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Sat Dec 1, 2012, 12:44 AM

The Monster of Monticello

The battle of the Jeffersons -- no, not George and Weezie -- continues on the oped pages of the NY Times.

We are endlessly fascinated with Jefferson, in part because we seem unable to reconcile the rhetoric of liberty in his writing with the reality of his slave owning and his lifetime support for slavery. Time and again, we play down the latter in favor of the former, or write off the paradox as somehow indicative of his complex depths.

Neither Mr. Meacham, who mostly ignores Jefferson’s slave ownership, nor Mr. Wiencek, who sees him as a sort of fallen angel who comes to slavery only after discovering how profitable it could be, seem willing to confront the ugly truth: the third president was a creepy, brutal hypocrite.

Contrary to Mr. Wiencek’s depiction, Jefferson was always deeply committed to slavery, and even more deeply hostile to the welfare of blacks, slave or free. His proslavery views were shaped not only by money and status but also by his deeply racist views, which he tried to justify through pseudoscience.

There is, it is true, a compelling paradox about Jefferson: when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, announcing the “self-evident” truth that all men are “created equal,” he owned some 175 slaves. Too often, scholars and readers use those facts as a crutch, to write off Jefferson’s inconvenient views as products of the time and the complexities of the human condition.

Linkage: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/01/opinion/the-real-thomas-jefferson.html


45 replies, 5087 views

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Arrow 45 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Monster of Monticello (Original post)
salvorhardin Dec 2012 OP
sabrina 1 Dec 2012 #1
salvorhardin Dec 2012 #3
Le Taz Hot Dec 2012 #10
white_wolf Dec 2012 #31
Le Taz Hot Dec 2012 #35
SleeplessinSoCal Dec 2012 #2
salvorhardin Dec 2012 #5
SleeplessinSoCal Dec 2012 #23
colsohlibgal Dec 2012 #4
BernieO Dec 2012 #15
white_wolf Dec 2012 #6
JDPriestly Dec 2012 #7
arely staircase Dec 2012 #8
KitSileya Dec 2012 #11
arely staircase Dec 2012 #18
JDPriestly Dec 2012 #22
NOLALady Dec 2012 #27
HiPointDem Dec 2012 #12
MindMover Dec 2012 #26
Zorra Dec 2012 #9
HiPointDem Dec 2012 #13
Zorra Dec 2012 #44
HiPointDem Dec 2012 #45
Peace Patriot Dec 2012 #14
hedgehog Dec 2012 #21
HiPointDem Dec 2012 #29
jwirr Dec 2012 #24
HiPointDem Dec 2012 #30
Recursion Dec 2012 #16
Ron Obvious Dec 2012 #17
hedgehog Dec 2012 #19
Ron Obvious Dec 2012 #37
white_wolf Dec 2012 #38
Ron Obvious Dec 2012 #41
white_wolf Dec 2012 #25
NOLALady Dec 2012 #28
Union Scribe Dec 2012 #39
hedgehog Dec 2012 #20
UTUSN Dec 2012 #32
melody Dec 2012 #33
craigmatic Dec 2012 #36
craigmatic Dec 2012 #34
Union Scribe Dec 2012 #40
craigmatic Dec 2012 #42
Peace Patriot Dec 2012 #43

Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 12:49 AM

1. He had also included a clause in the DOI that stated that slavery should be abolished. The anti-

slavery John Adams who considered slavery to be evil, and Ben Franklin, neither of whom ever owned slaves, took out the clause, explaining to Jefferson that they would never get the Southern States on board for the Revolution if they left it in.

I think some of that article is incorrect. I believe he inherited Monticello and did not later see the profits in slavery, they already lived on the property so he was actually a slave owner while demanding an end to slavery in the original draft of the DOI.

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Response to sabrina 1 (Reply #1)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 01:06 AM

3. Jefferson was not the sole author of the Declaration of Independence

Along with Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston were on the draft committee. It was Jefferson who penned the final revision, and then the Continental Congress pared it down even further. There is some speculation that it was Thomas Paine who actually penned the anti-slavery clause, but I don't think that's the consensus.

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Response to salvorhardin (Reply #3)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:11 AM

10. The phrase "Life, Liberty and

property was Thomas Paine's. Jefferson changed it to "The pursuit of happiness" to accommodate rule by the landed gentry. (Sorry, just thought I'd throw that in there.)

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Response to Le Taz Hot (Reply #10)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 06:06 PM

31. Life, liberty, and property was John Locke. Not Paine

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Response to white_wolf (Reply #31)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 07:13 PM

35. Woops!

You're right. I've been doing tons of reading about the Founding Fathers and the people/philosophies that influenced them. Unfortunately, the old memory isn't what it used to be. Thanks for the correction.

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 01:04 AM

2. Rather than a monster, I'd call him an amateur business man.

Last edited Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:33 PM - Edit history (1)

And one possibly blinded by his own prejudice. But business men aren't very nice people in the main. His occupations describe him best. His attention to education, discovery, invention and science are too numerous to glibly identify him as a monster. UNLESS all of that was to bolster a feeling of inadequacy and a need to prove his theories correct.

I don't know. It's very easy to smear and whitewash. Jefferson certainly was complex.

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Response to SleeplessinSoCal (Reply #2)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 01:12 AM

5. That's what I keep saying about Nixon

"He was a complex man."

Yet, just try to have a nuanced discussion about Nixon while dodging the flying poo.

The OP is the latest salvo in a battle over the true nature of Thomas Jefferson that has been playing out in the pages of the NY Times oped section in reaction to Wiencek's new book.

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Response to salvorhardin (Reply #5)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:38 PM

23. Given the science since Jefferson's time, wonder what he'd be saying today.

His "studies" have been proven wrong. I think he should have stuck with the contraption that made a copy of a document. Maybe that was the final touch on the hubris mantle.

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 01:08 AM

4. Slavery Is All Wrong

It's not so cut and dried as we saw after the Emancipation Proclamation - it still wasn't safe for free blacks, it was a different time. Even into the middle of the century life was np picnic for blacks in the south and racism is still all over that area, it's why the dems lost the south after 1964.

His view that whites were superior is so strange for such a brilliant mind, it is hard to reconcile all that.

I will admit I try to compartmentalize it all, I have enjoyed my several trips to his place and love the city of Charlottesville.

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Response to colsohlibgal (Reply #4)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 07:17 AM

15. He was a product of his times

I don't think it is so odd that he would think that African Americans were not the equal of white men. When a society keeps a particular group in an inferior situation - uneducated and unable to enter higher levels of society - you do not have the experience of members of that group as equals. When I was growing up it was very common for people to think women were inferior and that included a lot of women. My mother-in-law is the biggest male chauvinist I know.

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 01:12 AM

6. Jefferson's views on slavery are hypocritical to say the least.

He did call for the outlawing of slavery in the Declaration, but continued to own slaves. Overall, despite Jefferson's near revered status in American history, I have far more respect for Thomas Paine than I do Thomas Jefferson.

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 01:58 AM

7. Jefferson appears to have questioned whether African-Americans

were as "human" as European-Americans.

Nevertheless, I have read that he inherited many of his slaves from his wife's family (not by any means all of them) and that he wanted to have certain of his slaves freed at his death but his bankruptcy caused his estate to sell the slaves instead.

I have read that in books so I cannot cite to sources here.

I can only say that there is a lot of confusion and controversy about the historical facts, what is really true and what isn't about Jefferson.

What I can know is that we must all look at the ideas that we accept as true very carefully. We may ourselves believe things that we are taught and do not question but that are truly destructive to others and morally wrong.

We too rarely go beyond the accepted thought and morality of our time. Is is human nature. It takes a very thoughtful person to question wrong.

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Response to JDPriestly (Reply #7)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 02:12 AM

8. yet he found them human enough to

father children with. one wonders how jefferson and so many other slave owners reconciled those things in their minds.

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Response to arely staircase (Reply #8)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:09 AM

11. Yes, especially since there was no doubt about bestiality and pedophilia.

Pretty much everyone agreed (and agrees!) that bestiality and pedophilia is wrong. How could he rape his slaves if he believed that they were less human (that is, more animal) or that they were like children and could not take care of themselves, which was also a common justification for slavery?

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Response to KitSileya (Reply #11)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 12:22 PM

18. lots of compartmentalizing

in the old noggin i assume.

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Response to arely staircase (Reply #8)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:24 PM

22. He was utterly confused on this topic.

He genuinely thought that Africans were not as human as he was.

From this we learn how easy it is to justify any behavior that harms others so long as we profit from it.

Remember this, Christmas shoppers. Someone is paying a big price for all those bargains. Someone else's blood, sweat and tears were spent making all those junky products.

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Response to arely staircase (Reply #8)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:43 PM

27. He fathered children

with a woman who was enslaved. Then he didn't have the decency to free his own children. Maybe he believed his children were imbeciles who could not survive outside of an enslaved state.

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Response to JDPriestly (Reply #7)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:11 AM

12. after the revolution he specifically noted how profitable his slave operation was.

 

The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.

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 friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it 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...”

Jefferson’s 4 percent theorem threatens the comforting notion that he had no real awareness of what he was doing, that he was “stuck” with or “trapped” in slavery, an obsolete, unprofitable, burdensome legacy. The date of Jefferson’s calculation aligns with the waning of his emancipationist fervor. Jefferson began to back away from antislavery just around the time he computed the silent profit of the “peculiar institution.”

By 1789, Jefferson planned to shift away from growing tobacco at Monticello... Tobacco wore out the soil so fast that new acreage constantly had to be cleared, engrossing so much land that food could not be raised to feed the workers and requiring the farmer to purchase rations for the slaves. (In a strangely modern twist, Jefferson had taken note of the measurable climate change in the region: The Chesapeake region was unmistakably cooling and becoming inhospitable to heat-loving tobacco that would soon, he thought, become the staple of South Carolina and Georgia.) He visited farms and inspected equipment, considering a new crop, wheat, and the exciting prospect it opened before him.

Planting wheat required fewer workers than tobacco, leaving a pool of field laborers available for specialized training. Jefferson embarked on a comprehensive program to modernize slavery, diversify it and industrialize it. Monticello would have a nail factory, a textile factory, a short-lived tinsmithing operation, coopering and charcoal burning. He had ambitious plans for a flour mill and a canal to provide water power for it.

Exuberant over the success of the nailery, Jefferson wrote: “My new trade of nail-making is to me in this country what an additional title of nobility or the ensigns of a new order are in Europe.” The profit was substantial. Just months after the factory began operation, he wrote that “a nailery which I have established with my own negro boys now provides completely for the maintenance of my family...”

It was during the 1950s, when historian Edwin Betts was editing one of Colonel Randolph’s plantation reports...that he confronted a taboo subject and made his fateful deletion. Randolph reported to Jefferson that the nailery was functioning very well because “the small ones” were being whipped. The youngsters did not take willingly to being forced to show up in the icy midwinter hour before dawn at the master’s nail forge. And so the overseer, Gabriel Lilly, was whipping them “for truancy.” Betts decided that the image of children being beaten at Monticello had to be suppressed...

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Little-Known-Dark-Side-of-Thomas-Jefferson-169780996.html#ixzz2Dn164Cfr
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

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Response to HiPointDem (Reply #12)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:14 PM

26. ....... when the love of money trumps all .... principles are just words ....

Last edited Sun Dec 2, 2012, 01:07 AM - Edit history (2)

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 02:25 AM

9. Slavery was an evil that was a long standing aspect of Judeo-Christian religions and cultures.

What an absolutely horrible phenomenon.

Passages about slavery from the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament)

Passages about slavery from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

George Washington had 316 slaves at Mt. Vernon

When Washington was eleven years old, he inherited ten slaves; by the time of his death, 316 slaves lived at Mount Vernon, including 123 owned by Washington, 40 leased from a neighbor, and an additional 153 "dower slaves." For his wife Martha's use during her lifetime and controlled by Washington, they were legally part of the property of her late first husband's estate. As on other plantations during that era, Washington's slaves worked from dawn until dusk unless injured or ill; they could be whipped for running away or for other infractions. They were fed, clothed, and housed as inexpensively as possible, in conditions that were probably meager.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_and_slavery

Jefferson Quotations on Slavery and Emancipation



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Response to Zorra (Reply #9)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:13 AM

13. Washington was the only major planter among the seven Founding Fathers to emancipate his slaves.

 

His will provided for freeing his slaves upon the death of his widow Martha Washington, but she emancipated them about 12 months after his death.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_and_slavery

However...

Although Washington personally opposed the institution of slavery after the American Revolutionary War, as President he authorized emergency financial and military relief to French slave owners in Haiti in 1791 to suppress a slave rebellion. In 1789 Congress passed and President Washington signed a law that reaffirmed the previous ban on slavery in the Northwest Territory; it did not free slaves already in the territory. The 1790 Naturalization Act provided a means to incorporate foreigners as United States citizens, but was available only to "free white persons" of "good moral character." Washington signed the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, the first to provide for the right of slaveholders to recapture slaves even in free states that had abolished slavery

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Response to HiPointDem (Reply #13)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 03:49 PM

44. Wait, doesn't that mean that it was his wife, Martha, who freed his slaves after he died?

"His will provided for freeing his slaves upon the death of his widow Martha Washington, but she emancipated them about 12 months after his death."



Good for her.

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Response to Zorra (Reply #44)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 04:00 PM

45. They both had slaves which belonged to them personally. In his will GW directed that his be freed

 

after MW's death, which meant that they couldn't be sold as assets. Yes, MW freed them early -- perhaps out of kindness, perhaps because she didn't need them & they couldn't be sold, so their maintenance was a drain.

The fact still remains that GW did not will them to MW as property -- he directed that they be freed, which none of his peers did.

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:04 AM

14. The best book on Jefferson was written by an African-American woman, Annette Gordon Reed.

It's entitled "The Hemingses of Monticello." Its main subject is Sally Hemings, Jefferson's slave mistress, and her brothers, but as for laying out the excruciatingly complex, conflicted, tragic personality of Thomas Jefferson, there is no better author.

She both hates slavery--and really gets into it, and makes you feel it deeply (a very good writer!)--and DOESN'T HATE Jefferson. It is an amazing book in this respect. While she never relents in her stark portrayal of what slavery is and what it does to people, she also has the ability to see things from multiple perspectives--to see things through Jefferson's eyes, through Sally Heminges' eyes, through her brothers' eyes. Jefferson was very kind to Sally and her brothers. Gordon Reed documents all that he did for them. She makes a good case for love--Jefferson loved them! But he was also a slave holder--born to it, inherited it. He isn't really able to see out of that context--what he was born to--until he goes to Paris for a long period (taking Sally and her brothers with him). We can hardly fathom now, the distance between Virginia and Paris. The instant communications we have now did not exist. These two places were like two different planets. Virginia was home. But Paris was...the Enlightenment!

Paris was in pre-revolutionary tumult, and already had legal procedures by which slaves from the French colonies could easily obtain their freedom. Jefferson knew this. Sally's brothers, who had the run of Paris (with Jefferson's permission), knew it. And Sally probably knew it. But none of them chose to leave him. They eventually went back to Virginia with him, voluntarily. One of the brothers had become a master Parisian chef (training paid for by Jefferson), eventually worked in Boston and Jefferson wanted him to be White House chef when Jefferson was elected president, but the young man refused. He was happier and freer living on his own and making a living working in Boston. Back in Virginia, he was a slave. In Boston, he was not. And what was he to Jefferson? The best answer to that is that Jefferson treated him like a son! He was surprised by his rebellion and hurt that he wouldn't work at the White House--just like a surrogate father would be.

You could take the cynical view that Jefferson had paid for "his slave"'s expertise and expected slave service in return. But Gordon Reed does not indulge in easy, cheap cynicism. That is the glory of her book.

Gordon Reed is simply wonderful at portraying the complexity of this situation--the psychological conflicts, the tangle of family relationships in a southern household, the mixed blood lines, the social context--the denial, the hypocrisy--and then certain things arising in this quite baffling society--the brilliance of Jefferson, the love between him and a slave and that love and regard extended to her brothers. These are remarkable people, in every way. We simply must not dismiss them cynically. That is disrespectful and de-humanizing (and Gordon Reed makes this point as well--these are human beings, all of them, caught in excruciating dilemmas).

The farm slaves that Jefferson "owned" did not enjoy such privilege (education, fine clothes, trips to Paris). Their lives were more typical of slavery--drudges forced to work for no pay and with no rights. Gordon Reed does not let us forget this. But the evidence is that Jefferson was not a brutal slave-owner (was not personally mean, violent or rapacious); also, he did very poorly, financially, and died penniless. This was probably because of his generosity. He was simply not interested in making money. As for the circumstances into which he was born, it was remarkable, in itself, that he could even see that slavery was wrong. No one else in his circumstances could see that. He once wrote that slavery was psychologically damaging for BOTH slave and slave-owner--an amazing insight for a slave-owning Virginian in that era. But Virginia was HOME--to him AND to the Heminges. It was the "given" of their lives. And they did the best that they could to function in that impossible, "given" context.

I love this book. It is the first book on Jefferson that sees the whole man, and, oddly, he is not its main subject. It is also a great work of research. Sally Heminges is an elusive character because Jefferson's white descendants tried to erase her from history. Gordon Reed pieces her back together on the basis of brilliant research and well-grounded, educated guesses. And in bringing her to life, Gordon Reed brings Jefferson to life in a way that no other author has ever done.

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Response to Peace Patriot (Reply #14)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 12:41 PM

21. "he did very poorly, financially, and died penniless"

I suspect this was because he mortgaged his properties to pay for his life style. I also suspect that the slaves deliberately damaged the property whenever they could, using methods such as plowing straight up and down hills. Jefferson ended up upside-down on his mortgages; the land lost fertility and value every year.

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Response to hedgehog (Reply #21)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:59 PM

29. living beyond his means was part of it, but he also had the misfortune to die during a long

 

economic bust: panic of 1819, bust of the virginia land bubble and consequent devaluation of the value of his holdings, etc. not to mention that his inheritance came with debt already attached to it.


In the Museum Shop we sell framed and/or frameable copies of both versions of Jefferson’s canons. In both versions, the 3rd rule is the same: “Never Spend Your Money Before You Have It.” Most of the people who visit our shop are aware, especially if they’ve already had their tour of Monticello, that Jefferson died with a huge amount of debt. Many of our guests read this 3rd rule and, thinking they detect a contradiction, point it out to us or to others in their party.

The reasons for Jefferson’s debt are numerous, though, and I believe fairness demands a deeper look at the issue. It’s true that he entertained lavishly and liked to buy quantities of wine; however, it is also true that many of the causes of his debt were far beyond his control. A lot of it can be attributed to inherited debt from his father-in-law, the financial panic of 1819, and the failure of Jefferson’s own debtors to pay what they owed him.

http://www.monticello.org/site/blog-and-community/posts/never-spend-your-money-before-you-have-it

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Response to Peace Patriot (Reply #14)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:55 PM

24. I read that book also. Sally Hemmings was a very interesting woman.

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Response to Peace Patriot (Reply #14)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 06:03 PM

30. according to jefferson, his nailery alone provided "completely for the maintenance" of his family.

 

The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children....

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 friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it 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...”

Jefferson’s 4 percent theorem threatens the comforting notion that he had no real awareness of what he was doing, that he was “stuck” with or “trapped” in slavery, an obsolete, unprofitable, burdensome legacy. The date of Jefferson’s calculation aligns with the waning of his emancipationist fervor. Jefferson began to back away from antislavery just around the time he computed the silent profit of the “peculiar institution.”

By 1789, Jefferson planned to shift away from growing tobacco at Monticello... He visited farms and inspected equipment, considering a new crop, wheat, and the exciting prospect it opened before him. Planting wheat required fewer workers than tobacco, leaving a pool of field laborers available for specialized training. Jefferson embarked on a comprehensive program to modernize slavery, diversify it and industrialize it. Monticello would have a nail factory, a textile factory, a short-lived tinsmithing operation, coopering and charcoal burning. He had ambitious plans for a flour mill and a canal to provide water power for it.

Exuberant over the success of the nailery, Jefferson wrote: “My new trade of nail-making is to me in this country what an additional title of nobility or the ensigns of a new order are in Europe.” The profit was substantial. Just months after the factory began operation, he wrote that “a nailery which I have established with my own negro boys now provides completely for the maintenance of my family...”

It was during the 1950s, when historian Edwin Betts was editing one of Colonel Randolph’s plantation reports...that he confronted a taboo subject and made his fateful deletion. Randolph reported to Jefferson that the nailery was functioning very well because “the small ones” were being whipped. The youngsters did not take willingly to being forced to show up in the icy midwinter hour before dawn at the master’s nail forge. And so the overseer, Gabriel Lilly, was whipping them “for truancy.” Betts decided that the image of children being beaten at Monticello had to be suppressed...

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Little-Known-Dark-Side-of-Thomas-Jefferson-169780996.html#ixzz2Dn164Cfr

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 07:47 AM

16. Sick systems make sick people

My family is from Mississippi. The older generation were very racist in the 1960s and aren't now. They haven't gone through some huge individual moral transformation; they were in a very sick system that is gradually getting less sick. -ism's aren't about individual moral failings; they're a role you play in a system.

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 07:56 AM

17. Historical Context..

I'm a big fan of not ripping people out of their historical context and judging them by contemporary standards. Jefferson's views were liberal and progressive for his time.

Ever wonder what future generations will say about us? Is it possible to be judged a good person by them if we eat meat and drive a car, say? Or will they be revolted by our ignorance and cruelty the way we have judged every previous generation?

I think the optimistic notion is that there's a tendency for values to become more progressive and humane over time despite short-term setbacks.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to drive to McDonald's for a Big Mac.

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Response to Ron Obvious (Reply #17)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 12:33 PM

19. Contemporary standards

John Adams.-- 2d President

His sentiments on the subject of slavery are well known. They are well summed up in the language of a letter to Robert I. Evans, June, 1819:

"Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States.

"I have, through my whole life, held the practice of slavery in such abhorrence, that I have never owned a negro or any other slave; though I have lived for many years in times when the practice was not disgraceful; when the best men in my vicinity thought it not inconsistent with their character; and when it has cost me thousands of dollars of the labor and subsistence of free men, which I might have saved by the purchase of negroes at times when they were very cheap."-- Works of John Adams , vol., p. 380.

http://academic.udayton.edu/race/02rights/slave05.htm#Adams

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Response to hedgehog (Reply #19)

Sun Dec 2, 2012, 12:28 AM

37. John Adams was an exceptional man

John Adams was an exceptional man. Also, if I recall correctly, the only founding father who was willing to even entertain the notion of women voting. Jefferson was also an exceptional and progressive man, but when it came to slavery - an institution he grew up with - he was more a man of his time. But what were Adams' views on homosexuality, for example? I confess to having no idea, but I doubt he was campaigning for gay marriage.

I dare say when judging by contemporary standards, we'd call Jefferson, Adams, and Lincoln for that matter, all bigots.

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Response to Ron Obvious (Reply #37)

Sun Dec 2, 2012, 12:33 AM

38. Not the only one. Paine wanted to give women the right to vote as well.

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Response to white_wolf (Reply #38)

Sun Dec 2, 2012, 04:25 AM

41. Paine was another exceptional man...

Paine was another exceptional man (and one of my personal heroes), but a bit of a pariah in his day all the same.

Like Paine, Jefferson was exceptional in his day in e.g his views on the rights of Man, and on religion and the separation of Church and State. In other areas he was far less enlightened. That hardly makes him 'The Monster of Monticello'. Like Darwin & Lincoln, he was an enlightened liberal in his day, but a bigot by modern standards.

For that matter, I don't recall reading that enlightened pinko liberal Jesus say anything about slavery in the New Testament, though I'm sure there were people who believed it evil in his day. But as an atheist, I can still appreciate the sermon on the mount and the love thy neighbour bits, even while doubting the man ever existed in the first place.

Personal views and societal standards change and even progress over time. I'd hardly like to have say, my personal views on homosexuality from 30 years ago held against me now. They were the ordinary, thoroughly mainstream views of that time, unquestioned and unexamined. I no longer hold them today, but we're living in an era of incredibly rapid change in social views and mores. What once took generations now takes place in a single lifetime.

As I said before, by what standard will future generations judge us and our heroes today? Will we and they measure up? Or will even good, enlightened people be seen as monsters by their standards? They might even hold up people we consider nutters and fools today to be moral giants. They might even be right.

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Response to Ron Obvious (Reply #17)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:52 PM

25. Thomas Paine strongly oppossed slavery.

People of Jefferson's time knew it was wrong.

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Response to Ron Obvious (Reply #17)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 05:51 PM

28. Others of his time knew it was wrong.

His profit was more important than his morals.

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Response to NOLALady (Reply #28)

Sun Dec 2, 2012, 12:33 AM

39. Exactly. That's why I can't buy that defense.

People knew. They chose not to act on their knowledge that it was wrong.

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 12:38 PM

20. From the Smithsonian Magazine

"But in the 1790s, Davis continues, “the most remarkable thing about Jefferson’s stand on slavery is his immense silence.” And later, Davis finds, Jefferson’s emancipation efforts “virtually ceased.”

The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.

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 friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it 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 used—“their increase”—became magic words.


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Little-Known-Dark-Side-of-Thomas-Jefferson-169780996.html#ixzz2Dp4rdEOM
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

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Response to hedgehog (Reply #20)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 06:28 PM

32. R#10 & K for, wow. n/t

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 06:46 PM

33. John Adams did much of what Jefferson is given credit for

Adams had his faults, but those have been widely discussed. His accomplishments have been diminished in order to buff Jefferson's image. John Adams was also staunchly anti-slavery and actually hurt himself economically by opposing slavery.

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Response to melody (Reply #33)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 07:23 PM

36. Agreed Adams was a good President. He was honest and straight forward while Jefferson was devious.

Adams was for a strong federal government from the start but Jefferson expanded his definition of government when it came time to buy Lousiana.

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 07:11 PM

34. Jefferson was a hypocrit along with most of the founding fathers which is why

I really don't consider the American revolution a real revolution it was fundamentally conservative and protected the status quo in terms of the rich land owners. All we did was trade British gentry for American plantation owners.

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Response to craigmatic (Reply #34)

Sun Dec 2, 2012, 12:37 AM

40. Yep. Zinn forever changed my view of the revolutionary war

Reading A People's History was like learning about a parallel and far less clean dimension.

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Response to Union Scribe (Reply #40)

Sun Dec 2, 2012, 05:55 PM

42. I never read Zinn but it sounds like we agree on alot. The revolution was more of a coup than

anything else. The only founding father I like was Adams but even he wasn't that great.

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Response to salvorhardin (Original post)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 02:20 PM

43. LBJ slaughtered a million people in Southeast Asia AND passed the Civil Rights Act and...

...the Voting Rights Act, at great political cost, as well as other progressive legislation.

Do we call him a "monster"? Some would, I guess. But I don't. You could say that he only got the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed because he needed "cannon fodder." I don't. I think he believed in civil rights but the only way he could achieve it was by alliance with forces that DID want African-Americans as "cannon fodder" for Vietnam. I see a complex man, with some startlingly progressive instincts, superbly talented in one particular field--legislative pol--and trapped in a CIA-MIC spider's web and wrapped up good and properly by its sticky, deadly filaments*.

The trouble with this thread on Jefferson--and maybe it's a fault of American politics in general, or of the American people in general--is that we have no understanding of tragedy, at least in the political field. A "tragic hero" in the classical sense is a person of extraordinary virtue, talent or accomplishment--a brilliant person, a "great one"--who has a flaw--a blind spot, a weakness--that precipitates his or her downfall and often--as in "Hamlet"--the downfall and deaths of everybody around them, or--as in "Antigone"--the downfall of a high principle (the law, as upheld by Antigone in defiance of her king). More simply, a tragic hero is a good person, in the opinion of the society around them, caught in a vise of their own making or of society's making.

Tragedy is not bad things happening--car accidents, earthquakes. It has to do with HUMAN NATURE. With hubris, with ambition, with egotism, with blindness, with making mistakes, with doing wrong to do right, or being unable, because of circumstances, to follow the right course or even to determine what it is, despite noble efforts.

There are far more important matters to consider, in judging any person's life--including leaders and "great ones"--than, were they right or were they wrong? And it is a kind of enforced stupidity or enforced boredom to demand that everyone judge people that way. Instead, we should stand back a bit and ask, a) Would we have done any better?, and b) especially for historical figures, what personal history and social context formed their beliefs and actions and to what extent were they able to overcome these circumstances and see ANYTHING AT ALL outside of them, let alone envision anything better or act to produce anything better in the future?

And I would apply these questions in examining the lives of, say, a slave or a garment worker, as well as Thomas Jefferson, the tragic hero of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," or Tom Paine (perhaps the most extraordinary individual in our history), or George Washington (the man who refused to be king), or anyone for whom there is some historical record (persons we can know about). Would we have done any better? What is the CONTEXT of their lives and actions?

As with the distance between Paris and Virginia in revolutionary times, the distance between Boston and Virginia was very great, if not in as many miles, certainly in psychology. They were two vastly different cultures--the one, in Boston, was building up to the incineration of young factory girls in locked-door slave labor conditions, while the one in Virginia was building up to the Civil War in bloody defense of its slave economy. Boston was to become the symbol of oligarchic fortunes built on the horrendous exploitation of labor and stultifying Puritanism and exclusionism. How dare we judge Boston as virtuous and Virginia as evil, or Boston's leaders as "the good guys" and Virginia's leaders as "the bad guys"?

We need to understand HUMAN NATURE and fight this PURITAN "judgement of God" bullshit in our culture, which consigns some to Heaven and some to Hell, in current situations as well as with hindsight. Thomas Jefferson's ownership of slaves did not mean that he could not ALSO believe in "the rights of man" and write about it with timeless eloquence in documents that, to this day, inspire people all over the world, and that laid the permanent foundation for religious and civil liberty everywhere. We need to understand that he did this AND was a slave holder. We need to really understand it--to grasp the excruciating contradictions and complexities of human life, and admire him for the one thing and condemn him for the other at the same time.

That is the glory of Annette Gordon Reed's book on the Hemingses. She NEVER reduces Jefferson to formulaic notions of what he should have done or should have been. She sees the whole human being IN CONTEXT, and does the same for Sally Hemings and her brothers, in a magnificent effort at creation and humanization, despite two centuries of obfuscation and bigotry between now and then.

Progress occurs by increments and is always furthered by FLAWED people. Look what happened to the revolution in France! Look what happened to the revolution in Russia! The members of "the masses" are not particularly admirable either. They, too--the slaves and the slave laborers--can be vastly unjust. They can be horrendously violent and bigoted. They can enslave, rob and murder each other. Yet both revolutions contributed to human progress--to ideas of what might be possible in a better world--despite their horrid flaws. So did ours--and our leaders did better than most, with no small contributions from slave holders.

Jefferson truly, genuinely longed for the liberation of the human race--and could not achieve it in his own household. I admire Jefferson for his dreams more than I admire Tom Paine for his clarity! Because Jefferson's dreams of liberty were not possible in his circumstances, yet there they are.

--------------------------


*(Re LBJ: Highly recommended, James Douglass' "JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters." Douglass lays out the tragedy of Lyndon Baines Johnson (among other things), which had its origins in the assassination. Douglass, who wrote by far the best book on the Kennedy assassination, doesn't believe that LBJ was part of the assassination plot but that he was part of the coverup for complex reasons, including the CIA's misdirection to Russia in order to force his hand--as they had been unable to do to JFK--to nuke Russia in retaliation. He was also probably afraid of the CIA. Three days after the assassination, LBJ said, "Now they can have their war." He was speaking of the CIA and Vietnam. It was the alternative to nuking Russia! War, one way or another, but war there WOULD be. This brilliant leader who won one of the biggest presidential victories in our history on a platform of world peace, was caught like a wrapped up fly in the CIA-"military-industrial complex" spider's web. THAT is tragedy! COULD he have disentangled himself? No. That is what tragedy IS.)

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