What Makes A Great Man


We all have read, heard about, or may even know someone who has done something extraordinary. Samson and his incredible feats of strength, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams work on the Declaration of Independence. The list of people who have done something great would be huge.

However, on the list of people who have done something great. How many of them were actually great men? 

Before we can answer that question, we have to figure out what makes a great man. Is it what they do? What they say? Or both? Do we only look at the great things people said or did? Or do we also look at the bad things they said or did, then put it on a scale and see which way it tips?

Let’s take a look at two of the men on that list. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. 

One of the most significant examples of character we see from Adams is when he decided to defend the British soldiers who fired upon the people at the Boston Massacre. While this was an unpopular move, Adams held to his belief “that no man in a free country should be denied the right to counsel and a fair trial….”  

Although he was on the opposite side politically and would eventually sign the document that declared independence from England. Adams followed his beliefs and convictions. Ultimately this led to the acquittal of six out the eight British soldiers. Meanwhile, the last two were found guilty of manslaughter. 

On the flip side, we see Jefferson, who wrote concerning slavery, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is Just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.” 

Yet not only did Jefferson own slaves, he only freed five of his slaves when he died. Those five were all a part of the Hemings family with one noticeable exemption Sally Hemings whom Jefferson had relations.  

Now both men had flaws, as we all do. One of Adam’s most significant flaws was his temper and stubbornness, which Adams was very aware of In fact. Adams’ temper was one of his biggest flaws that political opponents used against him. 

So how do you judge a man? If we all have flaws, then what determines his greatness? The key is not just looking at small points of a man’s life but the whole picture and the growth that takes place. 

This way, we can truly see the character because that is the deciding factor when determining if a man is great or has simply only done great things.

One thing that stands out to me is upon both their deaths is that we see Jefferson who had made his own epitaph which said, “ Here Was Buried, Thomas Jefferson. Author of the Declaration of American Independence, Of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, And Father of the University of Virginia.” 

Yet Adams composed an inscription to be put on Henry Adams sarcophagus (the first Adams to arrive in Massachusetts.) 

Which said, “This stone and several others have been placed in this yard by a great, great, grandson from a veneration of piety, humility, simplicity, prudence, frugality, industry and perseverance of his ancestors in hopes of recommending an affirmation of their virtues to their posterity.”

I believe there’s a desire to be great inside all of us, but like Jefferson, we often link greatness with accomplishments. The truth is it’s the character that outweighs the accomplishments when it comes to being great.

We should strive to do great things, but we must stand tall on the foundation of our character. 

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe we should honor Jefferson and men like him who have accomplished great things, but character is key.

We are all hypocrites and have done things that we have preached against. So, how can anyone obtain greatness? 

The answer is in how you get back up and overcome after you fall. You have to grow from it instead of being indifferent to it or trying to hide it. 

Jefferson tried to make sure the focus was on his accomplishments while hiding the negative. While Adams focus was on family and those around him. It wasn’t just about him. 

We have to learn to humble ourselves, focus on our character and others if we are truly going to be great. 

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