Requests for Information Related to Thomas Jefferson



>It looks as if you are an authority on Jefferson. I, myself, find this
>man amazing.

I would not call myself an authority on Jefferson, though my years of
work with his WRITINGS have produced a measure of familiarity.  But
whereas familiarity usually breeds contempt, in this case, great
familiarity has produced even greater respect.

>I haven't read him thoroughly as of yet, but plan to as I get more free

The best single volume is probably the Library of America edition of his

>I have heard the good and bad of our "forefathers," but don't know how
>much is true and how much is rumor. I guess all people in mankind
>these questions one time or another.

It seems to go beyond mere taste.  I suspect there is something deep in
our individual natures, something related to the affinity that resolves
itself into the authoritarian and democratic mind-sets, that causes most
individuals to either love Jefferson or dislike him.  I have heard from both

>I have several questions in this regard, and would appreciate your
>knowledge in the matter if you care to comment.

The questions you ask require lengthy answers, and I will answer them
briefly here and refer you to some materials I have posted on the WWW.

>1) How did he reconcile the fact that he owned slaves, but said in
>print, to the effect, all men are free?

In order to truly understand this, a person must look at the situation from
the perspective of Jefferson's time, not from what is called "presentism."
Jefferson INHERITED slaves and the social situation that supported
slavery.  He was opposed to the institution of slavery all his life.  At the
same time, he believed that to turn them out on the street would be like
abandoning children.  Please refer to:


>2) Did he have children with any female slaves he owned?

Almost certainly not.  For him to have done that would involve so many
contradictions and absurdities, given the family situation in which in
would have had to occur, it is totally unreasonable to assume that this
happened.  Of course, it is almost impossible to prove a negative, and it
is on that that the accusations seem to hang.  For a good discussion of
the character of Thomas Jefferson in this regard, see:

> Throughout his life, Thomas Jefferson took action on numerous
> occasions to end the slave trade, to permit slave-owners to release
> their slaves, and in whatever way he could to put an end to what he
> considered an abominable institution.
> Why then didn't he just release his slaves?  Isn't it just that simple?
> No, it is not that simple.  To begin with, it was not allowed when he
> first entered the Virginia legislature, and his first act as a
> legislator was to propose an act that would allow this.  His proposal
> was defeated.
> Later, he included a section in the Declaration of Independence
> condemning the king of England for preventing the end of the slave
> trade.  A very ignorant historian has recently suggested that this was
> an evasion -- an attempt to avoid the issue by blaming the King of
> England.  But it would not take much intelligence to understand that
> the FIRST STEP in ending slavery is to stop the slave trade.  Yet even
> that part of the Declaration was deleted by Congress.
> As should be evident, all of Jefferson's actions taken against the
> abolition of the institution of slavery met with overwhelming
> opposition.  Certainly, he felt that the establishment of the American
> Republic was more important than the question of slavery, so he always
> accepted the decision of the majority in these cases rather than abort
> the whole enterprise of creating the new nation.
> But why didn't Jefferson release his own slaves after this was no
> longer against the law?
> One factor that is not considered is that in those times, slaves were
> considered property in a legal sense, just like a barn or a piece of
> land.  Mr. Jefferson also inherited huge debts, and was saddled by
> more debt on the default of someone else for whom he was a co-signer.
> Those persons who held his debt could have foreclosed on him at any
> time towards the end of his life, but did not out of great respect and
> love for him.  Nevertheless, the slaves Jefferson held could be
> considered a moral collateral against that debt.  If he had released
> those slaves, it would be like his giving away property which he owed
> to others.
> Moreover, it was the INSTITUTION of slavery that Jefferson thought
> despicable.  And the institution had turned slaves into dependents.
> He wrote to a friend that to release them would be like turning
> children out on the street.  You might not agree with him on that, but
> if you are to sit in judgment, you must consider HIS VIEW of the
> problem, not just your own assessment.
> It is difficult to call someone a hypocrite on this issue when that
> person took real steps to correct it, only to be defeated by the
> majority in Congress and by events over which he had no control.  By
> ignoring all these factors, it is possible to make such a judgment,
> but that judgment cannot be considered just or fair.
> You are quite right: "Our present form of representation including
> women and blacks was never in his mind."  Would you care to tell me
> the names of persons who lived in that time in whose minds that form
> of representation WAS included?  I don't think you can.  You are
> merely using this to judge Jefferson, but it applies equally to every
> one else of that time.
> One thing that you fail to note is that NOT ONCE in his lifetime did
> Jefferson ever defend the institution of slavery.  Later in his life,
> he did take sides that would suggest a continuance of slavery, but
> that was only to avoid the destruction of the American Republic, whose
> existence he thought a higher priority than the ending of slavery.
> Thomas Jefferson almost single-handedly created the whole structure of
> law and government which became the United States of America.  On
> every occasion, he condemned slavery and the slave trade, and took
> many legislative steps towards its elimination.  To accuse him of
> being "addicted" to slavery is to ignore the facts.


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