It is of no exaggeration to say that Thomas Jefferson, or any of the Founding Fathers, were far ahead of their time. But when it comes to the rather repulsive issue of slavery, Thomas Jefferson is at least 100 years ahead of his time. Having had seen so many uneducated claims that Jefferson was a racist and a bigot on social media, news articles, and more recently within the University of Virginia: the very University Jefferson founded, I have been called to action to try and clear some of the myths – the biggest myth being his stance on slavery.
The author of the Declaration of Independence, and the one who coined the term that “all men are created equal”, Thomas Jefferson is known as the sage of Monticello, and the Sage of liberty. Having said that, it is difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that such negative and slanderous rumors have boiled out of the uneducated masses of the young left. And yet, here we are: at a point in history where we must defend an anti-slavery, pro-liberty Founding Father of America. Assistant Professor of Psychology, Noelle Hurd, who started a petition against using Jefferson in quotes on the Virginia University campus has claimed, “I think that Jefferson is often celebrated for his accomplishments with little or no acknowledgement of the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings”
Lets unpack this claim – Jefferson must be spinning around in his grave at this point. “the atrocities he committed against hundred of human beings” – I cannot think of any atrocities committed besides Jefferson and the slaves. before we go into that, it is important to first look at his words and actions in regards to slavery. It is a well known and documented fact that Jefferson was completely anti-slavery sating it is a “moral depravity” as well as a “hideous blot” on man kinds history. Further more, he believed that slavery posed the greatest threat to the survival of America as a nation due to it’s divisiveness and suppression of life and liberty. When the Founding Fathers began the legislation to start the new nation, Jefferson was adamant about including the abolition of slavery. In his home state of Virginia in 1778 – a hundred years before Lincoln’s time – Jefferson drafted a law that would prohibit the importation of enslaved Africans. Just 6 years later, Jefferson came back to propose an ordinance to ban slavery in the Northwest territories (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan area). Arguably, having these territories set the North up for an anti-slavery stance during the pre-Civil War tensions. In the Jefferson Memorial itself, a quote by Jefferson states that, “I tremble for my country to think that god is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever” – noting the deplorable slavery of hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia alone.
The failure of the majority of his propositions has mainly been attributed to the reality of slavery already so depended on and entrenched in the economy and culture of the young nation. When Jefferson was born, slavery had already existed to far too long – nearly 75 years! He grew up around it and luckily rejected the depravity. At the point of death, the slave population in Virginia had reached almost 450,000. Jefferson had hopped that the North’s abolition of slavery would, in time, lead to the overall elimination of slavery – and of course he was wrong. He did take an incredibly brave stance against slavery that ultimately lead to the anti-slave North and arguably influenced Lincoln’s point of view as well – in a letter from 1859, Lincoln explains his thoughts on Jefferson’s ideals, saying:
All honor to Jefferson – to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.
Anyone, including the uninformed masses at the University of Virginia, claiming Jefferson was a force for evil clearly have no idea what they are talking about. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if these people’s brains have succumb to rot so far to their core that they would claim Lincoln was pro-slavery. It does exist.
The last point that must be made is one that is probably at the center of the anti-Jefferson rhetoric – that is the fact that Jefferson owned slaves. A lesser known fact, but Jefferson had bondsman on his property of Monticello. In the book Author of America, it i mentioned that Jefferson received the slaves from his father in-law and begrudgingly kept some of them. In time he did free seven of the members of the Hemmings family – the family I will talk about in a later post. The slaves he did keep were known to have been treated exceptionally well. One problem with freeing large groups of slaves is that they ran the risk of being captured and re-enslaved to a worse mater than before. because of that, freeing all of his slaves was just not practical or ideal for the bondsman. Jefferson was a lover of freedom and loved his slaves like his own family – there is still a small grave yard at Monticello where Mr. Jefferson buried his slaves. A practice that is largely unheard of. Like I said, I will go into the Hemmings relationship with Jefferson in a later post, but let me leave this one with a quote that perfectly embodies Jefferson’s feelings about slavery from a letter to Thomas Cooper in 1814:
There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.