Thomas Jefferson was one of the founding fathers and third president of the United States the main author of the declaration of independence and supposedly an advocate for the abolition of slavery. He was born in albemarle county virginia in 1743 and went to the college of william and mary. He became a member of the house of burgesses and continental congress where he never spoke much.
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He decided it was best to use his pen to get his ideas and messages across. seeing as he often used his pen rather than his voice one can find most of his ideas and actions in writing from thomas Jefferson himself. Although there are writings describing how horrible slavery was there are other writings Jefferson wrote that dont match up with the message within those documents mentioned before. There are letters to other slave owners providing insight on dealing with a slave revolt and records of his own plantation. He was a slave owner and only ever freed seven of his slaves and five of them were freed by his will after his death. There is a widely accepted rumor among historians that Jefferson fathered childrJen with a slave named sally hemings while still holding his abolitionist views close to heart. With all of this information its known that thomas Jefferson didnt always hold true to the abolitionist beliefs he preached and it begs the question as to whether or not we should still make him out to be the great man everyone was taught about or show him in a new light holding his legacy true to the hundreds of slaves he held through his lifetime. First lets explore thomas Jeffersons views on the rights of every man. It is not unknown that Jefferson was the main author of the declaration of independence. the original rough draft of the document contained many famous quotes all of which mention the equality among all men and the rights they inherit from nature and god.
As Jefferson put it; That all men are created equal independant that from that equal creation they derive right inherent inalienable among which are the preservation of life liberty the pursuit of happiness. Rough draught of the declaration of independence thomas Jefferson 1 Jefferson very clearly stated his belief that all men are created equal and he goes as far as to say that every man has rights that are a part of being human and that no one can take them away. In the same document he also mentions every mans right to overthrow a government that interferes with or ignores a mans god-given rights. In his writing he says; That whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it to institute new government laying its foundation on such principles organising its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety happiness rough draught of the declaration of independence thomas jefferson 1 his attitude towards the rights of every man is very straight forward but its understood that blacks were not considered people by many in that time period. Jefferson recognized this and adjusted his writings accordingly later. Jefferson wrote a number of letters to friends and officials as well as documents of his own addressing blacks specifically. In these documents and letters he would talk about the possibility of a black man being on par with a white man in terms of certain attributes. However these letters and documents were often hesitant in their message as they would not always attribute the negro to be equal to the white man in plain terms. In a letter to henri gregoire Jefferson reflects on his doubts about the ability of the black man and his regret for those same doubts and also mentions why he felt he had those doubts.
His reasoning for those doubts reads here; 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 letter to henri gregoire Jefferson 1 he also took lawful action against slavery. Jefferson authored a bill concerning slaves a bill which cut off the importation of slaves into america. While it did have many parts supporting slavery within the states the general goal of the document was taking a step towards abolition; be it enacted by the general assembly that no persons shall henceforth be slaves within this commonwealth except such as were so on the first day of this present session of assembly and the descendants of the females of them. [new paragraph] negroes and mulattoes which shall hereafter be brought into this commonwealth and kept therein one whole year together or so long at different times as shall amount to one year shall be free. But if they shall not depart the commonwealth within one year thereafter they shall be out of the protection of the laws a bill concerning slaves Jefferson 1 the bill does allow a multitude of ways for a negro to be trapped in the system of slavery but it prevented thousands more from the same fate. Despite his all-encompassing and anti-slavery writings thomas Jefferson was drenched in the mud of slavery. He owned over six hundred slaves in his lifetime and did little to nothing to try to free them. As mentioned before he did release seven slaves but that was after he could no longer profit off of their labor. He has written multiple times about the black inferiorities compared to whites. He once wrote in a letter to edward coles; Of this color we know brought up from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising the young.
In the meantime they are pests in society by their idleness and the depredations to which this leads them thomas Jefferson to edward coles 25 august 1814 Jefferson 1 he has grouped negroes into the same category as land which helps identify his real stance on slaves. As he said in a letter to david ross; their money in our hands was in the form of lands and negroes. Tobacco the produce of these lands and negroes. From thomas Jefferson to david ross 8 may 1786 Jefferson 1 Jefferson saw land and negroes in the same way grouping them together as a measurement of wealth. It showed how he viewed slaves as objects. Jefferson was also a plantation owner. He built his main plantation at monticello on land he gained from his father. monticello is where he kept most of his slaves around 400 of them worked at that plantation while the other estimated two hundred worked at any of his other properties. Jefferson being a slave owner saw his slaves as tools of profit. Therefore when a slave ran away he did not let his anti-slavery views get in the way of sending someone after them. He noted in his memorandum books of 1782 that he gave my note to w. Beck for ??3. Allow him ??6“8 more for going in quest of my negroes memorandum books 1782 Jefferson sep. 28 entry despite his want to free the slaves he wouldnt let his own get away. Nnot only would he refuse to let more than seven of his six hundred slaves go free but he actively bought and sold them many times. There are many records of his purchases of slaves.. he did buy some in pairs or families but he likely bought them for any offered deals. His records of purchases stands here in the memorandum books of 1805; bought a negro woman lucretia james wife her 2. Sons john randall and the child of which she is pregnant when born for ??180. of which ??100. to be paid before his departure the residue a twelvemonth hence memorandum books 1805. Jefferson. aug. 21 entry these records show how although Jefferson claimed to see negroes as worthy of freedom he actively enslaved them himself. Jefferson used his legal power against slaves as much as he used them for slaves. His disgust with slavery was partly based on what it did to the upper classes. Hhe believed that slavery was a tool of corruption that could bring the downfall of the upper most class.
With this belief in mind one can notice that in his legal attempts to stop or weaken slavery there is often many restrictions that force a free negro to leave the commonwealth some time after they are freed. In the same document that is referenced when arguing for Jeffersons anti-slavery views a bill concerning slaves he addresses this requirement more than once; negroes and mulattoes which shall hereafter be brought into this commonwealth and kept therein one whole year together or so long at different times as shall amount to one year shall be free. [but if they shall not depart the commonwealth within one year thereafter they shall be out of the protection of the laws] a bill concerning slaves Jefferson 1 Jefferson not only made free negroes leave after they were free but other rules were set by Jefferson supporting slavery. In the same document he wrote; no slave shall go from the tenements of his master or other person with whom he lives without a pass or some letter or token whereby it may appear that he is proceeding by authority from his master employer or overseer: if he does it shall be lawful for any person to apprehend and carry him before a justice of the peace to be by his order punished with stripes or not in his discretion a bill concerning slaves Jefferson 1 this rule is mentioned to prevent runaway slaves from being able to blend in which can be connected to how he paid men to find his own escaped slaves. Its not a document that supported abolition entirely. Jefferson took legal action to stop many uprisings as well.
Whether the uprising took form as a trial or a measure of brute force against their masters Jefferson likely had addressed it in his bills. In a bill concerning slaves Jefferson takes away most of the negros legal power; no negro or mulatto shall be a witness except in pleas of the commonwealth against negroes or mulattoes or in civil pleas wherein negroes or mulattoes alone shall be parties a bill concerning slaves Jefferson 1 this serves to protect white men from a form of legal uprising where a slave might try to gain freedom through the legal systems. They were only allowed to interact with the legal system if they were against another slave or if they had their own party which could not be easily formed. He took strides to remove most of the danger in the event of a physical uprising.
In the same bill as mentioned before thomas Jefferson wrote; no slave shall keep any arms whatever nor pass unless with written orders from his master or employer or in his company with arms from one place to another. Arms in possession of a slave contrary to this prohibition shall be forfeited to him who will seize them a bill concerning slaves Jefferson 1 Jefferson effectively took away the same rights all white americans would go on to cherish for generations. With this information its difficult to argue for Jeffersons want to abolish slavery. Jefferson did write many documents detailing his disgust for slavery and when reading those documents alone one can feel like Jefferson truly was against slavery. however Jefferson participated in slavery himself. His over six hundred slaves never knew the freedom he said he wanted them to have save seven of them. He bought and sold slaves like farming machines and took account of them in his plantation records like cattle. He went against his own words with his legal career as while he did promote stopping the importation of slaves he set abolishment within america back many years all within the same bill. Can one still consider thomas Jefferson to be the great president and man we were all taught about in middle school history class or should be shined in a more truthful light one that shows him as a slave owning hypocrite everyone knows the saying learn from the past to make a better future but how can we learn from the past when we really know almost nothing about it
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