Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. are two American men who were key leaders during very controversial periods in U. S. history, and they were instrumental in movements that forever changed American society. Although their generations, cultures, backgrounds, and motives were quite different, their cause was relatively the same. It was a cause that stood against injustice, oppression, and sought the freedom of all men. Their beliefs and struggles were evident in their writings. Two of the most famous writings in particular are “Declaration of Independence” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.
Both writings are very effective and successful in reaching out to their intended audience. However, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is more effective in communicating its purpose to its audience. This was done in a time when black men and women were systematically and violently denied a platform from which they could publicly voice their issues to the nation. “Declaration of Independence” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” were written during controversial times, never the less, they established a justified purpose in the hearts of the men who were privileged to read them.Order now
However, the true integrity behind the purpose of each writing is measured by looking at the men who wrote them and their way of life. Both men were very intelligent and educated men of high moral and religious character. However, one would question the integrity of a person that claims that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and on the other hand, lives his life as a slave owner.
The freedom and equality of slaves with whites, was never considered in the writing of the Declaration because slavery was very much a part of all of the colonies when that document was written. As a matter of fact, slavery remained a part of colonial life for almost one hundred years after the Declaration of Independence was written. Dr. King and his followers, on the other hand, nonviolently fought for freedom at the expense of their own lives, as evidenced by Dr. King writing this letter from behind bars.
He walked the statement that he makes in the letter that says, “I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle” (530). Although their cause was the same, their tactics and audience differed.
Jefferson was able to use his claim of tyranny against the king, and Dr. King was able to use his humble approach and his comparisons to other men and organizations, to gain a worldwide audience in order to advance their causes. For example, Jefferson was able to rally support from the colonists and sympathy from other countries by placing the blame on King George. Jefferson justified his blame of King George by listing the king’s many injustices, as well as the attempts that the colonial leaders made to communicate with King George.
Using this tactic Jefferson was able to provoke the tyrant to war, prepare the colonists for war, and eventually gain an alliance with the French who helped them win the war. However, the Declaration was only targeted to the audience that would be critical in helping the colonies gain their independence. For instance, the slaves were left out because slavery was still a popular way of life. On the other hand, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” immediately reached out to all men. This is mainly due to the more advanced technology during Dr.
King’s time; the media, for example, had far more resources and the ability to reach far more people than had been possible before. This technological advantage gave Dr. King a worldwide stage. He used this stage to draw support from various sources by identifying with honorable men of various cultures and their ideals throughout history, as well as by distancing himself from several negative movements of his era that fought for the same cause. Dr. King identified with such men as Socrates, Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln, and even Thomas Jefferson (530-531).
He separated himself from the complacency of the middle class Negro and the white moderate, as well as from the violent extreme of the Nazi party and the black nationalists such as the Muslim movement led by Elijah Muhammed (528-529). With this tactic he was able to reach out to various types of people, even those who were strongly against Dr. King and what he stood for. “The Declaration of Independence” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” were both very important and necessary writings of their time.
They have even transcended their time and have been referenced throughout history. Dr. King even mentions Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration in the Birmingham letter, which adds strength to his argument to the clergymen. Dr. King reference to Thomas Jefferson adds strength to his argument because Jefferson is the author of the document that officially claimed America’s independence, and in that document, Jefferson states that all men are created equal (531). They may have been written in different times, but both texts speak the same message.
The texts speak a message that attacks oppression and injustice, while upholding the right to freedom and equality for all men. The question was that which writing was more effective. Each writing was very effective for their time, but the only one was could stand up to the question of true integrity witnessed by the lifestyles of the authors. Only one writing had a message of true compassion for all men in that no life was destroyed in order to gain the freedom that was so desperately sought.
That writing was the Letter from Birmingham Jail. Dr. King could never be in question because he was living the life that he wrote of in that letter. Perhaps the most convincing ideal in his letter that made it the more effective piece, is the ideal of love and peace. He never attacked one man in the letter. He only attacked the ideals of men. The two writings will continue to influence many for years to come, but the message of love in the Letter from Birmingham Jail will transcend every social barrier known to man.