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)