“Brought from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, [blacks] are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves, and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising young. In the mean time they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them.”
—-Thomas Jefferson, quoted in a new book, “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves,” by historian Henry Weincek. Jefferson wrote this in 1819, 43 years after the Declaration of Independence, in response to a request for support from a family friend who was taking his own slaves to freedom. Jefferson refused, and this was part of his response.
I have been working on a post on the topic of Presidential character, a lifetime study for me, as a rebuttal of a post on the Daily Caller titled, “Why Good Men Don’t Become President?” Good men do become President; in fact, almost all of the men who have become President were or are good men, Barack Obama included. Leaders, however, are a peculiar breed of good men, since leadership itself requires a different priority of virtues than other roles. Those who do not understand or appreciate leadership, and I believe that the author of that article does not, often conclude that leaders are necessarily bad.
Thomas Jefferson, I submit, was one of the few bad men who did become President. Weincek’s new book, which I have not yet read (I have read his excellent account of George Washington’s slave-holding, which shows a man whose basic decency eventually overcame personal interest and cultural plurality on the matter of slavery, as Jefferson could not), appears to do a decisive job in showing this, which should give the Jefferson apologists and rationalizers quite a task in the coming months. Among the documentation of Jefferson’s pragmatic callousness toward the human beings he treated as chattel are statements like this one in 1792, regarding the financial advantages of selling off slave children (the historian reveals that 143 slave children were born into Jefferson’s possession in the 1780’s and 90’s):
“I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent, per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.’”
Weincek also discovered that the editor of a published edition of Jefferson’s “Farm Book” redacted evidence that “the small ones,” among Jefferson’s child-slaves were whipped to keep them laboring diligently. The omission was intentional and necessary, Weincek suggests, to support the myth that Jefferson managed his plantations with an unusually kind and humane hand. Evidently, he did not.
Jonathan Yardley’s review of the book concludes with this assessment:
“No doubt the argument will be made that everyone did it, that it is “presentism” — judging yesterday by the standards of today — to single out Jefferson’s treatment of his slaves. That is not the case. Everyone wasn’t doing it. There were voices for emancipation in Virginia, and there were people who freed their slaves: “The long list of people who begged Jefferson to do something about slavery includes resounding names — Lafayette, Kosciuszko, Thomas Paine — along with the less-known Edward Coles, William Short, and the Colored Battalion of New Orleans. They all came to Jefferson speaking the Revolution’s language of universal human rights, believing that the ideals of the Revolution actually meant something.”’
“Jefferson, who wrote much of that language, wasn’t listening.”
Source: Washington Post