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Quote of the Day

January 31st, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe · 1 Comment

Defense of Thomas Jefferson:

Many of us have harbored ambivalence toward Thomas Jefferson for all the reasons set down in this article. Perhaps it is time to rethink the dilemma Jefferson himself must have faced. To me, the word, paternalism, jumps out. What was he to do with the slaves he owned? At this particular time in our history, this would have been tantamount to abandonment. (Could he have afforded to free them and pay them wages? As it was, he died in debt). They would have faced less compassionate owners, poverty or worse. If we consider that it was another 60 years before Emancipation and another 90 years til Civil Rights, in retrospect, did Thomas Jefferson make the right decision? Many will still say, he should have backed up his words by freeing his slaves. But at least this article will open the debate.

In pointing out the accomplishments of many of Jefferson’s slaves’ descendants, perhaps – just perhaps – the ends justified the means. – Still Learning, Maryland

In an earlier post about the New York Times‘s review of the Smithsonian exhibit on Jefferson and slavery, I suggested that there was room to push back on the notion that the descendants of Monticello slaves have been successful thanks to Jefferson’s ideal. I did not, however, expect such a full-throated defense of the notion. I have to say, though, it’s an anomaly among the review’s many responses. Read all the comments here.

IMAGE: Detail from Thomas Jefferson by John Trumbull (1788)

Tags: Quote of the Day · Thomas Jefferson

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Henry Wiencek // Jan 31, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Jefferson’s rationalizations and self-justifications still have the power to befuddle us today. Of course he could have freed slaves if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to. Others of Jefferson’s time and place did free slaves — George Washington, Robert Carter, Richard Randolph, and many others. It was perfectly possible and practical. There was a settlement of free blacks right in Albemarle County — it was called Free State. One of its residents, Zachariah Bowles, worked occasionally at Monticello. Jefferson’s son-in-law, John Wayles Eppes, freed Bowles’s wife, Critta, so that she could live with her husband.

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