Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hanging With Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is renowned in U.S. history, particularly as a Founder of the nation, the primary writer of The Declaration of Independence and as the third U.S. President. He is known the world over for his writings on democracy and of the rights of man.

However, largely ignored in history is that he was a large slave holder on his Virginia plantation, freed none of his slaves, took one early teen slave, Sally Hemings and fathered her children, and later he went broke, requiring a government bailout to keep his plantation.

This morning between 3 am and 4 am, the following discussion took place with Jefferson and I wrote his words down. What you will see is unedited and are just as those words were expressed.

Re: Sally Hemings. "She was so beautiful and wise beyond her years. She was about 14 when I first brought her to me. I was a man in my 40's." [At this stage, Jefferson claimed their relationship was an open secret, and that some of their children were so light in complexion, they could pass as white. But I didn't note his exact words]

Re: His plantation. "I was a man of letters, of education, of ideas - not a practical man of business. I had a plantation to run. I needed my Negroes to run it.

"Here's something you didn't know. I educated some of my slaves and that was against the law in Virginia. But they played crucial roles in running the plantation."

Re: His sense of inferiority. "I never had self-confidence. I spoke in a high-pitched voice and felt inferior to some of those around me.

"But I could write, some of it inspired well beyond my own capability. And it is for my writings mankind remembers me today, writings that continue to inspire mankind around the world."

Re: Why he didn't free his slaves. "I am criticized for not freeing any of my slaves and I had well over 100 of them. But the operation of my plantation depended on them.

"And some of my slaves in today's money would be worth many thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. I needed them and they were worth that kind of money to me.

"I treated them well and I treated their families well. I couldn't afford to free them."

Re: His going broke. "But in the end I was so impractical, I went broke. It took the state of Virginia to quietly bail me out."

Re: Personal judgement. "Don't judge me so harshly for you haven't walked in my shoes. I was as frail as anyone else, maybe more frail than many, and I did the best I could with my life.

"Life is filled with contradictions and I never reconciled mine and you likely won't reconcile yours. The person history remembers me for largely didn't exist. But that's what history does. It makes its leading figures better than they were, almost God like. No-one can ever live up to that."


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