How should we assess U.S. presidents during the early republic era? George Washington owned hundreds of slaves, as did Thomas Jefferson. In fact, five of the first seven presidents owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson had sexual relations with his fourteen-year old enslaved girl, Sally Hemings, when he was a forty-four-year old man and fathered several children by her. Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court and forcibly removed Native Americans from their lands as part of the infamous “Trail of Tears” episode in American history. For some historians, these presidents were just products of their times. After all, it was perfectly legal to own slaves, and since slaves were considered property, owners did whatever they wanted with their property. Furthermore, Native Americans were not citizens of the new republic, so they had no rights that any citizen was bound to respect. Should we ignore the personal behaviors of these presidents and celebrate their accomplishments, which led to the growth of the nation in which we now live? Or, should we judge them by their actions? For many feminist historians, Thomas Jefferson was a rapist. For many cultural historians, Andrew Jackson contributed to the genocide of Native American people. What is the appropriate standard for judging U.S. presidents? Is it fair to apply present day standards to the past? Why or why not? Give your opinion on the above-mentioned presidents, including their accomplishments and actions. Keep in mind that Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson are considered to have been three of the most successful presidents by presidential historians. Have presidential historians gotten it right? Why or why not? Be sure to respond to a classmate’s post for full credit.
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