In order to live a "better" -- a more reflective and intentional -- life, it is useful to review History. Only in this case, I believe, can we legitimately make judgments of the past.
One area recently brought to my attention is the opinions of Thomas Jefferson w/r/t to African Americans and slavery.
Jefferson, by pretty much any standard, was enlightened during his day:
Nobody wishes more ardently to see an abolition, not only of the trade, but of the condition of slavery; and certainly, nobody will be more willing to encounter every sacrifice for that object.Thomas Jefferson to Brissot de Warville, 1788. ME 6:428
But of course he might have been better:
To these objections, which are political, may be added others, which are physical and moral. ... The circumstance of Superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?Madison was pretty much in agreement:
It is due to justice; due to humanity; due to truth; due to the sympathies of our nature; in fine, to our character as a people, both abroad and at home, that they should be considered, as much as possible, in the light of human beings, and not as mere property. As such, they are acted on by our laws, and have an interest in our laws. They may be considered as making a part, though a degraded part, of the families to which they belong.James Madison, Speech in the Virginia State Convention of 1829-30, on the Question of the Ratio of Representation in the two Branches of the Legislature, December 2, 1829.
... there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see some plan adopted for the[ir] abolition ...But, there was one man who was on the modern side of this morality (and on most other topics):
As these people are not convicted of forfeiting freedom, they have still a natural, perfect right to it; and the governments whenever they come should, in justice set them free, and punish those who hold them in slavery.The best that can be said for the Founding Fathers is that they were being practical in this regard:
I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would to relieve us from this heavy reproach in any practicable way.Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, 1820. ME 15:249
But as the new subtitle of this blog states:
Everything revolutionary is impractical