance of both with respect to his own values. In other words, he will ask, “I if hold both, are my values in danger of hypocrisy?” In most instances, a partial compromise occurs to maintain both benefits, but this often results in the degradation of those same benefits to a separate party.
Why must the degradation of similar rights occur to another party? This consequence is a result of the compromise; not to one’s own rights, but to the rights of others. An easily demonstrable example is slavery. Men such as Thomas Jefferson – morally superior in his own time, but a hypocrite by today’s standards – championed the principles of liberty and justice; for all but those of color. Since we are unable to peer into a man’s mind – literally – much less a man that no longer breathes, we must speculate to understand his logic. How does one justify proselytizing equality one minute and supporting the enslavement of his fellow man the next? Simple: both ideals were beneficial to him.
Now, it is well documented that Thomas Jefferson was amenable to the abolition of slavery. We are aware of this from his correspondence. We have evidence that he released several slaves – possibly his kin – and he was a proponent of legislation that minimized slavery. The era in which Jefferson lived was not as liberal as he was; a fact often alluded to when defending his precarious position. It is also argued that individuals in the past should not be judged by today’s standards. To the latter, I disagree. Jefferson was well aware of his duplicity, but stopped short of rectifying it for unknown reasons. He led the charge for many, but stood idly for others. This unfortunate blemish upon the reputation of such a shining example of humanism should serve as a lesson. Jefferson is not to be chastised, but rather, he supplies all with a reminder to maintain moral consistency.