Skip to comments.Did John Adams agree with Jefferson that Slavery belongs at the feet of the King?
Posted on 09/23/2016 5:57:03 PM PDT by ProgressingAmerica
In the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following:
he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemispere, or to incure miserable death in their transportation hither. this piratical warfare, the opprobium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. [determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold,] he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce [determining to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold]: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he had deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with acrimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.In his autobiography, recalling the committee which created the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote (among other things) this in hindsight:
A meeting we accordingly had, and conned the paper over. I was delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning Negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose. There were other expressions which I would not have inserted if I had drawn it up, particularly that which called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal, for I never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature; I always believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the Atlantic, and in his official capacity, only, cruel. I thought the expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out.
John Adams was delighted with the passage I quoted above. Continuing, Adams wrote:
Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable, if any thing in it was. I have long wondered that the original draught has not been published. I suppose the reason is, the vehement philippic against negro slavery.
Now, it is important to note that the exact same lines which are a vehement philippic against slavery are at the same time a vehement philippic against the king's role in protecting the institution.
Throughout this small section of Adams', that line is the line he has his mind on. The line regarding the king, captivating people into slavery from another hemisphere; piratical warfare; violating the sacred rights of life and liberty; etc etc.
Did John Adams agree that the King was at fault for slavery being in the colonies?
Or, asking the question in reverse, would John Adams have blamed the colonists/America for slavery instead of the king?
I'm asking, because ultimately he doesn't explicitly state the answer. He just says 'I like this part, its delightful,' and continues talking about that exact same part - which seems like a yes to me.
Funny how America’s fatal flaw was baked into the cake from the very beginning. We bought them from the Muslims, imported them. Used them. Dumped them. And now we are paying the price... Just goes to show you... don’t pee in your drinking water...
This part of the draft Declaration has intrigued me for years. I would especially like to know:
What specific legislative proposals were the basis for Jefferson’s claim that George III “prostituted his negative” by vetoing them, so as to continue the slave trade?
Were these measures debated and/or passed by Parliament, or by colonial legislatures/councils that required George’s approval?
The British crown was involved in the African slave trade from the time of Elizabeth I, then through the Royal Africa Company. On the surface it seems the grossest hypocrisy for Jefferson to overlook the role of American colonists in creating demand for slaves. I think Jefferson saw slavery as an intractable problem created by the crown acting as “pushers”, who both profited from the trade, and stymied efforts to stop it. He omits to recognize that entrenched interests on both sides of the Atlantic would have been lobbying George to do exactly that; recognizing the reality of that broad support undermines his accusation of tyranny. Adams is correct at that time that accusation was overreaching; later during the War it became apt.
"The first establishment in Virginia which became permanent was made in 1607. I have found no mention of negroes in the colony until about 1650. The first brought here as slaves were by a Dutch ship; after which the English commenced the trade and continued it until the revolutionary war. That suspended...their future importation for the present, and the business of the war pressing constantly on the (Virginia) legislature, this subject was not acted on finally until the year 1778, when I brought a bill to prevent their further importation. This passed without opposition, leaving to future efforts its final eradication."
Jefferson also observed:
"Where the disease [slavery] is most deeply seated, there it will be slowest in eradication. In the northern States, it was merely superficial and easily corrected. In the southern, it is incorporated with the whole system and requires time, patience, and perseverance in the curative process."
He explained that, "In 1769, I became a member of the legislature by the choice of the county in which I live [Albemarle County, Virginia], and so continued until it was closed by the Revolution. I made one effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected: and indeed, during the regal [crown] government, nothing [like this] could expect success."
One more quotation, cited in David Barton's work on the subject of the Founders and slavery, which also cites the fact that there were laws in the State of Virginia which prevented citizens from emancipating slaves, (can be found at Barton's web site shown later herein)is this one from Jefferson:
"The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he sees others do. If a parent could find no motive either in his philanthropy or his self-love for restraining the intemperance of passion towards his slave, it should always be a sufficient one that his child is present. But generally it is not sufficient. . . . The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execration should the statesman be loaded who permits one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other. . . . And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep for ever. . . . The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest. . . . [T]he way, I hone [is] preparing under the auspices of Heaven for a total emancipation."
For an excellent and factual record of the Founders' views on the matter of slavery (especially those of Washington and Jefferson} visit David Barton's site (wallbuilders).
A review of the factual, written history of the period in order to understand the tremendous contributions of the Founders to the "extinction" of slavery in America is essential to any meaningful discussion. Barton has has utilized the record in writing that exists to inform any who wish to arm themselves with knowledge. One source he does not quote, I believe, is the famous "Speech on Conciliation" by Edmund Burke before the British Parliament, wherein he admonished the Parliament for its Proposal to declare a general enfranchisement of the slaves in America.
Burke rather sarcastically observed that should the Parliament carry through with the proposed Proposal: "Slaves as these unfortunate black people are, and dull as all men are from slavery, must they not a little suspect the offer of freedom from that very nation (England) which has sold them to their present masters? from that nation, one of whose causes of quarrel with those masters is their refusal to deal any more in that inhuman traffic?" He continued: "An offer of freedom from England would come rather oddly, shipped to them in an African vessel, which is refused an entry into the ports of Virginia or Carolina, with a cargo of three hundred Angola negroes. It would be curious to see the Guinea captain attempting at the same instant to publish his proclamtion of liberty and to advertise his sale of slaves."
Ahhh, how knowledge of the facts can alter one's opinion of the revisionist history that has been taught for generations in American schools (including its so-called "law schools"!!!
Human beings are allotted ONLY A TINY SLIVER OF TIME ON THIS EARTH. Each finds the world and his/her own community/nation existing as it is. If lawyers and judges educated themselves (in this day of the Internet) on the history of civilization and America's real history, and if they used that knowledge and the resulting understanding, to do as much on behalf of liberty for ALL people as did Thomas Jefferson and America's other Founders, the world in the next century would be a better place.
Remember, Thomas Jefferson was only 33 years old when he penned our Declaration of Independence which capsulized a truly revolutionary idea into a simple statement that survives to this day to inspire people all over the world to strive for liberty!
What specific legislative proposals were the basis for Jeffersons claim that George III prostituted his negative by vetoing them, so as to continue the slave trade?"
King George issued decrees such as this one:
"upon pain of the highest displeasure, to assent to no law by which the importation of slaves should be in any respect prohibited or obstructed"(Source)
Jefferson was not the only Founder who recognized the King's role in preventing the colonies from abolishing slavery. At the Convention, George Mason opened one of the debates this way:
"Col. MASON. This infernal trafic originated in the avarice of British Merchants. The British Govt. constantly checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop to it."(Source)
That's why I found Adams' words so curious. I'd bet that the majority of the Founders held the same view.(whether they wrote it or not is another story)
"On the surface it seems the grossest hypocrisy for Jefferson to overlook the role of American colonists in creating demand for slaves."
That's what makes the king's role so profound. As you pointed out, the crown was involved with slavery from Elizabeth and then in the Royal African Company.
If the American colonists had demand for slaves, who created that demand for slaves in the first place? It all goes back to the king.
Furthermore, if the king was vetoing measures, that means the measures were passing. So the colonial legislatures, listening to their constituents, had many more voices for liberty than they had "entrenched interests" for slavery. But the king, in vetoing such measures, was helping create even more entrenchment.
Thanks you for the information and links. The Bancroft info provides clues on time and place that do help narrow my search for the texts of the actual measures. Mason’s 1787 comments, as well as the Pinckneys’, et al., highlight the critical difference in Virginia versus SC/GA motives: Virginia’s superabundance of slaves relative to their direct utility as laborers, and the SC/GA perceptions of slaves as a saleable commodity. Antebellum politics regarding the Westward expansion of slavery can’t be understood without the later.
I am curious whether other colonies than Virginia were passing measures to curtail importation.
On the question of demand — I have a hard time casting the early large scale plantation owners as victims of royal slave pushers, or of separating slavery from the entire colonial enterprise (excepting the religious colonies). Potential exploitation of vast land patents begged for labor, fueling the demand for slaves. Those colonists buying and holding slaves on a large scale were mostly British subjects (some Dutch in NY), often sons of aristocratic families, granted enormous land patents through their high connections. They were producing products, and buying them, within the English market in the early period (say pre-1740), as a captive arm of the British economy, as the crown might have hoped. As part of a successor generation, in a way saddled with slaves their forefathers had acquired, Jefferson understandably would like to blame George III alone for a problem set in place long before his time. The complaints about GIII blocking non-importation in the late colonial period are disingenuous, and in my view, were appropriately dropped. The Declaration needed to be free of debatable points.
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