Skip to comments.The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson
Posted on 09/22/2012 6:47:35 AM PDT by Renfield
...One cannot question the genuineness of Jeffersons liberal dreams, writes historian David Brion Davis. He was one of the first statesmen in any part of the world to advocate concrete measures for restricting and eradicating Negro slavery.
But in the 1790s, Davis continues, the most remarkable thing about Jeffersons stand on slavery is his immense silence. And later, Davis finds, Jeffersons emancipation efforts virtually ceased.
Somewhere in a short span of years during the 1780s and into the early 1790s, a transformation came over Jefferson.
The very existence of slavery in the era of the American Revolution presents a paradox, and we have largely been content to leave it at that, since a paradox can offer a comforting state of moral suspended animation. Jefferson animates the paradox. And by looking closely at Monticello, we can see the process by which he rationalized an abomination to the point where an absolute moral reversal was reached and he made slavery fit into Americas national enterprise....
(Excerpt) Read more at smithsonianmag.com ...
In another communication from the early 1790s, Jefferson takes the 4 percent formula further and quite bluntly advances the notion that slavery presented an investment strategy for the future. He writes that an acquaintance who had suffered financial reverses should have been invested in negroes. He advises that if the friends family had any cash left, every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in this country by the increase in their value.
The irony is that Jefferson sent his 4 percent formula to George Washington, who freed his slaves, precisely because slavery had made human beings into money, like Cattle in the market, and this disgusted him. Yet Jefferson was right, prescient, about the investment value of slaves. A startling statistic emerged in the 1970s, when economists taking a hardheaded look at slavery found that on the eve of the Civil War, enslaved black people, in the aggregate, formed the second most valuable capital asset in the United States. David Brion Davis sums up their findings: In 1860, the value of Southern slaves was about three times the amount invested in manufacturing or railroads nationwide. The only asset more valuable than the black people was the land itself. The formula Jefferson had stumbled upon became the engine not only of Monticello but of the entire slaveholding South and the Northern industries, shippers, banks, insurers and investors who weighed risk against returns and bet on slavery. The words Jefferson usedtheir increasebecame magic words.
He met the paradox of what he knew should be (end of slavery) and how to maintain his estate and the economy of the south (keeping slavery). The solution came when the cotton gin (engine) was created, that lessended the need for slaves in the cotton growning areas. It was industrialization that permitted the eradication of slavery due to what were seen as economic requirements/justifications.
He didn't own Monticello when he died. He didn't own his slaves either, which is why he couldn't free them.
I’m scared to know what you think about after your first cup of coffee.
1) Read THE JEFFERSON LIES by David Barton
2) The Smithsonian Magazine is quite PC
Everyone is a product of their time and culture. A Jewish friend told me that, were he in the position of a German citizen in circa 1939, he would never have done the things that the German citizens did to the Jews. I told him that if he had been raised on a diet of Germanic superiority in a subservient Progressive culture he would have believed and done exactly what they did. He denied that. He somehow felt that his twenty-first century liberal (in the Founders sense) view was universal and the only and obvious way to see the world.
I can easily imagine myself in the shoes of somebody raised differently. I would be the product of that upbringing; not the product I am now at all. This failure to see life as others might see it is a huge liberal (as in Progressive/Socialist) failing on the part of Democrats in general.
So the article wasn’t about Sally Hemings.I kid,I kid!
Just finishing it as we type (by the way, I almost never drink coffee; I do drink enormous quantities of tea, though).
I am thinking about having a shower and shave, then going out to labor in my own garden, watering spinach and planting turnips and collards. No help from slaves or servants.
The south was simply stuck with and happy with the system of slavery. There was no longer a need to import them. They were reproducing faster than they were dying off.
I do agree with your main point, it's often harder to see what's happening before your very eyes, just look at the many people on FR that think it's okay to leave Bambi in office........
Finally got a chance to visit Monticello a few years ago. Was surpirsed how by cramped it looked on the inside. After taking the tour, seeing his gadgets, and learning about how he lived day to day, I went away convinced that he was a bit of a crackpot.
Yes, true. Had the South won the Civil War, I might have been master of a plantation myself; my great-great-grandfather, a colonel in the Virginia Militia (who, by the way, was with Lee at Appomattox), owned 3000 acres of Virginia piedmont land, where he raised tobacco, doubtless with the help of many slaves. The family also owned the local general store; as there was no money available during the war, they allowed all of their neighbors to buy on credit, and following the collapse of Confederate currency after the war, those neighbors were unable to pay their debts. The store went bankrupt, and with it, the plantation; my ancestor had to sell his plantation to pay off his debts, at a fraction of its value.
He lived well into the 20th century, a penniless, blind, forotten war hero.
Like Jefferson, I’m sure obama struggles with the contradictions of enslaving the majority of Americans with massive debt.
Then again, probably not.
Hi Gen. Blather,
I do agree that we are a product of our upbringing to a large extent. What I think about fashion, morals, behavior etc is rooted a lot in the environment I live in. For example, I think nothing of a woman dressed in a normal bathing suit at the beach (I only use the word “normal” to separate out anyone who is visualizing thongs or micro bikinis”. However, in India, a country that I visit for business, women typically will wear bathing suits that incorporate shorts into them (kinda like Olympic swimmers). Neither Hindus nor Christians have anything against bathing suits (unlike Muslims) but different cultures make each comfortable with skin at a different level
However, I have to say Slavery falls in a completely different spectrum. Since the New Testament, Western civilization has known that Slavery is immoral. If you are a Christian then you know that Jesus died for to free EVERYONE (from Sin.. but one can argue for any human bondage too). To “own” another human being runs completely contrary to the New Testament.
This is not a new fact. In the pre Civil War South, all moral arguments about slavery were made solely on the Old Testament. Some people in the South conveniently “forgot” that God had made a NEW Covenant with his children by sending Jesus.
This is what led to a huge moral split in the country. Non Southern based Christian churches were appalled that the Bible was being misconstrued by the Slave owners.
From the VERY first days of slavery, there was a huge moral and religious opposition to it. You can look up hundreds of thousands of citations on it. The Christian churches in the North led the fight against slavery. Thus it is very hard to argue that someone would grow up in the South and not be aware that there were COGENT and well presented moral and Christian arguments against slavery.
Almost universally, the Slave owners had economic reasons for slavery and it is my conjecture that each of them (in some part of their heart) knew what they were doing was wrong but economic necessity lead to keep using slaves. After all, the threat of financial ruin can be a powerful motivator.
I see many parallels today with Abortion. 50% of our populace supports abortion, mostly for selfish reasons (career, not the “right time” etc). When abortion is finally banned (as it will be) some historians will wonder if people back in the “savage 20th century” knew that abortion was wrong. My answer then (assuming I live that long) will be the same as it is now: Yes, we knew it was wrong but selfishness led us to continue the practice
should be: Like Jefferson struggled with slavery..
Stopped my subscription to Smithsonian some time ago!! Could no longer take their lift wing slant on all of the articles!!
I’m looking forward to reading the entire article. I agree with you regarding Jefferson’s finances dictating his position on slavery. Having visited Monticello, I came to the conclusion that for all his genius, Jefferson was a narcissistic ass with zero sense of responsiblity or accountability to his fellow man.
He lived, literally and figuratively, above others and disregarded what we today would consider common decency.
I was heartened to see the John Adams miniseries depict Jefferson as almost exactly what I had imagined.
Of course, my opinions are only mine, and they are informed by life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. But I consider Jefferson the least of the founders, as a man.
But he did believe in States Rights and that's what always sells me on Jefferson.
He was much more modest than Washington.
That is how “deja vu” works. Exactly.
Jefferson was a Democrat. Republicans have an annual Lincoln (who freed the slaves) Day dinner; and the Democrats have an annual Jefferson (who owned slaves) dinner.
The Democrats still have black slaves kept in their place by the house negroes like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Charlie Rangle, et al.
IMHO, one of the most amazing things to observe in history is that within 100 years of penning the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, slavery is basically history....throughout the entire world. the best testament to the integrity of those documents.
Which really is all that needs saying...about the legitimacy of those documents, and the puerile idiocy of those, passing themselves off as “scholars” , who try to classify those documents as “slaveholders writings”.
As with all liberals, that which they openly accuse of, is generally that which they themselves are desperately attempting to practice covertly.
Even liberal icons like Martin Luther King.
“Sure, that's all true, King did some very good things, but he ATE MEAT! That is UNFORGIVABLE!!”
(That is, if our offspring are not huddled around camp fires in a post-electrical world.)
Two thousand years? Shoot, that is just the modern AD era.
There was no time in recorded history without slavery, before the Europeans abolished it.
Slavery existed in North Africa until the French stamped it out in the 1930s. I think the last open slave auction took place in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s. And it exists sub-rosa all over the Islamic world to this day, where it is explicitly approved under Sharia law.
What a PC joke it is to blame Europeans for slavery, when they were the ones who abolished this ancient human institution.
Funny how we are allowed to know the “dark side” of a 200-year old President, but we are NOT allowed to know the dark side of our current occupant.
I figure Obama sees it as revenge against the U.S. for being the strongest and most prosperous nation on the planet.
Yes; funny, also, how his records were scrubbed before he announced his run for the presidency. It’s nearly impossible to prove anything about him as a younger man; we still don’t know who paid for his time at Columbia University. He didn’t have the money for it. Who put him through Columbia?
I’ve thought for a long time that he was the Manchurian Candidate of the CIA, or of some other sinister entity with enormous resources.
Slavery existed all over the northern states also, especially New York. The biggest slave owner in the state of SC was a black man. And when the murdering Lincoln “freed” the slaves with his bogus emancipation, he “freed” slaves in a country he had no jurisdiction, as in the Confederate States of America. He left alone the slaves that were in border states like Kentucky and Maryland.Precisely because the majority of those states sided with him. And getting back to Jefferson, most REAL historians think his brother was the one that fathered the children with Hemmings. AND, if he had an “affair” with Hemmings, his wife was dead and he was an old man. Nothing to see here for Jefferson haters, so move along.
BL: Was surprised how by cramped it looked on the inside...I went away convinced that he was a bit of a crackpot.
S: The bed insets were ridiculously small and the dumbwaiter was no big deal. I don’t think Jefferson was the “brain” we make him out to be...
LOL! Y’all are so JADED! :-)
I thought Monticello was way cool. Then again, I’m sure I’m more than a LITTLE cracked myself... Keep in mind he put it all together quite a while ago, essentially in the middle of nowhere. Charlottesville was NOT Boston or NY.
Did y’all get a chance to check out the university? That was cool too (IMHO). Of all the stuff Jefferson did, fighting for and founding UVA was Jefferson’s proudest accomplishment, at least judging by what he had put on his tombstone. Too bad it’s now a liberal cesspool, but that’s the way of higher ed in this country.
Mrs. Tick and I were also blown away by the quality of the restaurants downtown. And good hiking not far out of town.
All in all I’d go back to Charlottesville in a heartbeat.
Just b/c you claim to be a nation country doesn't make it so.
Thanks Renfield, but this is just some reelection campaign chatter from the Obama media chatterbox.
It didn't end slavery. It just made the work a lot easier!
Pull a few levers every couple of years. Massa will provide the rest.
I am a follower of General Washington and people like me tend to not like TJ because of his scurrilous attacks on the General.
The more one learns about TJ, the better General Washington looks. Jefferson resented Washington and started hurtful (to GW) rumors about him during Washington's second term in office.
Ye olde RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington Ping list
My friend, the invention of the cotton gin did just the opposite of what you claim. Before the gin, the only cotton that could be profitably grown was the long fiber or 'low-land' variety. It was not a major crop because it was very geographically limited.
With the gin, the short fiber or 'upland' variety could be profitably grown spreading cotton production all the way from Georgia to Texas and as far north as Missouri and Tennessee. It infinitely increased the demand for slaves to plow, plant, how and pick cotton and the price of slaves sky rocked to the point that in 1860, slaves were the most valuable property in the nation -- more valuable than all the railroads and factories in the notion combined.
Paul Johnson in A History of the American People gives evidence:
"Unfortunately, his divided nature, the simultaneous existence in his personality of incompatible opposites, his indecisiveness, his open-mindedness and changeability, combined to turn his building activities, especially at Monticello, into a nightmare saga...
Almost from the start, the house was lived in, and guests invited there, though it was, by grandee standards, uninhabitable. When Jefferson became president, work on the house had proceeded for over thirty years, but half the rooms were unplastered and many had no flooring. One guest, Anna Maria Thornton, was surprised to find the upper floor reached by 'a little ladder of a staircase...very steep' (it is still there). On the second floor, where she slept, the window came down to the ground so there was no privacy but it was so short she had to crouch to see the view. The entrance hall had a clock perched awkwardly over the doorway, driven by cannon-ball weights in the corners, and with a balcony jutting out the back...
The chimneys proved too low and blew smoke into the house; the fires smoked too and gave out little heat. Jefferson was too jealous of Count Rumford's fame to install a 'Rumford,' the first really elegant drawing-room fireplace, so much admired by Jane Austen. He insisted on producing his own design, which did not work."
More examples are given.
I was surprised to learn a few years ago that many slaves were bought on credit — somewhat like having a mortgage on your home. The slave owner could not sell (or free) the slave until he’d repaid the bank, or other lender, the price of the slave, plus interest. Jefferson inherited his slaves from his wife’s father, and later from his wife. They were still heavily “mortgaged”, and since he spent much of his time serving the colonies and later the nation (rather than making Monticello a viable operation) he could not “free” them.
It was a dreadful system, and the banks had a lot to do with it. However, without slaves, the great plantations could never have been developed. No single family could have put all that land to the plow. Furthermore, without the cheap cotton, linen, wool from the South, the Northern mills would not have prospered. So the North benefited from the evil system too, as much as they would deny it.
Don’t forget, slavery of black people in the new World satrted with a black man suing in court to enslave another black man. Slavery started in North America with blacks enslaving blacks, not whites enslaving blacks.
A Middle Easterner and his wife were tried and convicted in Milwaukee a couple of years ago for keeping a slave for at least 20 years here.
Excellent post. I heartily agree, should we continue to have an America and a history.
I believe the same is true for those who rationalize illegal immigration because certain businesses can benefit by it. It's just a modern form of economic slavery.
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