Jefferson and Slavery

In response to this incredibly misleading article, From Thomas Jefferson’s own family, a call to take down his memorial, posted on Yahoo! News, there are several vital important historic facts to carefully note:

All his active life as an adult in politics Thomas Jefferson, in multiple attempts at various times, tried to end slavery. Here are three specific examples.

As a young member of the Virginia House of Burgesses he introduced a bill to this effect but it was not acted upon.

As a member of the Second Continental Congress and of the committee chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence, he was the principal author of the document. In the original draft he condemned King George III and slavery in the harshest terms possible:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: 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 has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

Two things to particularly observe: Notice how MEN was capitalized. Earlier in the document Jefferson spoke of how “all men were created equal.” He capitalized the term MEN to specially emphasize that the persons he was discussing were not “property” but human beings with inalienable human rights that had been seized into bondage. Jefferson appropriated language from English philosopher John Locke’s 2nd Treatise on Civil Government, who was extremely influential to the Founders, and widely read. Locke talked about how men had natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Jefferson deliberately changed “property” to “the pursuit of happiness” so there would be no mistaking or justifying the concept of “property” to mean a right to hold slaves as “property.” Colonists from the South, particularly South Carolina, insisted the passage be removed. Notice the term Jefferson used to describe slavery — “execrable commerce” — referring to human bodily waste. We all know the disgusting slang term for this process.

Lastly Jefferson drafted the Ordinance of 1784 which would have restricted slavery in all territories in the west both north and south. It called for the land north of the Ohio River, west of the Appalachian Mountains, and east of the Mississippi River to be divided into ten separate states. The states would first be territories. They would remain territories until they had attained the same population as the least populous state in America. At that point, the territories would become states, and they would have the same rights as the original thirteen states. The Ordinance of 1784 also guaranteed self-government to the residents of the territories. The move not to delete the clause regarding slavery failed by one vote in Congress because one man was absent supposedly due to illness.

Jefferson later remarked —  “The voice of a single individual would have prevented this abominable crime; heaven will not always be silent; the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail.”

All because of the absence of one person in that one congressional vote the country would be on the inexorable course to what court historians have described as “the Civil War.”

Lastly there is not authoritative definitive proof that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemmings’ children. Sally Hemmings was the half-sister of Thomas Jeffferson’s wife, Martha. The DNA evidence is not conclusive on this. Only that it was a male from the Jefferson family.


4:31 pm on July 6, 2020