Saturday, May 15, 2021

Thomas Jefferson's 1618 Excised Words From the Declaration of Independence That Changed America for the Worse

Thomas Jefferson has become a divisive figure in American History. We celebrate him because he wrote The Declaration of Independence and its soaring words “All Men Are Created Equal.” We celebrate him because he was outspoken against slavery and banned the importation of slaves into the United States, the Atlantic Slave Trade. The Woke Generation condemns Thomas Jefferson because the opponent of slavery was an ardent slaveowner who repeatedly impregnated a slave. The hypocrite’s actions did not match his words. He also thought blacks were mentally inferior to whites. He opposed the institution of slavery, but sold slaves to raise money since he was continuously in debt. He wrote in 1785 in his book Notes on the State of Virginia: “There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.” He also said: “I advance it therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time or circumstances are inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and the mind.” All of the above describe the public Thomas Jefferson, who was trapped between three strong crosswinds. First was his lifetime hatred of the institution of slavery. Second was his impecunious nature which trapped him in the plantation society built around slavery. The third was the realization that America was not ready to abolish slavery during his lifetime. Thomas Jefferson was one of the first Southern leaders to oppose slavery. He thought slavery was abhorrent, but in his lifetime only freed two slaves and only five more in his will out of the over 600 slaves he had possessed during his lifetime. By way of contrast, George Washington, George Wyche, John Randolph and other slaveowners freed as many slaves as they could in their wills. His estate sold 130 slaves after his death to cover his debts. He opposed the slave trade, believing the elimination of the slave trade would lead to the end of slavery. The slave trade was banned, but the value of existing slaves rose. Their fertility increased the number of slaves in the United States. He hoped that slavery would disappear over time, but realized land and slaves were the largest capital investments. Every slave reaching adulthood was a valuable asset. Slaves were wealth. The drafters of the Constitution included a ban on Congress acting to restrict the slave trade for 20 years. President Jefferson signed on March 2, 1807 a ban on the international slave trade to go into effect on January 1, 1808, the first time allowed by the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, the opponent of slavery, drafted the Declaration of Independence. His draft contained 168 words that would have changed the course of slavery in America. We read today: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them to with another…… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….” Then came a long list of grievances against King George III. Thomas Jefferson’s draft contained these 168 words: “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 & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase their liberty of which he has deprived them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.” Whose hands deleted these words? We don’t know, but Jefferson thought it was Georgia and South Carolina. These 168 words, had they remained in the Declaration of Independence, would have forced the drafters of the Constitution to squarely face the legitimacy of slavery rather than entering into compromises masked by circuitous language. A national reckoning would have occurred long before the Civil War. Thomas Jefferson took steps to limit the spread of slavery nationally and in Virginia. His proposed Ordinance of 1784 would have banned slavery outside the original 13 states in 15 years. It failed, but the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 three years later banned slavery in the Northwest Territory. The states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota entered the Union as free states. Thomas Jefferson in Virginia unsuccessfully in 1776 proposed a phrase in the draft new Virginia Constitution which stated: “No person hereafter coming into this country shall be held within the same in slavery under any pretext whatever.” The Virginia General Assembly in 1778 banned importing slaves into Virginia. On the other hand, he approved the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, recognizing the rights of the French and Spanish slaveholders in the territory. The population in the Louisiana Purchase was about 60,000 with half being slaves. The purchase included the future states of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma as well as parts of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wyoming Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1795) said of blacks: “Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to whites, in reason much inferior as I think once could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.” He further did not believe that whites and free blacks with the end of slavery could live together: “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate that these people [negroes] 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.” He added: “Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; 10,000 recollections by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of one race or the other.” His early proposal was to gradually free the slaves. Existing slaves would remain slaves, but their children would be emancipated, educated and upon reaching adulthood be colonized outside the United States. He wrote in a 1814 letter: “There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.” He had great trepidations near the end of his life over the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Missouri was part of the Louisiana Purchase. It wished to enter the Union as a slave state, which would have extended slavery out west. The compromise was that Maine would enter as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, retaining the balance between free and slave states, the North and the South, 12 states each. In addition, no new slave states would enter the Union north of 3630’, the southern border of Missouri. The former President viewed the Missouri Compromise as a “fire bell in the night,” calling it “the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence ….” He opposed dividing the nation into free and slave states. The prescient President recognized in a 1820 letter to John Holmes “a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected; and gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. But as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him or safely let him go.” The general, but nor unanimous, consensus today, supported by DNA, is that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings children. His personal relationship with his slave Sally Hemings adds to his disgrace. He was not the first nor the last planter to have sexual relations with a slave. Indeed, John Wayles, his father-in-law, was not only the father of his wife Martha Wayles, but also of Sarah Hemings, the half-sister of Martha. Sally’s enslaved mother, Betty, was, depending on the reports, either a full-blooded slave or mulatto. Sally gave birth to six children by Thomas Jefferson, four of whom survived to adulthood. Her children by the President were either three quarters or 7/8 white. They were still slaves! Thomas Jefferson was locked into, in a sense enslaved, by slavery for financial reasons. One skill he lacked was sound financial management. Debt was a constant problem because the income from Montecito did not cover his expenses. He inherited 11,000 acres, 135 slaves and $4,000 in debt from his father-in-law in 1757. He sold half the land and several slaves to cover the debt, but debt was a recurring problem for him. Virginia recognized slaves as chattels with value. Thomas Jefferson mortgaged 52 slaves and pledged an additional 98 slaves as collateral security for personal loans. His estate was over $107,000 ($2 million in current dollars) in debt. Debts legally had to be paid before assets distributed. The estate sold 130 slaves to pay off the debt. Thomas Jefferson’s problem, and America’s heritage, is that be abhorred slavery throughout his adult life, but was personally locked into slaveholding for economic reasons. He recognized as a politician that the country was not ready to abolish slavery, so he abandoned efforts to end it. The Philadelphia Association for the Abolition of Slavery was founded on April 14, 1775. 17 of the first 24 regular attendees were Quakers. Benjamin Franklin, once owner of three slaves, was elected president of the society in 1785. He petitioned Congress in 1790 to ban slavery. The petition went nowhere. The north eastern states, excluding the border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri gradually phased out slavery prior to the Civil War joining the Midwest states. The United States had 19 Free States and 15 Slave Trades at the onset of the Civil War. The nation was essentially split along the Mason Dixon Line. The North was growing in population and building an industrial base while the South remained a plantation economy. The young Thomas Jefferson, the enfant terrible Thomas Jefferson fought at both the national level and in Virginia to extirpate the mortal sin of slavery. He failed, America failed, because America was not ready to abolish slavery. It required a later generation of political leaders, Abraham Lincoln, the new Republican Party, and hundreds of thousands of young Americans dying to free the slaves four decades after Thomas Jefferson’s death. He failed to end slavery, but stopped the Atlantic Slave Trade. His words "All Men Are CReated equal" set out out a marker for the United States. He fought the good fight against slavery, but moved on realizing it was futile in his lifetime to abolish slavery. He continued to speak out against slavery.

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