SLAVE OWNERSHIP AND "ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL"
> There > were some strange things that Jefferson did, such as writing that "all > men are created equal" and holding slaves at the same time. Jefferson's > actions were surely American orientated though, and he must be credited > as being a noble founder of our country , and my respect is all his. This is a question that is often raised. How could Thomas Jefferson be such a great champion of the rights of man, and yet also be a slave-owner? Isn't that a blatant contradiction? But in truth, Jefferson is often judged by our standards today, and with little understanding of the situation that he had to deal with in his own time. In questioning why Jefferson would be a slave-owner, there are many factors that should be take into consideration. 1. Jefferson fought against slavery all his life. Even in the Declaration of Independence, he had inserted in the original draft a section condemning the slave-trade, but that was deleted by Congress. 2. Jefferson realized that eliminating something that was such an integral part of society was not easily accomplished. He endeavored to make other changes on other occasions that would have limited slavery, but was always defeated. For example, he supported the elmination of slavery in the Western Territories, but that measure lost by one vote. 3. Jefferson could have walked out of the legislature in protest, but that would do nothing for eliminating slavery, would prevent him from using his influence in other important ways, and would, in fact, just turn the government over to those who favored slavery. But, a person might ask, why didn't HE get rid of his own slaves? This was easier said than done. 1. The slaves themselves had grown up under that system, and many were hardly able to manage their lives on their own. Jefferson thought that to turn them loose would be like putting children out on the street. 2. Having slaves to work large plantations was a part of the economy, and all owners of such plantations used slaves. Therefore, one could not compete in the same economy with others who had slaves. The effective elimination of slavery meant that it must be done on a national basis. The action of one individual slave-holder would have little or no effect on slavery as an institution. 3. There were also legal restrictions on the freeing of slaves. In a letter to Edward Coles (Aug 25, 1814), he wrote, "The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good." To Edward Bancroft he wrote (in 1789), "As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made, to give liberty to, or rather to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children." Thus, he seems to have sincerely believed that freeing slaves was not an ideal solution, and that the real source of this injustice was the institution of slavery itself. His overall solution to the slavery problem was to return the blacks to their own African homeland or to some land where they could live as "a free and independent people," and to give them implements and skills to establish their own nation. There are many other factors that enter into this issue, but as you can see, it is not a simple one. It is also important to remember that AT NO TIME DID JEFFERSON EVER DEFEND THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY! He wrote: "Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people [blacks] are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. So, from his point of view, it was an enormous, awful problem, and he dealt with it as best as he could under the circumstances of the time.
> I am a high school junior who is doing a research paper on Thomas Jefferson. > The question I'm susposed to raise is: Did Thomas Jefferson really beleive > "that all men are created equal"? I was wondering if you could tell me > something about that or point me in the direction where I can find > information on this topic. I appreciate your time and help. In answer to your basic question, and assuming we are talking about all persons having equal natural rights, the answer is "ABSOLUTELY!" Obviously, all men are not equal in height, eye-color, ability, etc. Those who raise the question usually do so because Jefferson was a slave owner and because he entertained doubts that blacks were intellectually equal to whites. But his ownership of slaves was the result of situations that were not easily resolved. Moreover, he worked all his life towards the ending of slavery and the resolving of the problem in a reasonable fashion. His statement in the Declaration of Independence in opposition to the slave trade was stricken by Congress. Ending the slave trade was the first step in alleviating the problem. But his situation in no way detracted from his firm commitment to the belief that "all men are created equal." Moreover, although he had doubts on the *intellectual* equality of blacks, as he made clear, that had nothing to do with their RIGHTS. He wrote: "Be assured that no person living wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a complete refutation of the doubts I have myself entertained and expressed on the grade of understanding allotted to [the Negro] by nature, and to find that in this respect they are on a par with ourselves. My doubts were the result of personal observation on the limited sphere of my own State, where the opportunities for the development of their genius were not favorable, and those of exercising it still less so. I expressed them therefore with great hesitation; but whatever be their degree of talent, it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others. On this subject they are gaining daily in the opinions of nations, and hopeful advances are making towards their re-establishment on an equal footing with the other colors of the human family." --Thomas Jefferson to Henri Gregoire, 1809. For further reference, please see: http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff1290.htm and http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/7970//jefpnote.htm I hope that helps.
I suppose you are aware that Jefferson worked all his life to end the slave trade and to limit its instituionalization in America. Did you know that a section of the draft Declaration of Independence condemning George III for overruling the colonist's attempts to end the slave trade was struck out by Congress? "He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere...." What happens is, it is all to easy to judge Jefferson by our standards of today. But he considered himself "stuck" with the slaves that he had, and that to simply turn them loose would be like putting children out on the street. That idea is difficult for people today to understand, however. Moreover, the problem of slavery was as a social institution. And this was the level at which he attacked it. At the same time, he realized that the solution was not to destroy a government that was basically a free state, just because it was not free enough. So he tried to work within the government and the social system in order to eliminate this terrible problem. This is why our basic rights are innate, inherent, inalienable, or whatever term one wishes to describe it. Follow this train of thought: First, look at Man as a species. Then, using your intelligence, perception, experience and mature consideration, picture what is the potential for Man, what he is capable of being and becoming. What, in other words, Nature made it possible for Man to be. Not what he is right now, not the situation and circumstances that he finds himself in at any given moment, but what we, as intelligent and discerning beings, can see that he is capable of being in a more fully realized state. Now, the next question to ask is, If Man is capable of this, if he was created (or if he has evolved, if you prefer) so as to be able to fulfill this potential destiny, Does he not, by the very fact of his own nature, have a *natural* right to be and to become this if he so chooses? Does not the order of nature demand this? Does not any denial of this actually "go against nature"? I think it cannot be denied that the very existence of the inherent nature of man gives him a right to fulfill that inherent nature. But in order to do that, the society in which he lives must, or at least SHOULD, be so governed as to make this fulfillment possible. And that is the source of Man's inherent and inalienable rights. A proper society will recognize those rights, and organize itself accordingly. And those basic rights include at the least, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That is what it take to be *really* human, and the fact that a person was *born* human means that nature intended that he have those rights. Of course, they can be denied, suppressed, destroyed, etc. But nothing can change this natural constitution of Nature.
> I am a Christian, and love everybody the same. When it comes > to slavery I take the Stonewall Jackson approach--God has ordained some > people to be free and others to be slaves. God does not codemn slavery in > the Bible, and I believe that God is never wrong. How can other humans > judge what God approves? Neither Jefferson Davis, or Thomas Jefferson > ever > beat their slaves. I believe that both men were way ahead of their times > for the way the treated their slaves. Slavery was a condition of people in the past. It was not right, but then lots of things in life are not right. The problem is, trying to make it right without tearing the nation apart. That's what Jefferson tried to do all his life. In the end, the problem was solved, but it did indeed tear the nation apart. > I had a friend at work ask me this > question, who do you think is the most important figure in U.S. history? > Of course I said Thomas Jefferson. My friend stated Martin Luther King. > He did bring up the slave thing with Jefferson. Most blacks call > Jefferson > a hypocrite. He owned slaves, but declared that all men are created > equal. Without Thomas Jefferson and some of the other slave-holding Founding Fathers, this country would not exist. King did a lot for blacks, but it was all in the context of a free society that was created by the Founding Fathers. > In his book, "Amercian Sphinx," Joseph Ellis claims that what Jefferson > meant was that all men had a mind, and a soul. Each man could decide his > route in life. We all know in God's eyes we are all equal, but in today's > world that is not true. What it means is all men are equal as persons before the law, as persons in a free society entitled to equal rights. Obviously, all men do not have equal attributes, or equal possessions. But that does not make those who possess such things lord and master over those who do not. > Look at the different classes. You have Bill Gates, > and his 85 billion dollar empire. In life, or status quo, am I equal? Hell > no! I bet he can have dinner with anyone he wants to. If I try to have > dinner with the President he will say, "Who are you little man?" With > his > money comes great power. His money allows him many more rights than I > have. > Is it fair? Yes, he earned it, and that what makes this country great. > With hard work, and determination I can climb to the top, but not the top > Bill Gates is on. Possessions do give a person a certain power, even a power to do good things that those without those possessions lack. But still, you have and should have just as much an equal right as they have to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of your happiness using whatever abilities and possessions you possess, without any of those people doing anything to prevent you. True, it might be easier for them, but you don't have the right to take what they have done in their pursuit of happiness away from them, any more than they have the right to take similar things away from you. Too often it happens, however, that people like Bill Gates do not respect the equal rights of others (such as Netscape owners) to pursue their happiness. That is where society should step in and protect the one whose equal rights are being transgressed. That's what we have a society for.
> "All men are created equally" If he believed that why did he have black > slaves? Jefferson inherited the slaves he owned, and worked his entire life to resolve the slavery issue, but with great opposition from other Southern slaveowners. The slaves were also mortgaged property, and he was not able to free them. Moreover, he did not believe that just turning them loose was a solution, but that they should be sent back to their homeland. He said specifically that, although blacks were inferior to whites on average in many respects, that does not affect their rights as human beings. > Why is there now evidence that he raped one of them. There is no such evidence. That is the product of someone's hate-filled, ignorant imagination. Many believe they had a love affair. Both are mistaken. The accusations of his having a sexual relationship with a slave were spread by his political enemies. > Is it > really that smart an idea to follow the ideas of such a big hypocrite. Jefferson's ideas were great, in and of themselves. It is a mistaken view to follow anyone's ideas based on some general authority the person is supposed to have. Such an ignorant view leads people to following demagogues like Adolph Hitler, Jim Jones, etc. Ideas should be followed only if the ideas themselves are worthy. > What he did (slavery, rape) was wrong, in every sense of the word, > magnified by his hypocrisy. If you understood Jefferson and the times he lived in, you would see that he had no choice but to do as he did. It is easy to judge the past by the present. But if one is trying to understand the past, one must judge people by the way they responded to the circumstances under which they lived.
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