Thomas Jefferson: America’s Founding Sociopath

From the Archive: When Robert Parry’s article was posted two years ago, the Thomas Jefferson v. Alexander Hamilton debate vastly favored Jefferson, but the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” has brought new realism about Jefferson’s ugly side.

.By Robert Parry (Originally posted July 4, 2014)

On July Fourth, the people of the United States extravagantly celebrate the high-blown expressions on human rights that Thomas Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence especially the noble phrase “all men are created equal.” But Jefferson really didn’t believe that or much else that he said and wrote during his lifetime. He was, in reality, a skilled propagandist and a world-class hypocrite.

Yet, rather than subject Jefferson to a rigorous examination for his multiple hypocrisies, many Americans insist on protecting Jefferson’s reputation. From the Left, there is a desire to shield the lofty principles contained in the Declaration. From the Right, there is value in pretending that Jefferson’s revisionist concept of the Constitution, one favoring states’ rights over the federal government was the “originalist” view of that founding document.

In the Broadway musical "Hamilton," actor Daveed Diggs (left) who plays Thomas Jefferson and the musical's creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays Alexander Hamilton.

In the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” actor Daveed Diggs (left), who plays Thomas Jefferson, and the musical’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays Alexander Hamilton.

So, Jefferson perhaps more than any figure in U.S. history gets a pass for what he really was: a self-absorbed aristocrat who had one set of principles for himself and another for everybody else.

Beyond the glaring contradiction between his “all men are created equal” pronouncement and his racist views on African-American slaves, he also lectured others about the need for frugality and the avoidance of debt while he lived a life of personal extravagance and was constantly in arrears to creditors.

Jefferson also wrote provocatively that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.” That is one of Jefferson’s famous quotes repeated endlessly these days by both the right-wing Tea Party and would-be leftist revolutionaries.

But Jefferson’s bravado was more a rhetorical flourish than a principle that he was ready to live or die by. In 1781, when he had a chance to put his own blood where his mouth was, when a Loyalist force led by the infamous traitor Benedict Arnold advanced on Richmond, Virginia, then-Gov. Jefferson fled for his life on the fastest horse he could find.

Jefferson hopped on the horse and fled again when a British cavalry force under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton approached Charlottesville and Monticello. Gov. Jefferson abandoned his neighbors in Charlottesville and left his slaves behind at Monticello to deal with the notoriously brutal Tarleton.

In other words, Jefferson may have been America’s original “chicken hawk,” talking cavalierly about other people’s blood as the “manure” of liberty but finding his own too precious to risk. Nevertheless, Jefferson later built his political career by questioning the revolutionary commitment of Alexander Hamilton and even George Washington, who repeatedly did risk their lives in fighting for American liberty.

But what Jefferson’s many apologists have most desperately tried to obscure was his wretched record on race. Some pro-Jefferson scholars still talk about his rhapsodic depictions of the natural beauty of Virginia in his Notes on the State of Virginia, but they skirt the book’s sickening racism, including his pseudo-science of assessing physiological and mental traits of African-Americans to prove that all men were not created equal.

A Question of Rape

For generations, these apologists also have challenged slave Sally Hemings’s late-in-life remembrance to one of her sons, Madison Hemings, describing how Jefferson had imposed himself on her sexually in Paris after she arrived in 1787 as a teen-age slave girl attending one of his daughters.

An artist's depiction of Sally Hemings.

An artist’s depiction of Sally Hemings.

According to Madison Hemings’s account, his mother “became Mr. Jefferson’s concubine [in Paris]. And when he was called back home she was enciente [pregnant] by him.” Jefferson was insistent that Sally Hemings return with him, but her awareness of the absence of slavery in France gave her the leverage to insist on a transactional trade-off; she would continue to provide sex to Jefferson in exchange for his promise of good treatment and the freedom of her children when they turned 21, Madison Hemings said.

The traditional defense of Jefferson was to portray Sally Hemings as a promiscuous vixen who lied about her relationship with the Great Man to enhance her humble standing. After all, whose word would you believe, that of the estimable Jefferson who publicly decried race mixing or a lowly African-American slave girl?

For decades, the defenders stuck to that dismissive response despite the curious coincidence that Hemings tended to give birth nine months after one of Jefferson’s visits to Monticello and the discovery of male Jefferson DNA in Hemings’s descendants.

Still, the Jefferson apologists raised finicky demands for conclusive proof of the liaison, as if it were absurd to envision that a relatively young man then in his mid-40s, a widower since his wife died in 1782, would have initiated a sexual relationship with an African-American female, even an attractive light-skinned mulatto like Hemings (who was the illegitimate daughter of Jefferson’s father-in-law and thus Jefferson’s late wife’s half-sister)..

Though it’s true that unequivocal evidence does not exist — Hemings did not save a semen-stained blue dress so it could later be subjected to DNA analysis — historians have increasingly come to accept the reality of Jefferson’s sexual relationship with his young slave girl who was only 14 when she moved into Jefferson’s residence in Paris.

So, with this ground shifting under Jefferson’s defensive lines, his apologists retreated to a new position, that the relationship was a true love affair. Hemings was transformed into a kind of modern-day independent woman making her own choices about matters of the heart.

However, given her age and her status as Jefferson’s property the relationship could be more accurately described as serial rape.

But the reality may be even worse. Recent historical examinations of records at Jefferson’s Monticello plantation have provided support for contemporaneous accounts of Jefferson having sexual relations with at least one other slave girl beside Hemings and possibly more.

Fathering of Slaves

Some scholars, such as historian Henry Wiencek in his 2012 book, Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves, give credence to old reports about Jefferson having a direct role in populating Monticello by fathering his own dark-skinned lookalikes.

Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States.(in a 1788 portrait by John Trumbull, credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation)

Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States.(in a 1788 portrait by John Trumbull, credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation)

“In ways that no one completely understands, Monticello became populated by a number of mixed-race people who looked astonishingly like Thomas Jefferson,” wrote Wiencek. “We know this not from what Jefferson’s detractors have claimed but from what his grandson Jeff Randolph openly admitted. According to him, not only Sally Hemings but another Hemings woman as well ‘had children which resembled Mr. Jefferson so closely that it was plain that they had his blood in their veins.’

“Resemblance meant kinship; there was no other explanation. Since Mr. Jefferson’s blood was Jeff’s blood, Jeff knew that he was somehow kin to these people of a parallel world. Jeff said the resemblance of one Hemings to Thomas Jefferson was ‘so close, that at some distance or in the dusk the slave, dressed in the same way, might be mistaken for Mr. Jefferson.’”

During a dinner at Monticello, Jeff Randolph recounted a scene in which a Thomas Jefferson lookalike was a servant tending to the table where Thomas Jefferson was seated. Randolph recalled the reaction of one guest:

“In one instance, a gentleman dining with Mr. Jefferson, looked so startled as he raised his eyes from the latter to the servant behind him, that his discovery of the resemblance was perfectly obvious to all.”

In the 1850s, Jeff Randolph told a visiting author that his grandfather did not hide the slaves who bore these close resemblances, since Sally Hemings “was a house servant and her children were brought up house servants so that the likeness between master and slave was blazoned to all the multitudes who visited this political Mecca” and indeed a number of visitors did make note of this troubling reality.

Even Jefferson admirer Jon Meacham accepted the truth of the Hemings liaison in Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. Meacham cited a quote from Elijah Fletcher, a visitor from Vermont: “The story of Black Sal is no farce That he cohabits with her and has a number of children by her is a sacred truth and the worst of it is, he keeps the same children slaves an unnatural crime which is very common in these parts This conduct may receive a little palliation when we consider that such proceedings are so common that they cease here to be disgraceful.”

Meacham observed that Jefferson “was apparently able to consign his children with Sally Hemings to a separate sphere of life in his mind even as they grew up in his midst. It was, to say the least, an odd way to live, but Jefferson was a creature of his culture.

“‘The enjoyment of a negro or mulatto woman is spoken of as quite a common thing: no reluctance, delicacy or shame is made about the matter,’ Josiah Quincy Jr. of Massachusetts wrote after a visit to the Carolinas. This was daily reality at Monticello.”

This “daily reality” was also a troubling concern among Jefferson’s white family though the Great Man would never confirm or deny his parentage of a number of Monticello’s slaves.

“Frigid indifference forms a useful shield for a public character against his political enemies, but Jefferson deployed it against his own daughter Martha, who was deeply upset by the sexual allegations against her father and wanted a straight answer Yes or no? an answer he would not deign to give,” wrote Wiencek.

Before his death, Jefferson did free several of Sally Hemings’s children or let them run away presumably fulfilling the commitment made in Paris before Hemings agreed to return to Monticello to remain his slave concubine. “Jefferson went to his grave without giving his family any denial of the Hemings charges,” Wiencek wrote.

The historical record increasingly makes Jefferson out to be a serial rapist, exploiting at least one and possibly more girls who were trapped on his property, who indeed were his property, and thus had little choice but to tolerate his sexual advances.

Whipping the Children

The evidence of Jefferson’s sexual predations must also be viewed in the context of his overall treatment of his slaves at Monticello. Though Jefferson’s apologists pretend that he was a kind master distressed over the inequities of a slave system that he could somehow neither correct nor escape, the latest evidence — much of it concealed for generations to protect Jefferson’s image — reveal him to be a cruel slave-owner who carefully calculated the net worth that his human chattel provided him and having boys as young as 10 whipped.

Thomas Jefferson's mansion at Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson’s mansion at Monticello in  Charlottesville, Virginia.

Some of Jefferson’s mistreatment of his slaves derived from another of his hypocrisies, his views about simplicity and solvency. As historian John Chester Miller wrote in his 1977 book, The Wolf by the Ears, “To Jefferson, the abandon with which Americans rushed into debt and squandered borrowed money upon British ‘gew-gaws’ and ‘trumpery’ vitiated the blessings of peace.

“From Paris an unlikely podium from which to sermonize Jefferson preached frugality, temperance, and the simple life of the American farmer. Buy nothing whatever on credit, he exhorted his countrymen, and buy only what was essential. ‘The maxim of buying nothing without money in our pocket to pay for it,’ he averred, ‘would make of our country (Virginia) one of the happiest upon earth.’

“As Jefferson saw it, the most pernicious aspect of the postwar preoccupation with pleasure, luxury, and the ostentatious display of wealth was the irremediable damage it did to ‘republican virtue.’”

But Jefferson himself amassed huge debts and lived the life of a bon vivant, spending way beyond his means. In Paris, he bought fancy clothes, collected fine wines, and acquired expensive books, furniture and artwork. It was, however, his slaves back at Monticello who paid the price for his excesses.

“Living in a style befitting a French nobleman, his small salary often in arrears, and burdened by debts to British merchants which he saw no way of paying, Jefferson was driven to financial shifts, some of which were made at the expense of his slaves. In 1787, for example, he decided to hire out some of his slaves a practice he had hitherto avoided because of the hardship it wreaked upon the slaves themselves,” Miller wrote.

Upon returning to the United States, Jefferson reinvented himself as a more modestly attired republican, but his tastes for the grandiose did not abate. He ordered elaborate renovations to Monticello, which deepened his debt and compelled his slaves to undertake strenuous labor to implement Jefferson’s ambitious architectural designs.

Needing to squeeze more value from his slaves, Jefferson was an aggressive master, not the gentle patrician that his apologists have long depicted.

According to historian Wiencek, Jefferson “directed his manager, Nicholas Lewis, to extract ‘extraordinary exertions’ of labor from the slaves to stay current with his debt payments. Some slaves had endured years of harsh treatment at the hands of strangers, for to raise cash, Jefferson had also instructed Lewis to hire out slaves. He demanded extraordinary exertions from the elderly: ‘The negroes too old to be hired, could they not make a good profit by cultivating cotton?’”

Jefferson was callous as well toward his young slaves. Reviewing long-neglected records at Monticello, Wiencek noted that one plantation report to Jefferson recounted that the nail factory was doing well because “the small ones” ages 10, 11 and 12 were being whipped by overseer, Gabriel Lilly, “for truancy.”

His plantation records also show that he viewed fertile female slaves as exceptionally valuable because their offspring would increase his assets and thus enable him to incur more debt. He ordered his plantation manager to take special care of these “breeding” women.

“A child raised every 2. years is of more profit than the crop of the best laboring man,” Jefferson wrote. “[I]n this, as in all other cases, providence has made our duties and our interests coincide perfectly.”

According to Wiencek, “The enslaved people 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.”

To justify this profiting off slavery, Jefferson claimed that he was merely acting in accordance with “Providence,” which in Jefferson’s peculiar view of religion always happened to endorse whatever action Jefferson wanted to take.

Twisting the Founding Narrative

Yet, while Jefferson’s rationalizations for slavery were repugnant, his twisting of the Founding Narrative may have been even more significant and long-lasting, setting the nation on course for the Civil War, followed by a near century of segregation and carrying forward to the present day with the Tea Party’s claims that states are “sovereign” and that actions by the federal government to promote the general welfare are “unconstitutional.”

A Revolutionary War-era banner that has been adopted as an iconic symbol of the Tea Party.

A Revolutionary War-era banner that has been adopted as an iconic symbol of the Tea Party.

The reason the Tea Partiers get away with presenting themselves as “conservative constitutionalists” is that Thomas Jefferson engineered a revisionist interpretation of the Founding document, which as written by the Federalists and ratified by the states created a federal government that could do almost anything that Congress and the President agreed was necessary for the good of the country.

That was the constitutional interpretation of both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, who mounted a fierce though unsuccessful campaign to defeat the Constitution’s ratification because they recognized how powerful the Constitution’s federal government was. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Made-up ‘Constitution.’”]

Southern Anti-Federalists, such as Patrick Henry and George Mason, argued that the Constitution, though it implicitly accepted slavery, would eventually be used by the North to free the slaves. Or, as Patrick Henry colorfully told Virginia’s ratifying convention in 1788, “they’ll free your niggers!”

Though the Constitution eked through to passage, the fear of Southern plantation owners that they would lose their huge investment in human chattel did not disappear. Indeed, their trepidation intensified as it became clear that many leading Federalists, including the new government’s chief architect Alexander Hamilton, were ardent abolitionists. Hamilton had grown up poor in the West Indies and witnessed first-hand the depravity of slavery.

By contrast, Jefferson had grown up the pampered son of a major Virginia slave-owner, but he developed his own critical view of the evils of slavery. As a young politician, Jefferson had cautiously and unsuccessfully backed some reforms to ameliorate the injustices. In a deleted section of his draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson had denounced slavery, citing it as one of King George III’s crimes.

However, after the Revolution, Jefferson recognized that any anti-slavery position would destroy his political viability among his fellow plantation owners in the South. While in Paris as the U.S. representative, Jefferson rebuffed offers to join the abolitionist Amis des Noirs because by associating with abolitionists he would impair his ability to do “good” in Virginia, historian John Chester Miller noted, adding:

“Jefferson’s political instinct proved sound: as a member of the Amis des Noirs he would have been a marked man in the Old Dominion.”

Self-Interest Over Principle

With his personal financial and political interests aligned with the perpetuation of slavery, Jefferson emerged as the most important leader of the slave South, seeking to reinterpret the Constitution to blunt the potential that the federal government might eventually outlaw slavery.

A portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1792.

A portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1792.

So, in the 1790s, as Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists worked to create the new government that the Constitution had authorized, Jefferson’s counter-movement emerged to reassert states’ rights as defined by the earlier Articles of Confederation, which the Constitution had obliterated.

Jefferson skillfully reframed the Constitution’s powers not by asserting an explicit defense of slavery but by voicing resistance to a strong central government and reasserting the primacy of the states. Though Jefferson had played no role in drafting the Constitution or the Bill of Rights — he was in Paris at the time — he simply interpreted the Constitution as he wished, similar to his frequent invocation of Providence as always favoring whatever he wanted.

Most significantly, Jefferson developed the concept of “strict construction,” insisting that the federal government could only perform functions specifically mentioned in the text of the Constitution, such as coining money, setting up post offices, etc. Though Jefferson’s concept was silly because the Framers understood that the young country would face unanticipated opportunities and challenges that the government would have to address, Jefferson built a potent political party to make his idea stick.

Jefferson’s strategy was to simply ignore the Constitution’s clear language, particularly its mandate in Article I, Section 8 that Congress “provide for the general Welfare of the United States” and its grant to Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States.”

Jefferson simply insisted that the Framers hadn’t meant what the Framers had written. Jefferson went even further and reaffirmed the concept of state sovereignty and independence that George Washington, James Madison and other Framers had despised and intentionally expunged when they threw out the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution had shifted national sovereignty away from the states to “We the People of the United States.”

Despite the Constitution’s explicit reference to making federal law “the supreme law of the land,” Jefferson exploited the lingering resentments over ratification to reassert the states’ supremacy over the federal government. Often working behind the scenes even while serving as Vice President under President John Adams Jefferson promoted each state’s right to nullify federal law and even to secede from the Union.

Aiding Jefferson’s cause was the shifting allegiances of James Madison, an early Federalist who had been tapped by Washington to be the principal architect of the Constitution. However, like Jefferson, Madison was a major Virginian slaveholder who recognized that both his political future and his personal fortune were dependent on the continuation of slavery.

So, Madison sold out his earlier Federalist allies and shifted his allegiance to his neighbor, Jefferson. Madison’s break with Washington and Hamilton gave Jefferson’s revisionist take on the Constitution a patina of legitimacy given Madison’s key role as one of the Framers.

Jefferson spelled out this political reality in a 1795 letter to Madison in which Jefferson cited what he called “the Southern interest,” because, as author Jon Meacham observed, “the South was his personal home and his political base.” It was the same for Madison. [For more on Madison’s role, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison.”]

Warring with the Federalists

In his rise to power, Jefferson waged a nasty propaganda war against the Federalists as they struggled to form a new government and endeavored to stay out of a renewed conflict between Great Britain and France. Jefferson secretly funded newspaper editors who spread damaging personal rumors about key Federalists, particularly Hamilton who as Treasury Secretary was spearheading the new government’s formation.

John Adams, the second president of the United States

John Adams, the second president of the United States, who was ousted in Election 1800 by his vice president, Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson’s governmental actions almost always dovetailed with the interests of slaveholders and his own personal finances. For instance, as Secretary of State during Washington’s first term, Jefferson protested the Federalists’ disinterest in pursuing compensation from Great Britain for slaves freed during the Revolutionary War, a high priority for Jefferson and his plantation-owning allies. Jefferson correctly perceived that Hamilton and John Jay, two staunch opponents of slavery, had chosen not to make compensation a high priority.

Also Jefferson’s interest in siding with France against Great Britain was partly colored by his large financial debts owed to London lenders, debts that might be voided or postponed if the United States went to war against Great Britain.

Then, in the latter 1790s with French agents aggressively intervening in U.S. politics to push President John Adams into that war against Great Britain, the Federalist-controlled Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which Jefferson’s political movement deftly exploited to rally opposition to the overreaching Federalists.

By the election of 1800, Jefferson had merged his political base in the slave-economy South with an anti-Federalist faction in New York to defeat Adams for reelection. The three-fifths clause, a concession by the Constitutional Convention to the South allowing slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation, proved crucial to Jefferson’s victory.

As President, Jefferson took more actions that advanced the cause of his slaveholding constituency, largely by solidifying his “states’ rights” interpretation of the Constitution. But Jefferson and his revisionist views faced a formidable opponent in Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, a fellow Virginian though one who considered slavery the likely ruin of the South.

As historian Miller wrote: “While Jefferson could account for Hamilton a West Indian ‘adventurer’ goaded by ambition, unscrupulous in attaining his ends, and wholly devoid of state loyalties he could not understand how John Marshall, a Virginian who, under happier circumstances, Jefferson might have called ‘cousin John,’ could cast off all feeling for his ‘country’ (i.e. Virginia) and go over to the ‘enemy’

“As Marshall saw it, Jefferson was trying to turn the clock back to the Articles of Confederation a regression that would totally paralyze the federal government. ‘The government of the whole will be prostrated at the feet of the members [the states],’ Marshall predicted, ‘and the grand effort of wisdom, virtue, and patriotism, which produced it, will be totally defeated.’

“The question of slavery never bulked larger on Jefferson’s horizon than when John Marshall, from the eminence of the Supreme Court, struck down acts of the state legislatures and aggrandized the powers of the federal government. For slavery could not be divorced from the conflict between the states and the general government: as the Supreme Court went, so might slavery itself go.

“States’ rights were the first line of defense of slavery against antislavery sentiment in Congress, and Jefferson had no intention of standing by idly while this vital perimeter was breached by a troop of black-robed jurists.”

Selling Out the Haitians

Jefferson also reversed the Federalists’ support for the slave rebellion in St. Domingue (now Haiti), which had overthrown a ruthlessly efficient French plantation system that had literally worked the slaves to death. The violence of that revolution on both sides shocked Jefferson and many of his fellow slaveholders who feared that the rebellion might inspire American blacks to rise up next.

Toussaint L'Ouverture, leader of Haiti's slave rebellion against France.

Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of Haiti’s slave rebellion against France.

Alexander Hamilton, who despised slavery from his experience growing up in the West Indies, assisted the black slave leader, the self-taught and relatively moderate Toussaint L’Ouverture, in drafting a constitution, and the Adams administration sold weapons to the former slaves.

After taking over the White House, however, President Jefferson reversed those Federalist policies. He conspired secretly with the new French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte on a French plan to retake St. Domingue with an expeditionary force that would re-enslave the blacks. Jefferson only learned later that Napoleon had a second phase of the plan, to move to New Orleans and build a new French colonial empire in the heart of North America.

Napoleon’s army succeeded in capturing L’Ouverture, who was taken to France and killed, but L’Ouverture’s more radical followers annihilated the French army and declared their independence as a new republic, Haiti.

The Haitians’ bloody victory had important consequences for the United States as well. Stopped from moving on to New Orleans, Napoleon decided to sell the Louisiana Territories to Jefferson, who thus stood to benefit from the Haitian freedom fighters whom Jefferson had sold out. Still fearing the spread of black revolution, Jefferson also organized a blockade of Haiti, which helped drive the war-torn country into a spiral of violence and poverty that it has never escaped.

However, Jefferson also faced a constitutional quandary, since he had espoused the ludicrous notion of “strict construction” and there was no specific constitutional language authorizing the purchase of new lands. The solution for Jefferson, the consummate hypocrite, was simply to violate his own principle and proceed with the Louisiana Purchase.

This vast new territory also opened up huge opportunities for Southern slaveholders, especially because the Constitution had called for the end of slave importation in 1808, meaning that the value of the domestic slave trade skyrocketed. That was especially important for established slave states like Virginia where the soil for farming was depleted.

Breeding slaves became a big business for the Commonwealth and enhanced Jefferson’s personal net worth, underscoring his notations about valuing female “breeder” slaves even above the strongest males.

Inviting the Civil War

But the danger to the nation was that spreading slavery to the Louisiana Territories and admitting a large number of slave states would worsen tensions between North and South.

A photograph showing the whipping scars on the back of an African-American slave.

A photograph showing the whipping scars on the back of an African-American slave.

As Miller wrote, “Jefferson might have averted the struggle between the North and South, free and slave labor, for primacy in the national domain the immediate, and probably the only truly irrepressible, cause of the Civil War. Instead, Jefferson raised no objections to the continued existence of slavery in the Louisiana Purchase.

“Had he the temerity to propose that Louisiana be excluded from the domestic slave trade he would have encountered a solid bloc of hostile votes from south of the Mason-Dixon line. Jefferson was fond of saying that he never tilted against windmills, especially those that seemed certain to unhorse him. Jefferson neither took nor advocated any action that would weaken slavery among the tobacco and cotton producers in the United States.”

Indeed, keeping the new territories and states open to slavery became a major goal of Jefferson as President and after he left office.

Miller wrote, “In the case of the federal government, he could easily imagine circumstances perhaps they had already been produced by John Marshall which justified [the South’s] secession: among them was the emergence of a central government so powerful that it could trample willfully upon the rights of the states and destroy any institution, including slavery, which it judged to be immoral, improper, or inimical to the national welfare as defined by Washington, D.C.

“Confronted by such a concentration of power, Jefferson believed that the South would have no real option but to go its own way.”

Miller continued, “As the spokesman of a section whose influence was dwindling steadily in the national counsels and which was threatened with the ‘tyranny’ of a consolidated government dominated by a section hostile to the institutions and interests of the South, Jefferson not only took the side of slavery, he demanded that the right of slavery to expand at will everywhere in the national domain be acknowledged by the Northern majority.”

In the last major political fight of his life, Jefferson battled Northern efforts to block the spread of slavery into Missouri. “With the alarm bell sounding in his ears, Jefferson buckled on the armor of Hector and took up the shield of states’ rights,” wrote Miller. “Jefferson, in short, assumed the accoutrements of an ardent and an uncompromising champion of Southern rights. Possessed by this martial spirit, Jefferson now asserted that Congress had no power over slavery in the territories.

“Now he was willing to accord Congress power only to protect slavery in the territories and he converted the doctrine of states’ rights into a protective shield for slavery against interference by a hostile federal government. He was no longer concerned primarily with civil liberties or with the equalization of the ownership of property but in insuring that slave-owners were protected in the full plentitude of their property rights.

“The Missouri dispute seemed to mark the strange death of Jeffersonian liberalism.”

Rationalizing Slavery

Jefferson’s fight to extend slavery into Missouri also influenced his last notable personal achievement, the founding of the University of Virginia. He saw the establishment of a first-rate educational institution in Charlottesville, Virginia, as an important antidote to elite Northern schools influencing the Southern aristocracy with ideas that could undermine what Jefferson dubbed “Missourism,” or the right of all states carved from the Louisiana Territories to practice slavery.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.

Jefferson complained that Southern men, who traveled North for their college education, were infused with “opinions and principles in discord with those of their own country,” by which he meant the South, Miller wrote, adding:

“Particularly if they attended Harvard University, they returned home imbued with ‘anti-Missourism,’ dazzled by the vision of ‘a single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and moneyed corporations’ and utterly indifferent to or even contemptuous of the old-fashioned Southern patriots who still manned the defenses of freedom, equality, and democracy”, revealing again how words in Jefferson’s twisted world had lost all rational meaning. Slavery became “freedom, equality, and democracy.”

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 that barred slavery in new states north of the 36-degree-30 parallel “made the creation of such a center of learning imperative” to Jefferson, wrote Miller, thus driving his determination to make the University of Virginia a Southern school that would rival the great colleges of the North and would train young Southern minds to resist federal “consolidationism.”

Even the Jefferson-admiring Meacham noted the influence of the Missouri dispute in Jefferson’s zeal to launch his university in Charlottesville. “The Missouri question made Jefferson even more eager to get on with the building of the University of Virginia for he believed the rising generation of leaders should be trained at home, in climes hospitable to his view of the world, rather than sent north,” Meacham wrote.

In short, Jefferson had melded the twin concepts of slavery and states’ rights into a seamless ideology. As Miller concluded, “Jefferson began his career as a Virginian; he became an American; and in his old age he was in the process of becoming a Southern nationalist.”

When he died on July 4, 1826, a half century after the Declaration of Independence was first read to the American people, Jefferson had set the nation on course for the Civil War.

However, even to this day, Jefferson’s vision of “victimhood” for white Southerners seeing themselves as persecuted by Northern power — yet blinded to the racist cruelty that they inflict on blacks — remains a powerful motivation for white anger, now spreading beyond the South.

Today, we see Jefferson’s racist legacy in the nearly deranged hatred directed at the first African-American president and in the unbridled fury unleashed against the federal government that Barack Obama heads.

As unpleasant as it may be for Americans who prefer especially on July Fourth to ponder the pleasant image of Jefferson as the aristocratic republican with a taste for fine art and a fondness for free-thinking, it is well past time to look at the Declaration’s author as the person he really was, America’s founding sociopath.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

 

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35 comments for “Thomas Jefferson: America’s Founding Sociopath

  1. July 4, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Guess who has learned well from Jeffersonianism. Hillery Rodham Clinton. In her early years she was a barry Goldwater follower. Says it all. Beware for a nuclear winter is getting closer. Hoping her coughing fits become a choking of the next POTUS

    • Bart Gruzalski
      July 4, 2016 at 6:22 pm

      falcemartello,
      PLEASE TELL ME THAT I AM WRONG and that I am MISUNDERSTANDING you.

      Yet I’m sure I’m not, but maybe in a reply you’ll be kind enough to show me how I have misinterpreted you. Here’s the irritating clause (have problems with the previous two sentences, but those problems pale when compared to the problems in your closing sentence):

      “HOPING HER COUGHING FITS BECOME A CHOKING OF THE NEXT POTUS.”

      Hillary is a sociopath, full of ambition, hate, anger, vengeance, willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people for no good reason, prone to bouts of confusion, etc etc etc., but I can’t imagine how one of her coughing fits would choke someone else who was POTUS. I doubt that you can either.

      PLEASE BE AWARE: A number of us are COMMITTED TO DOING WHAT WE CAN to make sure the crown princess will NOT have the delegates or the support of the DNC to become the Democrats’ candidate for president. And here you are, ASSUMING she’s going to beat Bernie to become the candidate emerging from the Democratic Convention and then, in about three and a half months, will leave behind her status as crown princess and ascend to the crown.

      Why do you affirm this assumption, coming out of the presstitues’ mouths and and put into media fully controlled and funded by the Establishment? Why affirm this stupid assumption rather than look for her weak points, which are debilitating her daily. She’s a veritable Pandora’s Box of conditions that make her unfit to run for POTUS. Are you with us or just writing for fun? Please reply, none of what I’m asking is intended to be rhetorical.

      • Brian
        July 4, 2016 at 7:26 pm

        That was the first Consortium news comment that made me crack up

  2. J'hon Doe II
    July 4, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Rationalizing Slavery

    On July 5th, 1852, in Rochester, New York, Fredrick Douglass gave one of his most famous speeches, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” He was addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society.
    (excerpt)

    Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

    I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

    What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

    At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

  3. J'hon Doe II
    July 4, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Self-Interest Over Principle

    On June 26, 2016, one hundred sixty four years beyond the Douglas speech, Gray’s Anatomy star Jessie Williams gave this speech. A different era with the same general “appeal.”

    Before we get into it, I just want to say, you know, I brought my parents out tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, that they made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also I thank my amazing wife for changing my life.

    Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country—the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students—that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

    Now, this is also, in particular, for the black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

    Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data. And we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function and ours.

    Now, I got more, y’all. Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come, when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.

    Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Now, dedicating our lives—dedicating our lives to get money, just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies?

    There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us, and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us, “but she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free.” Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

    And let’s get—let’s get a couple things straight. Just a little side note. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. All right? Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest—if you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

    We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil—black gold—ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though—the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.

    • Gregory Herr
      July 4, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      Thank you J’hon for Frederick Douglass and Jessie Williams. Crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.

  4. Marilyn Potter
    July 4, 2016 at 11:10 am

    I would suggest there were several presidents that followed Jefferson who were also sociopaths. It is called ‘lipstick on a pig’ and it is an art form practiced in this country with great skill. Research other presidents in a very thorough way –if you do, you could come away with possibly a picture of who they really were. The transformation process continues. Be very careful who you vote for.

    • Joe Tedesky
      July 4, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      Marilyn, sometimes when viewing the founding fathers I like to imagine them through someone living today. I often think that William Jefferson Clinton would be aptly suited to resemble Thomas Jefferson for a whole lot of reasons. Bill Clinton gets far to much credit for the ‘great’ economy of the 90’s. In my career, I remember that while Bill was president, I seem to recall a mass exodus of industrial companies, either leaving this country or just going out of business. I’m referring to Clinton’s damaging of our industrial infrastructure through the passage of NAFTA. Although Hillary has the union vote! What I believe was really fueling on the good economic numbers was Y2K. My own company after having purchased a new IBM computer system in 92, had to upgrade in 99, due to the Y2K demands. BIll Clinton was also no champion of the blacks, with his anti-crime legislation, and with his welfare reform. Clinton like Jefferson gets an overly gracious praise just because he wore sunglasses and played the sax on Arsenio Hall’s talk show. Bill and Hillary are no friends to Black Americans, so most of it for them is just good spin, and apparently it works out well for these two robber baron hacks.

      You are right to reference the transformation process though. Real events, and real proof of good character goes out the window when it comes to writing presidential biographies, that’s a certain. Although, how could they brainwash generations of history students otherwise? I personally believe that many if not nearly all of this country’s founding fathers were separating from England, because slavery was starting to look to have a very bleak future…maybe that’s just me. Have you ever wondered to if these flattering historians were to print the real truth for what it really was, what our take away would be of these great early leaders we adore so much were to be talked about in such a way that we truly would see them for what they really were? I’m not so sure any of us would like Lincoln, if the real Lincoln were to be described factually. He seems to me to be more of a conniving politician than an emancipator. Oh, isn’t it funny how only in very modern times, that we now learn how brutal Andrew Jackson really was when it came to his treatment of Native Americans? Not quite the guy who threw one hell of a big tailgate party for all the little people, when inaugurated in the White House in 1828. Yeah, there isn’t much difference between a Hollywood public relations director and a Washington historian when it comes right down to it, but then without their spin, what would we teach the children?

      Just thought I’d jump in there with that…have a good day JT

  5. dahoit
    July 4, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    OY.

  6. Cal
    July 4, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I continue to be amazed that people all over the world who are evidently unable to create their own ‘perfect’ country flock and fight to get to the racist horrible American country created by horrible racist white Europeans.
    I suggest we destroy the constitution these terrible founders wrote and the Del of Independence and the Bill of Rights and the entire system they created and see if their critics can found and created a better country.

    • Zachary Smith
      July 5, 2016 at 12:03 am

      While you’re at it, consider the Star Spangled Banner. Until a few moments ago I’d never appreciated what the racist Francis Scott Key had in mind with the third verse.

      And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
      That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
      A home and a Country should leave us no more?
      Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
      No refuge could save the hireling and slave
      From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
      And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
      O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

      Now I knew that during WW2 this one was sort of totally overlooked, but I’d assumed it was on account of the Brits being our allies at the time. Well, this stanza was talking about British troops of another age – black ones who had formerly been slaves.

      When the untrained American militia faced the dogged advance by British troops, backed by artillery fire, the Americans broke rank by the hundreds and then by the thousands.

      They ran as fast as they could, hence the humorous reference to “The Races.” Most simply ran back toward Washington, including Lieutenant Key. In the Bladensburg Races, Francis Scott Key was a sprinter.

      The Colonial Marines were formerly slaves, and were much more than a match for the lily white Americans. This contradicted the Narrative that whites were vastly superior to blacks, and Key’s solution was to fantasize about somehow slaughtering those black soldiers. Sort of like the KKK general Nathan Bedford Forrest really did at Fort Pillow half a century later.

      Murdering black folks naturally proves white skin is good and black skin is very bad. Hey, the white mob is still alive, isn’t it?

      http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2016/07/star-spangled-bigotry-the-hidden-racist-history-of-the-national-anthem/

  7. Bill Bodden
    July 4, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Though Jefferson’s apologists pretend that he was a kind master distressed over the inequities of a slave system that he could somehow neither correct nor escape, …

    There are frequent comments made about slave-owning founding fathers claiming they were opposed in principle to slavery. These statements are usually made to whitewash (no pun intended) the practice of slavery by Jefferson and others. These apologists are apparently blind to the fact that if these slave owners didn't believe in slavery but didn't free their slaves then it was because they lacked the moral courage to do so.

  8. Lawrence Magnuson
    July 4, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    This essay represents a standard which other journalists and historians should attempt. There is no mistaking its excellence. It holds open doors for the bright and the blind alike. On a lesser but personal note, as a Professor of Languages and Literature (retired), I love writing that creates its own inevitability. Great matters; great writing, too.

  9. Erik
    July 4, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    This fascinating issue will require debaters having great familiarity with the historical details to assess accurately, each criticizing the opposing views and getting good responses. None should suppose that a defense or attack of TJ’s integrity merely reflects opinions of racism.

    I would not yet conclude that Jefferson was a “serial rapist” by the standard of his society. The Constitution prohibits ex post facto laws because no one prior to their passage could be forewarned that the prohibited acts would be considered wrong. Although the evidence is still equivocal (I’ve heard that the genetic similarity to Hemings descendants turned out to be true also of Jefferson’s ancestors in England), it is certainly possible. Even idealists are likely to be ruled by passion at times, to indulge while traveling, and to accept the inequalities of the society they were born among.

    Idealism can be sincere even when applied with exceptions, especially when creating a vast new experiment in democratic government, and where the exceptions appear to be inevitable for the present. The less opportunistic South accepted slavery as an economic necessity, and apparently believed slaves to be capable of little more (although it seems absurd today). A double standard is a sign of hypocrisy, but not nearly to the extent of one who knowingly violates the mores and laws of his time.

    It is also interesting that great words and deeds flow from people who also make big mistakes, or later change their other opinions radically. So we could accept TJ’s peccadillos and difficulty living by his own standards, and still recognize the good works. It would be helpful to hear how he debated this with others like the Polish General Kosciusko who assisted in the Revolutionary War but urged TJ to free his slaves.

    I am not merely covering for the old boy; I think Jefferson was among the most generous and sincere in his time. He was the source of our most eloquent declarations of democratic principles, better at times than Washington, Madison, Locke, Rousseau, Montaigne, & co., although they each take the cake in their best areas. So we may benefit by criticizing the worst offenders rather than seem to discard TJ’s wisdom on human rights at a time when when we need it most.

    • Lady Mondegreen
      July 4, 2016 at 6:30 pm

      Jesus. You’ve called the rape of an enslaved 14-year-old a “peccadillo” and an “indugence.”

      You’ve said nothing about Jefferson, but a great deal about yourself.

      • Zachary Smith
        July 4, 2016 at 10:51 pm

        In my opinion the gentleman needs to widen his range of history reading.

        The less opportunistic South accepted slavery as an economic necessity, and apparently believed slaves to be capable of little more (although it seems absurd today).

        No, the old White South simply suppressed all evidence the black-skinned folks were as capable as themselves when given half a chance. That’s why they were so hard on the successful free blacks. They were living examples of their “slavery necessary” bloviation being nothing more than BS.

        Example: Thomas Jeremiah, probably the wealthiest free black man in the Colonies was ‘legally’ murdered in 1775.

        “Jeremiah was basically a victim of his own success. He had risen too high; he made the local white elites uncomfortable. As Harris noted, Jeremiah “did not need to gather arms or preach revolution to undermine slavery, because his whole life was a refutation of whites’ basic justification for slavery.””

        To make sure the local slaves got the message, after he was hung, his body was cut down and burned to ashes.

        Example: “Jack Daniel’s reveals the whiskey’s secret ingredient: Help from a slave”. Admitting that black folks were capable of anything whatever was simply unacceptable, so the stories were suppressed whenever possible.

        http://www.thespec.com/news-story/6744061-jack-daniel-s-reveals-the-whiskey-s-secret-ingredient-help-from-a-slave/

        Everybody was some kind of racist in the old days, but Thomas Jefferson was an uncommon level of jackass. Like with Andrew Jackson on the $20, I’ve come to despise the nickel coin.

        • Erik
          July 5, 2016 at 10:29 am

          No, I said that slavery is wrong, warned that this is not the issue here, and even noted that such racist deprecation of abilities is clearly absurd today.

          The objection to my note that the “less opportunistic” South “believed slaves to be capable of little more” is answered by elaboration. It is irrelevant that such southerners were wrong, or that other slaveholders were merely opportunistic. The relevant issue is what Jefferson may have sincerely thought. And in fact the slaves, captured from primitive African tribes, isolated from their new culture, and given no schooling, were a long way from functioning in their new society in any normal capacity. It is obvious to us that this does not justify their enslavement, but it was not obvious at all to southerners at that time.

          It was also believed by them, on the basis of actual experiments, but falsely nonetheless, that plantations could not be run on wage labor. The real barrier was failure of the federal government to establish price controls so that wage labor would be supportable and could be fairly required. Without price controls any unilateral expense on wages would have made the product non-competitive. Such a system could have been devised by consent of North and South, to tax the slave cotton to support the wage labor, so that there would be no net economic impoact on the plantations. Because abolitionism was centered in the North and in England, the primary cotton markets, the cost of liberation would have been born by those who wanted it mots. Such a system could have been implemented.

          The reason that I make the effort to see their point of view, unpopular and unsupportable as it is now, is that the issues of their time could not be resolved otherwise. It would not have been much of a stretch to resolve those issues without fighting the Civil War, had people of both North and South been brought to understand each other by some well-controlled means of public debate.

          So why didn’t they resolve it?

          The South controlled the Supreme Court, and could simply have decided in Dred Scott v. Sanford that the slave was freed by being moved to a state where “all men are free” but that the state owed the owner full compensation of direct and consequent damages because this was government taking of private property without just compensation (see Amendment V). This would have put the North on notice that it must consider the economic impact upon individual slaveholders, which would have put the economic feasibility issue before Congress.

          But Congress then never debated the issue in such detail, to my knowledge. After 1828 there were almost no survivors of the early federal generation, with its spirit of creating a workable union. The common defense motive for accommodating regional factions was gone after 1815 (Britain realized after the War of 1812 that it inconvenience the US but never defeat it, and France had no further such ambitions). So Congress had degenerated to a squabble of factional ideologues, who never seriously considered the interests of the other side.

          The North felt secure in the moral superiority of abolitionism, but made the mistake of ignoring feasibility issues and the constitutional right to compensation for property taking. The South felt unable to implement wage labor as the unilateral action of individual plantations, which was also true as far as it went. Both ignored the other’s argument because they saw no solution.

          The solution was a large federal agency, able to monitor wage/slave cotton from source to mill, tax the slave cotton to support wages and build towns for the slaves with schools and social agencies, provide transitional support and municipal government, monitor the slaves for fair treatment, etc. This would have required an agency larger than any federal agency then existing other than the army. Probably it was never debated because it seemed impossible. So instead we fought a disastrous war and did not get the transitional services to liberated slaves anyway.

          More cautious and inclusive debate is the answer here. We must avoid merely taking what appears to one faction to be high ground, because understanding all factions is the way to resolving differences in a democracy.

        • Erik
          July 5, 2016 at 2:34 pm

          No, I said that slavery is wrong, warned that this is not the issue here, and even noted that such racist deprecation of abilities is clearly absurd today.
          The objection to my note that the “less opportunistic” South “believed slaves to be capable of little more” is answered by elaboration. It is irrelevant that such southerners were wrong, or that other slaveholders were merely opportunistic. The relevant issue is what Jefferson may have sincerely thought. And in fact the slaves, captured from primitive African tribes, isolated from their new culture, and given no schooling, were a long way from functioning in their new society in any normal capacity. It is obvious to us that this does not justify their enslavement, but it was not obvious at all to southerners at that time.
          It was also believed by them, on the basis of actual experiments, but falsely nonetheless, that plantations could not be run on wage labor. The real barrier was failure of the federal government to establish price controls so that wage labor would be supportable and could be fairly required. Without price controls any unilateral expense on wages would have made the product non-competitive. Such a system could have been devised by consent of North and South, to tax the slave cotton to support the wage labor, so that there would be no net economic impact on the plantations. Because abolitionism was centered in the North and in England, the primary cotton markets, the cost of liberation would have been born by those who wanted it most. Such a system could have been implemented.
          The reason that I make the effort to see their point of view, unpopular and unsupportable as it is now, is that the issues of their time could not be resolved otherwise. It would not have been much of a stretch to resolve those issues without fighting the Civil War, had people of both North and South been brought to understand each other by some well-controlled means of public debate.
          So why didn’t they resolve it?
          The South controlled the Supreme Court, and could simply have decided in Dred Scott v. Sanford that the slave was freed by being moved to a state where “all men are free” but that the state owed the owner full compensation of direct and consequent damages because this was government taking of private property without just compensation (see Amendment V). This would have put the North on notice that it must consider the economic impact upon individual slaveholders, which would have put the economic feasibility issue before Congress.
          But Congress then never debated the issue in such detail, to my knowledge. After 1828 there were almost no survivors of the early federal generation, with its spirit of creating a workable union. The common defense motive for accommodating regional factions was gone after 1815 (Britain realized after the War of 1812 that it could inconvenience the US but never defeat it, and France had no further such ambitions). So Congress had degenerated to a squabble of factional ideologues, who never seriously considered the interests of the other side.
          The North felt secure in the moral superiority of abolitionism, but made the mistake of ignoring feasibility issues and the constitutional right to compensation for property taking. The South felt unable to implement wage labor as the unilateral action of individual plantations, which was also true as far as it went. Both ignored the other’s argument because they saw no solution.
          The solution was a large federal agency, able to monitor wage/slave cotton from source to mill, tax the slave cotton to support wages and build towns for the slaves with schools and social agencies, provide transitional support and municipal government, monitor the slaves for fair treatment, etc. This would have required an agency larger than any federal agency then existing other than the army. Probably it was never debated because it seemed impossible. So instead we fought a disastrous war and did not get the transitional services to liberated slaves anyway.
          More cautious and inclusive debate is the answer here. We must avoid merely taking what appears to one faction to be high ground, because understanding all factions is the way to resolving differences in a democracy.

          • Zachary Smith
            July 5, 2016 at 8:50 pm

            The relevant issue is what Jefferson may have sincerely thought. And in fact the slaves, captured from primitive African tribes, isolated from their new culture, and given no schooling, were a long way from functioning in their new society in any normal capacity. It is obvious to us that this does not justify their enslavement, but it was not obvious at all to southerners at that time.

            The free blacks were terrorized at least as much as the slaves, for their prosperity would have been proof positive that the whole Southern Theory was total crap. It was perfectly obvious to the Slave South the blacks were people like themselves, as capable as themselves in every single way when given the chance. Their money investment in the institution forced them to disregard their own senses. To terrorize – to the extent of murder – anybody who advocated abolition. To endlessly instruct the “poor whites” about what a hazard the fierce negro was to themselves and their family. To construct a police state to enforce their edicts on everybody, one which continued into the Sixties of the last century. In the end, they started a war with the North, for the system of selling slaves from the “breeding states” would collapse if slavery couldn’t be expanded. And of course, so would the price of slaves.

            The facts are known. The Slavers – like the Torturers of today – had the lowest of the low ground and everybody knew it. Except of course for the Southerners who created their very own reality. I’ve no interest at all in ‘debating’ that fact.

      • Erik
        July 5, 2016 at 9:10 am

        No, the sexual affair, if it existed, was obviously very wrong by our standards, and the comment in now way approves. But it cannot be understood by today’s standards. Remember also that the only evidence is the resemblance and the statement of Hemings’ impoverished son, which might well be self-serving. That is why we do not convict the acused on such testimony alone.

        • Zachary Smith
          July 5, 2016 at 9:23 pm

          The casual and business rape of black women was wrong by the standards of the day. It was simply denied by all except for some loud-mouthed low-lifes.

          Mr. Goulden of Georgia, one of the Delegates said :—

          “I belong to the extreme South ,’ I am a pro Slavery Man in every sense of the word – aye, and an African Slave Trade Man. The institution of Slavery, as I have said elsewhere, has done more to advance the prosperity and intelligence of the white race, and of the human race, than all else together.”

          “ Here is my old native State of Virginia, the Slave trading and Slave breeding State of Virginia.” (Delegate fromVirginia.–“ I call the Gentleman to order. He casts an imputation upon Virginia by calling her the Slave breeding State of Virginia”) Mr. Goulden

          – “ Well, I will say the Slave breeding State of Georgia then. I glory in being a Slave breeder. I will face the music myself, and I have as many negroes as any man from Virginia. As I wanted the gentlemen of this Convention at Charleston to visit my plantation, I will say again, that if they will come to see me, I will show them as fine a lot of negroes, and the pure African breed, too, as they can find anywhere; and I will show them as handsome a set of little children there as can be seen, and any quantity of them too ; and I wish that Virginia may be as good a slave trading and slave breeding State as Georgia, and in saying that, I do not mean to be disrespectful to Georgia, but I do not mean to dodge the question at all.”

          If it is right for us to go to Virginia and buy a negro and pay $2,000 dollars for him, it is equally right for us to go to Africa where we can get them for fifty.

          http://tinyurl.com/hdt5qyo

          The women of the day had no rights at all after marriage and that left them helpless. Like what were they going to do to the Lord and Master of the Plantation – withhold sex?. That’s why they were extremely chatty about surrounding farms with all the light skinned slaves there, but the ones right in front of their eyes had to be ignored. And so they were.

          In the world of 2016 if a prosecutor decides a policeman’s execution of somebody shouldn’t be prosecuted, it doesn’t get prosecuted. Star athletes on college sports teams are ‘protected’ from the law, or get their wrists slapped. Rich people face very different outcomes in court than poor folks. The same was true back in the Antebellum era. They knew right from wrong, same as us. The Powers That Be of the day saw to it that the boat wasn’t rocked.

          When Jefferson and millions of other whites were raping black girls it was as much of a sin then as it is now. It was simply overlooked by all concerned. EXCEPT of course after the Civil War. All of a sudden miscegenation would get you automatically killed. But when the same miscegenation was done for White Profit and White Pleasure, it was just fine.

          Jefferson was a Swine x2 because he did have some education. And some theoretical morality. His misbehavior was all the worse on those accounts.

          • Erik
            July 6, 2016 at 12:55 pm

            I certainly agree that there were many heartless scoundrels among the slaveholders. The poor whites who long discriminated against blacks (a few may still do that) to feel better about themselves may have been even more hypocritical. But I would like to see the evidence against Jefferson himself before convicting him. There is room to suppose that he was of the last generation able to live the contradiction between his basic values and the subculture he was born to, and did not see how to escape that without unilaterally relinquishing his only income source, impoverishing his family, and giving up his unique ability to build a great democracy to be improved later. There were zero precedents for such conduct, so he would have lost all of his Virginia social group, and become a cast-out from his ancestral society.

            But it would be much nicer if he had spoken out against the institution, admitted uneasiness at least, and proposed solutions to meet all needs of the factions.

            If you find evidence that he professed their inferiority despite seeing otherwise, or beat them or murdered them himself or ordered such acts, that would be hard to reconcile with idealism on human rights, but so far as I know scholars have turned up no such evidence. That is the reason that I separate the horrors of slavery from the issues of his personal guilt. We get angry about the general problem and could easily be unfair to the individual by accident.

            I would also want to test the hypothesis, based on the later punishment of “miscegenation,” that Jefferson’s putative affair may have been an act of great liberalism for its time. I recall no statement that Hemings or her children were mistreated: they were seen in the main house, and she agreed to come to the plantation from a state of freedom in France. Was she not perhaps a willing participant? I do not have that evidence, so I rely upon others there.

          • Zachary Smith
            July 6, 2016 at 4:24 pm

            If you find evidence that he professed their inferiority despite seeing otherwise…

            http://tinyurl.com/jrlpyly

            Black people stink – as in having a very strong and disagreeable odor.
            Black people have an adequate memory, but are incapable of reason or looking ahead from “now”.
            Black people are animalistic regarding sex – again something for the moment and no love.
            Black people cannot create art, cannot appreciate poetry.

            A bit later Jefferson preens about how much better off American Slaves are than those of the Romans – they were never let out to die when they became useless. Just another instance of Jefferson’s willful blindness, for the Southern Slavers did that all the time. Merely reading of one instance once brought me to tears. “Emancipating” a worn out elderly slave was just a way of sending that slave off to die.

            …or beat them or murdered them himself or ordered such acts

            Jefferson ran a large working slave establishment. The way you keep enslaved humans working is to beat or otherwise torture them. Hardly something we need to send back a ‘scholar’ with a videocam to document.

            …Jefferson’s putative affair may have been an act of great liberalism for its time.

            Of course it was! Jefferson’s tender White Love was surely a relief from the beastly animal attentions of the Black Males. He was doing the poor girl a favor – in his own little mind.

            For those who haven’t seen it, the Smithsonian article covers a lot of ground with Jefferson. It ain’t pretty.

            hXXp://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-dark-side-of-thomas-jefferson-35976004/?all

          • Erik
            July 6, 2016 at 9:43 pm

            Thanks for the link: the article looks closely at research on Jefferson’s plantation and his attitudes toward slavery, which clearly contradicted his views of the rights of others. It is not pretty, and I do not defend the acts those who do what we now know is wrong.

            The article also notes that his friend Gen. Kosciuszko actually bequeathed TJ funds to liberate his slaves, and he did not, in pursuit of greater gain. It also notes that Washington did find means to free his own slaves in his will. Jefferson alternately tried out less abusive overseers, then observed reduced productivity, and in desperation brought back the slavedrivers, then relented again, etc., until finally moving the principal factory operation out of sight. He saw the contradiction, wanted to do better, and yet could not, or would not.

            But I will maintain for now that the ugliness is as much of the state of development of our ideas of property and rights, as much the ugliness and ignorance of the times as of the man. We need not ignore or or forgive what we now know to be extremely wrong.

            But we must see that almost everyone does the same things now, without thinking of it. We buy the products of sweatshops with our earnings at more tolerable employment. We stand somewhere on an international ladder of opportunity ranked by fortunate birth or circumstance rather than by virtue, because we too are in a heartless economic tyranny. We cannot get completely out of that, even when running a charity, a school, a family, or a quite neutral business. We are all trapped by our times, we all vary in our efforts to be noble and to rise above our time, and we all draw the line at the point where we could not provide for ourselves or dependents. Whether we build a pet shop or a plantation, we are only as noble as our occasional efforts to transcend our context, and as guilty as Jefferson when we do not or cannot. Complaining about the wrongs can sometimes help, but only action solves the problems. Jefferson tried to act, but not as strongly as we wish he had done. Can we do better?

            We are all Thomas Jefferson, more or less, and we should all acknowledge the wisdom and good examples of others, especially when it is truly great, and save our strongest criticism for those whose guilt is plain and indefensible by the standards of the time. That is most productive when we focus our anger on the wrongs of our day, rather than railing against the agreed wrongs of the past.

            Nice discussion.

          • Zachary Smith
            July 7, 2016 at 12:33 am

            But we must see that almost everyone does the same things now, without thinking of it.

            Unfortunately, yes. Had I been in Nazi Germany at a certain age, I’d have been all-in with Hitler. If I’d lived in the south in 1850 as an ordinary poor & illiterate white guy, more likely than not I’d have been totally in favor of slavery. Even in my own lifetime I voted for Ronald Reagan (once) and Obama (once). We make mistakes because of our ignorance of what’s really going on.

            I cringe at the numbers of my fellow citizens who support the insane warmongering of the neocons. Who favor torture. Who support the police murders. Worse than all that is how so many seem resistant to changing their views – no matter what.

            Ok, I’m rambling, but it’s late and the world is a mess. Maybe a miracle will still happen and we won’t end up with either “R” pond scum or “D” pond scum in the White House. Maybe God will appear in a vision to the Koch brothers and show them the place in hell which awaits them if they don’t shape up. A person can hope.

      • Sam F
        July 5, 2016 at 2:32 pm

        No, he didn’t call it that, he is urging judgment by the standards of the time, and by standards of prosecution, for which the evidence so far may not be adequate. We can avoid errors by avoiding denouncing the commenter.

  10. Michael Andrews
    July 4, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Although Alexander Hamilton and other leaders of the Federalist Party argued for an expansive reading of the spending power, their reading was, on the whole, rejected both by Congress and, after the election of 1800, by the executive. Indeed, the differing views on the scope of federal power was a principal ground on which the 1800 presidential-election contest between Jefferson and incumbent Federalist President John Adams was waged. As Jefferson would note in an 1817 letter to Albert Gallatin, the different interpretations of the Spending Clause put forward by Hamilton, on the one hand, and Madison and Jefferson, on the other, were “almost the only landmark which now divides the federalists from the republicans.” Jefferson won that election, and, save for a brief interlude during the one-term presidency of John Quincy Adams, the more restrictive interpretation of spending power was adopted by every President until the Civil War.

    • David Smith
      July 4, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      Michael, both Pres. Washington and Pres. Adams adopted the Hamiltonian interpretation of the Spending Clause in which federal spending is guided by the phrase in the clause “general welfare”. This other interpretation, Madisonian, oddly claims ” general welfare” refers only to taxation. The Madisonian interpretation is really a red herring as “general welfare” can only refer to spending, therefore the Madisonian is irrelevant to any discussion of Federal powers. “Differing views on the scope of Federal powers” can only be resolved, and has been, through Supreme Court cases, not by elections. You are vague, but I discern a “states rights” flavor to your remarks. However, a “general welfare” clause is found worldwide in constitutions and provides the only sound philosophical principle to guide the actions of government, so I am at a loss as to what you find invalid with the Hamiltonian interpretation or what you are suggesting as an alternative, certainly the Madisonian does not address that issue, or any other, and therefore is irrelevant to a discussion if Political Philosophy.

      • David Smith
        July 5, 2016 at 3:16 pm

        I must add that Hamilton’s interpretation was the original intent of “general welfare”, but he promoted this interpretation as a deceptive cover for his real intent, which was to replace the US Treasury with a Central Bank.

  11. MG
    July 4, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Humanist and friend of the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus Thomas More … “…burned Lutherans at the stake with great relish…”

    It is somewhat silly to judge 250 year old or 400 year old people by contemporary standards.
    And to connect present day Tea Partiers to 1800s Jefferson is even more so.

    • David Smith
      July 4, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      100% correct, MG. I cannot recall the word for this, but “judging a past era by the standards of one’s own” is considered to be a basic, unforgivable fallacy in the study of history.

      • MG
        July 4, 2016 at 8:31 pm

        Presentism — an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences (Webster)
        From Wiki: «In literary and historical analysis, presentism is the anachronistic introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Some modern historians seek to avoid presentism in their work because they consider it a form of cultural bias, and believe it creates a distorted understanding of their subject matter. The practice of presentism is regarded by some as a common fallacy in historical writing.»
        Did you mean that?
        Thanks

        • David Smith
          July 4, 2016 at 10:15 pm

          Thank you, would never have remembered that word on my own. You also considerably expanded the definition. I consider “presentism” no small error, with the 21st century besotted to self-righteous blindness by it.

    • dahoit
      July 5, 2016 at 8:04 am

      Thank you for reality.

  12. Bill Bodden
    July 4, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    It wouldn’t be hard to find examples to support your contention that black men are at fault for the struggles of black women, but it would be intellectually dishonest to lay all the blame on all black men because of the deficiencies of some of them. There are many other factors. Because this article deals with the era of slavery, you might consider the selling of slaves that tore families apart was a major contributor to the dysfunction of African-American families that continues to this day. Segregation and other abuses of African-Americans that followed the so-called “end of slavery” were also major factors.

    Having been abused by authoritarian slave owners and their overseers, it should come as no surprise that male slaves absorbed these patterns as models of behavior.

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