The story of the United States of America is one of a nation founded upon the loftiest ideals of representative government, attempting to fulfill its goals while encountering competing domestic and global forces. From the beginning, Americans debated how their national government should govern, balancing powers between the federal government and the states, which led to the establishment of the first political parties. At the same time, the nation has struggled to reconcile its guarantee of universal rights and individual liberties with several stark realities, including the presence of millions of slaves at the time of the Declaration of Independence.
Nobody spent more time in the thick of these debates than Thomas Jefferson, one of the most famous and revered Americans. Jefferson was instrumental in all of the aforementioned debates, authoring the Declaration of Independence, laying out the ideological groundwork of the notion of states' rights, leading one of the first political parties, and overseeing the expansion of the United States during his presidency.
But for all of his accomplishments, Jefferson's reputation and legacy are still inextricably intertwined with the divisive issues of his own day. As the slaveholder who wrote that all men are created equal, and because of his relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings, Jefferson's life and career are still sometimes fiercely debated today.