Slaveholder Jefferson paved the way for the end of slavery

by Phil Leigh

Proponents of critical race theory and identity politics have gained enough influence to cause many Americans to despise some of our country’s most important founders. Chief among these founders was Thomas Jefferson. New York City, for example, removed a 200-year-old statue of Jefferson from its city hall last year.

When hustlers can persuade us to despise Jefferson, they are well on their way to turning America into a country that hates our traditional values. Unlike other countries, America was not founded because its people were of a common race. The nation was founded on ideals that united us. It was organized as a constitutional republic with no ruling family, thus proclaiming the political equality of all its citizens whom it vested with the freedom to pursue their own interests with minimal government interference. Current attacks on founders focus on what they didn’t do rather than what they did. Although they did not abolish slavery, they did organize the freest country in history.

When it was founded, America had only three million inhabitants, the current population of Iowa. At the time, the Thirteen Colonies were little more than a backwater on the world stage, but they blossomed into one of the most powerful nations on Earth within a century and a quarter. The contrast between Jefferson’s denunciations of slavery and his inability to put them into practice makes him an easy target. Yet Jefferson’s first gift to America was his independence. His language of “obvious” truths left a lasting mark. Its Declaration of Independence affirmed that certain rights related to these truths were to be universal, and not just applicable to thirteen colonies. If Jefferson falls victim to the cancel culture, there may be no stopping for a George Washington takedown either.

Although his participation in slavery was the obvious flaw in the reputation of a founder who wrote “all men are created equal”, many Americans today believe that slavery was unique to our Southern states. In truth, slavery was legal in the Thirteen Colonies in 1776. In 1890, Lincoln’s two private secretaries wrote in a ten-volume biography of the former president that, “[Lincoln] believed that northerners were as responsible for slavery as southerners. Less than three months before the end of the Civil War, Lincoln told Secretary of State Seward, “If it was wrong in the South to hold slaves, it was wrong in the North to continue the slave trade and to sell them to the South.” Moreover, during the four hundred years of the transatlantic slave trade, only about four percent made it to America. Almost all the others have been to Brazil and the Caribbean.

Even though the Declaration’s phrase “all men are created equal” was an obvious contradiction from the start, Martin Luther King took the correct perspective. He realized that slavery could not have been brutally abolished in 1776 without aborting the birth of our country. Thus, he interpreted Jefferson’s statement as a “promissory note” to be redeemed at the right time. The Declaration ultimately made the indefinite continuation of slavery impossible. When the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery was ratified in December 1865, the all-white, pre-Carpetbagger legislatures of eight of the eleven former Confederate states voted in favor of it. A ninth, Florida, followed at the end of the same month.

Historian Jerrett Stepman writes, “It’s easy to condemn Jefferson and the Founders for not doing enough to extinguish a now universally reviled social system when we don’t have to deal with the complex consequences of abolition. Slavery was woven into the cultural and economic fabric of American society, and it could not be so easily eliminated, even by those who deeply hated it. Given this reality, it’s perhaps less remarkable that they failed to get rid of it immediately, and more remarkable that their efforts put it on the inevitable path to extinction.

When Americans today condemn Jefferson for not freeing his slaves, few realize the obstacles facing freedom in his day. Many Southern states had laws that did not allow slaves to be freed unless their former masters left them in a condition in which they were unlikely to become destitute and, therefore, a burden on the slavery. ‘State. In keeping with the nature of agriculture, many plantations were heavily indebted. As in the North, when debts were overdue, creditors were allowed to seize assets and sell them to pay off debts. In the South, slaves were one of those assets. To prevent a plantation owner from stripping his estate of slaves, Virginia passed a law in 1792 that gave creditors the power to seize even some freed slaves to settle their debts. Often these creditors were ultimately northern banks. Without such a law, owners might have been more often tempted to free their slaves in their wills.

When he was 45, six years before being elected president, Abraham Lincoln said, “When the people of the South tell us that they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery than we are; I recognize the fact. When we say that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of, satisfactorily, I can understand and appreciate the saying. Surely I won’t blame them for not doing what I shouldn’t know how to do myself.

In recent decades, Jefferson has been increasingly accused of fathering at least one child by a slave girl named Sally Hemmings. Until then, most historians have dismissed the arguments as stemming from revenge claims by a disgruntled former Jeffersonian political supporter and journalist, James Callender. In 1998, DNA tests showed that at least one of Sally’s children, Eston, shared genetic heritage with the Jefferson family. Yet the father remains unknown as there are more than twenty potential paternity candidates.

Nonetheless, as the cancel culture grew, administrators of Jefferson’s Monticello memorial attempted to end the debate in 2018 by declaring Eston to be the child of Thomas Jefferson. In truth, this is far from being an established fact. Then the social justice historians added two plus two and got twenty-two claiming that Sally was raped. Yet when Thomas Jefferson served as ambassador to France, he took Hemmings and a male slave to Paris with him. Even though slavery was illegal in France, Hemmings never asked for her freedom, as one would expect if Thomas had raped her. We may never know what, if anything, really happened between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, but that doesn’t preclude the allegation of a relationship being used as a convenient club by Jefferson’s detractors.

The current focus on historical slavery has left one of Jefferson’s most important contributions almost unnoticed. Specifically, as a proponent of an agrarian economy, he left a legacy of land ownership. When he became president in 1800, America had more landowners than all of Europe, even though the countries of the Old World had thirty times as many people. The statistic was a harbinger of the large, proprietary middle class that would make America an economic powerhouse, even if it was not primarily agrarian.

During his presidency, he expanded the possibilities of land ownership by acquiring the territory of Louisiana. Its border would become destinations for land-hungry European immigrants for over a century. If they had not been purchased by Jefferson, the states in the region would have become the properties of French or Spanish monarchs. So it’s ironic that current Louisiana Democrats have downplayed the state’s connection to Jefferson. Without him, the state would have become part of a European empire, perhaps before becoming an impoverished nation like Mexico. In fact, without Southern Presidents Jefferson and Polk, America’s current western border would be the Mississippi River, not the Pacific Ocean.

Phil Leigh publishes the Civil War Chat blog. This column was adapted from an excerpt from his new book, “The Dreadful Frauds: Critical Race Theory and Identity Politics.

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