The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson

On the Smithsonian The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson
In 1817, Jefferson’s old friend, the Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kos*ciuszko, died in Switzerland. The Polish nobleman, who had arrived from Europe in 1776 to aid the Americans, left a substantial fortune to Jefferson. Kosciuszko bequeathed funds to free Jefferson’s slaves and purchase land and farming equipment for them to begin a life on their own. In the spring of 1819, Jefferson pondered what to do with the legacy. Kosciuszko had made him executor of the will, so Jefferson had a legal duty, as well as a personal obligation to his deceased friend, to carry out the terms of the document.

The terms came as no surprise to Jefferson. He had helped Kosciuszko draft the will, which states, “I hereby authorize my friend, Thomas Jefferson, to employ the whole [bequest] in purchasing Negroes from his own or any others and giving them liberty in my name.” Kosciuszko’s estate was nearly $20,000, the equivalent today of roughly $280,000. But Jefferson refused the gift, even though it would have reduced the debt hanging over Monticello, while also relieving him, in part at least, of what he himself had described in 1814 as the “moral reproach” of slavery.

If Jefferson had accepted the legacy, as much as half of it would have gone not to Jefferson but, in effect, to his slaves—to the purchase price for land, livestock, equipment and transportation to establish them in a place such as Illinois or Ohio. Moreover, the slaves most suited for immediate emancipation—smiths, coopers, carpenters, the most skilled farmers—were the very ones whom Jefferson most valued. He also shrank from any public identification with the cause of emancipation.

It had long been accepted that slaves were assets that could be seized for debt, but Jefferson turned this around when he used slaves as collateral for a very large loan he had taken out in 1796 from a Dutch banking house in order to rebuild Monticello. He pioneered the monetizing of slaves, just as he pioneered the industrialization and diversification of slavery.

Before his refusal of Kosciuszko’s legacy, as Jefferson mulled over whether to accept the bequest, he had written to one of his plantation managers: “A child raised every 2. years is of more profit then the crop of the best laboring man. in this, as in all other cases, providence has made our duties and our interests coincide perfectly.... [W]ith respect therefore to our women & their children I must pray you to inculcate upon the overseers that it is not their labor, but their increase which is the first consideration with us.”

In the 1790s, as Jefferson was mortgaging his slaves to build Monticello, George Washington was trying to scrape together financing for an emancipation at Mount Vernon, which he finally ordered in his will. He proved that emancipation was not only possible, but practical, and he overturned all the Jeffersonian rationalizations. Jefferson insisted that a multiracial society with free black people was impossible, but Washington did not think so. Never did Washington suggest that blacks were inferior or that they should be exiled.

It is curious that we accept Jefferson as the moral standard of the founders’ era, not Washington. Perhaps it is because the Father of his Country left a somewhat troubling legacy: His emancipation of his slaves stands as not a tribute but a rebuke to his era, and to the prevaricators and profiteers of the future, and declares that if you claim to have principles, you must live by them.
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My bold, not so curious I recall reading George Washington had a recaptured slave's big toes amputated to stop him making another dash for it. He was regarded as a peculiarly brutal slave holder by his peers, yet he freed his human property on his death bed, perhaps in consciousness of a profitable but [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, Times New Roman, serif]unsightly[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, Times New Roman, serif] stain on his reputation. Great men do worry on such things. [/FONT]

[FONT=Georgia, Times New Roman, serif]Jefferson was more a creature of the enlightenment by any standards but also a gentleman planter of his times. He sometimes has been depicted as a model slaveholder and he was certainly better than most. Much has been made of the idea that he fathered children by his slave Sally Hemmings.[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, Times New Roman, serif]

The long article above is worth reading in full. I found the above passage dispiriting. The sad thing is about this great and eloquent prophet of universal human freedom that it all seems in practice to have rather secondary to the 4% PA profit simply on the births of his slave children which allowed him to keep himself in fine style in his hill top mansion.
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[/FONT]How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"
Dr Samuel Johnson
Freedom and liberty........ but only for those like us. I found the whole article to be quite saddening really. Smithsonian does a good job of making people aware of obscure and easily hidden facets of history

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