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Jefferson Was Neither A Monster Nor A Saint

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, David Post responds to Paul Finkelman’s New York Times Op-Ed piece on Thomas Jefferson which James Joyner wrote about earlier today:

The truth is that few people in human history did more, over the course of a lifetime, to “place the road on the road to liberty for all” — and indeed, to eliminate human slavery from the civilized world — than Jefferson.  Don’t take my word for it  - take Lincoln’s (who was himself, of course,  one of those “few people”).  ”I am sustained by Mr. Jefferson” he said, in 1858.

The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society. And yet they are denied, and evaded, with no small show of success.  Some dashingly call them “glittering generalities”; another bluntly calls them “self evident lies”; and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to “superior races.”  These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect—the supplanting the principles of free government . . . We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

All honor to Jefferson—to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.

That “abstract truth” being, of course, that all men were created equal, and that all had inalienable rights to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness.

Post continues:

Why is this so hard for people to see? Even if Jefferson had done nothing more than pen those words and get them inserted into the foundational document for the new country — and he did plenty more, see my paper here — declaring that principle to be a self-evident truth and at the foundation of any legitimate government was an act of political courage, not cowardice or hypocrisy, at a time when slavery was at the heart of the way of life and an economy across vast swaths of colonial America.  Maybe Prof. Finkelman would have come up with a way to more quickly eliminate the institution from the new republic than Jefferson did, one that would have eliminated the horrible bloodshed of the Civil War.  But nobody had such a plan, at the time – not Jefferson, not Washington, not Clay, not anyone.

There will always be something of a moral taint on our nation’s founding generation simply because of the existence of slavery, and the fact that the Constitution was, in many ways, designed to protect that institution in the states where it existed while remaining silent on the question of whether it should be spread to any future territory that the United States might control. That last point would become a point of contention as early as 1820, before the last of the Founders had ever passed away, and would ultimately be one of the primary issues that sent nation hurtling out of control toward the bloodiest war in its history. At the same time, though, one cannot deny that they planted the seeds of liberty, both in our foundational document and in the Constitution, that would later grow to extend to far more Americans than any nation on Earth considered “free” back in 1776.

Finkelstein’s column also ignores the fact that Jefferson himself recognized the problem that slavery presented for the future of the young United States. On more than one occasion, you’ll find statements by him predicting that the nation would one day pay a terrible price for enslaving another race of men, Consider, for example, this passage from his Notes On The State Of Virginia:

For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . . .”

Or this from his Autobiography:

“Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people 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.”

One can criticize Jefferson for his belief that blacks and whites could not live together in the same nation but, to be honest, this was a common belief at the time that was held not only by people in the slaveholding South but also in the North. In many cases, it was a belief based in the fear that a  freed slave population would take revenge on their former slaveholders but it was also based in the widely held belief at the time that blacks were inferior to whites. That’s why, even up until the time of the Civil War, the idea of sending freed slaves back to Africa or elsewhere was still quite popular. Indeed it’s how the nation of Liberia came into existence in the first place.

Reading Jefferson’s words, though, I don’t see the mind of a monster, but of someone who is clearly morally conflicted. Jefferson recognized the evil of slavery and the threat it posed to the nation. The fact that he still participated in it is grounds to call him a hypocrite, it’s not ground to call him a monster. It’s also worth nothing that Jefferson’s attitude about slavery, which was largely shared by the Planter’s Class to which he belonged, was far different from the attitude toward the institution that we’d see as the nation hurtled toward Civil War. By that time, slavery was seen as a moral good, the relationship between master and slave was seen to be part of God’s will, and the preservation of slavery was seen as a fight to preserve, ironically, liberty. This bizarre attitude reaches its most strident form in Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens’s Cornerstone Speech, which completely rejects the Declaration of Independence’s idea of human equality and the Founder’s disdain for slavery.

Finkelstein essentially argues that the legacy of Jefferson — and, presumably, Washington, Madison, and others along with him — should only be about slavery, and that the fact that he was, like pretty much all planters of  his day in the South, a slave owner should trump whatever contributions he made to the nation and the cause of liberty. This strikes me as incredibly short-sighted. One does not have to believe that Jefferson was a saint in order to appreciate his contributions. Indeed, I’d argue that Finkeltstein’s version of the “monster” Jefferson is as misguided as the hagiography-based view of he and the other Founding Fathers that one often hears from many people on the right and which, indeed, was the prevalent version of history until historians started to take a more critical look at these men. Jefferson was not a perfect man, but then none of us are perfect, and it strikes me as mistaken to expect moral perfection from someone without first walking a mile or two in their shoes. Yes, Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, but he also made great contributions to his country that we still live with and can, and should, appreciate, to this today. It’s possible, I think, to acknowledge those achievements while at the same time acknowledging that Jefferson was not a perfect man.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Console says:

    There were abolitionists in the late 1700’s. There were free states in the late 1700’s. Insomuch as there was a “common belief,” it was the typical belief of privileged people that their economic well-being comes first and everything else second. That’s a belief that’s existed throughout time and is just as much BS then as it was now.

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  2. Jeremy says:

    @Console: I wonder what the free state was, and when it became one.

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  3. Eric Florack says:

    But why would this come up as a meme NOW, I wonder?
    I’ve often said that it was a wonder to me that the Democrat party to this day holds Jefferson as an icon of the party., given his writings would seem to run directly afoul of the party and it’s positions on matters of freedom. Ponder these, as offhanded examples:

    The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

    Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.

    “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” (Quoting Cesare Beccaria)

    The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.

    The policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.

    To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association—the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.

    I think myself that we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious. (Back then!)

    When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.

    I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.

    What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?

    Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

    God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty…. And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

    I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

    The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.

    The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

    Given the Obama agenda, such a man who would write such things, needs be vilified… lest someone start using a party icon’s writings as opposition to current polices and agendas. OUr history, and the words and thoughts and deeds… and the ideas… of our founders has been systematically stripped from us for decades, now… one bit at a time. Increasingly, our government schools have abandoned the teaching of the principles our country was founded on.

    I see this attack on Jefferson as merely one more step down that road tward serfdom.

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  4. Gustopher says:

    @Jeremy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery_timeline

    Lots of them. Either completely free, or well on their way to becoming free.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Console: @Jeremy: The non-slave states weren’t that because of a collective morality but because the topography wasn’t suited to mass farming. Absent economic advantage, of course, taking the morally right position is easier.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 9

  6. Gustopher says:

    @Eric Florack:

    I see this attack on Jefferson as merely one more step down that road tward serfdom.

    Serfdom is actually better than the slavery that Jefferson practiced and profited from. And I agree with his assessment of guns — someone should have armed his slaves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  7. Alex Knapp says:

    James Joyner – Actually, the fields of Pennsylvania were well suited for slavery, but the Quakers abhorred slavery (and the first anti-slavery society was founded there). And slave labor was employed in Southern factories, something the Northern states adamantly rejected.

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  8. Eric Florack says:

    @Gustopher: So, that nagates all else he said and wrote and did?
    Sounds like what you have in mind is revenge, not justice and certainly not freedom.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 12

  9. Eric Florack says:

    @Alex Knapp:

    Exactly so.
    Interesting that the anti-slavery movement came (At least pre-Lincoln) from the churches, and Christian sects of the day…I suppose that point gets lost too often because it also runs afoul of the agenda of the left.

    And I wonder; Is not the “right choice” one of the morality of the individuals and groups? Consider the reinstatement of slavery under Sharia law in Egypt, for example…. They certainly see it as the ‘right thing’. I suppose that perception to be culturally driven… religion being an integral part of that culture… and until fairly recently, this.

    That part is fairly complex, I grant, but I mention it because it’s an interest.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 17

  10. swbarnes2 says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Interesting that the anti-slavery movement came (At least pre-Lincoln) from the churches,

    As did a lot of the moral support for the rightness of slavery.

    Religion is at best a moral wash in this case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  11. Eric Florack says:

    @swbarnes2:
    Given the outcome, I’m unconvinced that’s true.

    That said, it’s a side note to the issue I bring up above, as to why we’re about tearing down Jefferson NOW. I suggest the answer to that is fairly simple…. One can hardly institute foundational change as Obama’s been saying, if we’re bound to the ideas and ideals of the founders such as Jefferson.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 15

  12. Gustopher says:

    @Eric Florack: Don’t act all surprised, you’re the one who brought up guns ensuring freedom in a discussion of slavery… If you don’t support arming the slaves to kill the masters, what other reason would you have for bringing it up?

    The civil war should have ended with slaveholders strung up from trees, and none of the wealth earned off the backs of slaves passed down to the slaveholder’s heirs. That would have been justice.

    Also, no one should buy a Volkswagon.

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  13. swbarnes2 says:

    Reading Jefferson’s words, though, I don’t see the mind of a monster,

    Of course not! He’s a white guy, so of course all you care about is trying to conclude that “in his heart” he’s a good guy. You aren’t looking at his actions, his policies. It’s astonishing how this mindset of yours corrupts your views on practically any topic, but empirically, it does.

    He sometimes punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time. A proponent of humane criminal codes for whites, he advocated harsh, almost barbaric, punishments for slaves and free blacks.

    Decent people think that punishing helpless men, women and children by splitting up their families forever (and making money off that transaction) is monstrous. Will you own your arguments by straightforwardly arguing the opposite?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  14. Alex Knapp says:

    Eric, well, it was mostly Quakers and Unitarians, along with a smattering of what they called freethinkers back in the day and we’d now call atheists or agnostics. Plenty of chuches were pro slavery. That said, the Quakers were almost certainly the most influential group.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  15. Alex Knapp says:

    Eric, as for your ‘why now’ question, it’s because a major biography of Jefferson was just published.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  16. Eric Florack says:

    and what of the several works published on the subject previously

    since the subjevct matter hasnt cganged, one can only assume that the power such works speak truth to, has.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

  17. Alex Knapp says:

    Eric, are you serious? Castigating Jefferson for his hypocrisy vis a vis slavery is as old as the Republic. See e.g Hamilton, Alexander; see also the Election of 1800

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  18. James Richard Perry says:

    @Eric Florack: “Interesting that the anti-slavery movement came (At least pre-Lincoln) from the churches, and Christian sects of the day…I suppose that point gets lost too often because it also runs afoul of the agenda of the left.”

    Damn straight, we Christians are being persecuted in this country. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. We need to end Obama’s war on religion and fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.

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  19. Spartacus says:

    Doug wrote:

    Jefferson was not a perfect man, but then none of us are perfect, and it strikes me as mistaken to expect moral perfection from someone without first walking a mile or two in their shoes. Yes, Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, but he also made great contributions to his country that we still live this today.

    Moral perfection is not required in order to reject slavery. No one was morally perfect, but many people at that time still rejected the inhumanity of slavery.

    To argue that someone who could so clearly see the evil of slavery and yet still practice it even in the face of the impending wrath he thought God would visit upon the country (and presumably himself as well) all for financial gain was merely less than morally perfect is nothing less than sheer stupidity, sheer evil or both.

    Jefferson was absolutely a monster. He just also happened to be a very intelligent and influential man who played a pivotal role in the founding of what would become a unique and incredible country. He deserves all the hatred one can muster for his enslavement of people. He also deserves a lot of credit for helping to found a country that would, at least in word, adopt the ideal of equality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  20. anjin-san says:

    @ Alex Knapp

    See e.g Hamilton, Alexander; see also the Election of 1800

    I don’t think Glenn Beck has that up on his blackboard yet, so Florack is probably not aware of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  21. Spartacus says:

    @James Joyner:

    The non-slave states weren’t that because of a collective morality but because the topography wasn’t suited to mass farming.

    Seriously? Only the dumbest of the village idiot white guys would say something this stupid.

    What’s amazing is that James has the nerve to call Sarah Palin an ignoramus? You would be hard-pressed to find a single statement from Palin that is as stupid as this one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

  22. Alex Knapp says:

    Mr. Perry,

    FYI, kids can, in fact, openly celebrate Christmas. They can also pray in schools. Why, the White House even has a Christmas Tree, and the President was inaugurated by swearing on a Bible.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 1

  23. Spartacus says:

    @swbarnes2:

    Of course not! He’s a white guy, so of course all you care about is trying to conclude that “in his heart” he’s a good guy. You aren’t looking at his actions, his policies.

    What’s really funny to watch is that Doug, James and other village idiots like David Brooks, David Frum et al consider themselves more thoughtful and enlightened than Limbaugh and the Tea Party rubes they’ve used for all these years. They write posts about how the GOP can attract Hispanics and women in order to become a majority party again. Although they are less profane and more respectable and educated than the TPers, they are just as utterly clueless as them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  24. Alex Knapp says:

    @Spartacus,

    What makes Jefferson worse, in my mind, is that he was an abolitionist as a young man. But as time went on he vehemently opposed abolition, ardently defended slavery, and came to write essays about why blacks were inferior to whites.

    I think that we’re so used to seeing progress happen in a more moral direction (think modern attitudes towards gays, or Lincoln’s racism), that we find it hard to contemplate someone starting out with the moral views, then slowly embracing their antithesis.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  25. anjin-san says:

    gays can serve openly in the military

    Guess you missed that whole “equal protection under the law” thing…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  26. Andre Kenji says:

    @Alex Knapp: Black Slavery was brought to the American Continent because when the Portuguese arrived in what is now Brazil they found only a few dispersed tribes of Natives and a very unsuitable climate for Europeans. On the other hand, the terrain was very friendly to the production of sugar cane, and sugar cane was immensely profitable at the time. The French portion of the Hispaniola Isle, a producer of sugar, was the most profitable part of the French Colonial Empire, in fact the French and the Dutch abandoned all their colonies in North America to concentrate on their sugar cane producing colonies in South America and in the Caribbean. It would be impossible at the time to produce sugar, that´s very labor intensive, with free European Labor.

    Specially considering how hostile the Tropical Climate and diseases was to Europeans. On the other hand, in Virginia that excuse is less convincing. But, James is right that it was easier for the Northern States to free their slaves than in the South.

    With the exception of Brazil, Colombia and the Caribbean, most Latin American countries did not import a large number of slaves. In part, because they did not have to.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. Andre Kenji says:

    @Spartacus:

    Moral perfection is not required in order to reject slavery. No one was morally perfect, but many people at that time still rejected the inhumanity of slavery.

    Slavery did not end because it was inhumane. It ended because it was anti-economical in a larger sense(Slaves can´t consume – and no wonder that the South lost) and in part because white laborer did not want to compete with slave labor. All the countries that adopted slavery in the American Continent were Tropical Countries that did not have large number of Natives living in cities.

    In Brazil, slavery ended in part because of the War of the Paraguay. The country had to use slaves(That were freed) as soldiers. In that sense, slavery was a big Military Vulnerability: if most of your Adult Males are Slaves, them, it´s harder to conscript them to war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Mikey says:

    @Alex Knapp: Have you already forgotten Rick Perry?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Spartacus says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Slavery did not end because it was inhumane.

    I didn’t say slavery ended because it was inhumane. I said that no one was morally perfect at that time, yet many people still opposed slavery. Doug argues that Jefferson would have had to have been morally perfect in order to reject slavery. Only an idiot would believe that.

    It ended because it was anti-economical in a larger sense . . .

    No, slavery ended because the North kicked the South’s ass and made it give up slavery, a fact which to this very day still chaps the hide of Southern bigots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  30. Brummagem Joe says:

    Jefferson was simply a man of his time in many respects when the guillotine was seen as an advance on breaking on the wheel as a method of execution. In this context he was fairly advanced for his time but he lived in a society where slavery was mainstream both socially and economically. Using early 21st century standards to judge him is bizarre. Are we going compare 18th century medicine with that of 2012?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  31. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Spartacus:

    But many didn’t and Jefferson was after all a politician. Abolitionism was a minority position in Britain let alone the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. Eric Florack says:

    @Alex Knapp:

    Eric, are you serious? Castigating Jefferson for his hypocrisy vis a vis slavery is as old as the Republic. See e.g Hamilton, Alexander; see also the Election of 1800

    Of course I’m serious. You tell ME, Alex; when is the last time you saw a leader of the Democrat party being quite so vocal about denouncing Jefferson? Seems to me they’ve spent the last couple centuries trying to lay claim to his heritage….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 12

  33. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Oh I thought slavery in the US ended because of a great civil war that lasted four years and took the lives of more Americans in any war before or since……silly me

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  34. Eric Florack says:

    @Spartacus:

    I didn’t say slavery ended because it was inhumane. I said that no one was morally perfect at that time, yet many people still opposed slavery. Doug argues that Jefferson would have had to have been morally perfect in order to reject slavery. Only an idiot would believe that.

    I neither agree or disagree with your statement here. I do want to point out, however, that perception of morality has a tendency to change as the culture changes over time. And with it, the perception of moral perfection.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  35. Smithsonian Magazine did an excellent article recently on the details of how Monticello was actually run:

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Little-Known-Dark-Side-of-Thomas-Jefferson-169780996.html

    Read it, and see if you can still say that Jefferson was no monster. See if you can say that as you read him ordering the whipping of small children, the ripping apart of families solely for the purpose of terrorizing his charges, the Orwellian architecture of the house to hide any trace of the obscenity on which it was built, the obsessive calculation of exactly how much he was personally enriched by each additional life of suffering.

    He knew, and did nothing.

    There is value in the words he wrote in the declaration, but this value is in spite of Thomas Jefferson, not because of him. The real honor goes to the people who spent their lives putting the meaning behind those words.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  36. Andre Kenji says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Oh I thought slavery in the US ended because of a great civil war that lasted four years and took the lives of more Americans in any war before or since……silly me

    1-) A big reason for opposition for slavery in the United Kingdom and in the North was due to economical, not humanitarian reasons.

    2-) The South lost in part because slavery was anti-economical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  37. steve says:

    “when is the last time you saw a leader of the Democrat party being quite so vocal about denouncing Jefferson?”

    Finkelman is a leader of the Dem party? Never heard of him.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  38. Mikey says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    There is value in the words he wrote in the declaration, but this value is in spite of Thomas Jefferson, not because of him.

    I believe the value is both because of, and in spite of, Jefferson. Of all the Founding Fathers, he was the most dichotomous. The supreme irony is that the principle inherent in what he wrote is what we apply when we judge him a monster.

    I’ve visited Monticello more than once. It never fails to fascinate–the showplace of one man’s genius, a place of incredible beauty, its construction enabled by awful horrors. The place is as Janus-like as Jefferson himself.

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  39. @James Joyner:

    The non-slave states weren’t that because of a collective morality but because the topography wasn’t suited to mass farming. Absent economic advantage, of course, taking the morally right position is easier.

    As pointed out in the Smithsonian magazine article, even this was true when he was a tobacco farmer (which was labor intensive), Jefferson switched quiet early to wheat, which requred vary little labor to maintain. Rather than taking advantage of this to free his now largely idle slaves, Jefferson went about building various factories on his property so that he might go on further exploiting them in order to enrich himself.

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  40. Spartacus says:

    @Eric Florack:

    I do want to point out, however, that perception of morality has a tendency to change as the culture changes over time. And with it, the perception of moral perfection.

    You’re absolutely right. It’s the fact that Jefferson himself as well as so many other people in his day knew for an absolute fact that slavery was a terrible evil that helps justify my claim that he was a monster to be hated.

    And, as Alex Knapp pointed out, Jefferson started out vehemently opposed to slavery, but apparently the opportunity to steal the labor of others and to rape women was just too strong of a draw for him. (Thanks, Alex, for the info.)

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  41. Spartacus says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Using early 21st century standards to judge him is bizarre.

    No one on this thread is judging Jefferson by 21st century standards. We’re judging him by the standard he and many, many others of his day acknowledged to be the appropriate standard. Why else would he ever call slavery a terrible evil and fear God’s judgment for it if he was still trying to figure out if it should stop?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  42. @Eric Florack:

    One can hardly institute foundational change as Obama’s been saying, if we’re bound to the ideas and ideals of the founders such as Jefferson.

    Do you actually know anything about Jefferson’s beliefs? By today’s standards he’s practically a socialist. For example, he argued that when you die, all your property rights should cease and your estate be distributed among the rest of the community. Likewise he thought that upon reaching majority, anyone who doesn’t own any land should receive 50 acres from the state.

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  43. @Stormy Dragon:

    Do you actually know anything about Jefferson’s beliefs?

    I think we all know the answer to that one ;)

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  44. Console says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    It does a big disservice to Jefferson to make a “man of his time” argument. Jefferson actively thought about and grappled with the morality of slavery. He wasn’t a “this is the way things are, so that’s the way they have to be” type of guy.

    I feel like white people are very susceptible to that argument though. Mostly because they have to deal with it in their lives. They can’t call their racist uncle or grandfather a monster, so they attribute racist attitudes to the culture at large. It makes dealing with these things easier.

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  45. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Do you actually know anything about Jefferson’s beliefs? By today’s standards he’s practically a socialist. For example, he argued that when you die, all your property rights should cease and your estate be distributed among the rest of the community. Likewise he thought that upon reaching majority, anyone who doesn’t own any land should receive 50 acres from the state.

    You really have to wonder why someone would attack him now, over such minor foibles as enslaving other human beings and treating them terribly. It’s as if someone has some kind of agenda, to tear down his antiaristocratic beliefs…

    I suspect those people opposed to the estate tax are behind all of this.

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  46. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It’s good to know the Fourth Estate, the academe and the Internet all are focused laser-like on the key issue bedeviling the nation: Thomas Jefferson’s legacy.

    Geez.

    And what makes this “debate” even more preposterous is that even over in Europe, with no shortage of loopy academic types, they’ve figured out that perma-recessions, crushing debt burdens, massive unemployment, and banking and currency crises, are a lot more important and a lot more worthy of their full attention than rehashing their guilt complexes about events that took places eons ago. And of course when it comes to Europe there are no shortages of prior events over which to have major guilt complexes.

    IOW we’ve become loopier than Europe.

    If the U.S. were a horse it’d be sent to the glue factory. Seriously, we’re not going to make it.

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  47. Rob in CT says:

    “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”

    Samuel Johnson, 1775.

    I’m all for placing a person in his historical context. But to assume that Jefferson was a mere “product of his age” is to condescend to him, IMO. He knew the arguments. He was a part of the conversation. He helped shape History. In part, what he did was create a concept of “liberty” that only applied to him and guys just like him. That very argument was what the slavocracy of the Old South used as justification for their rebellion: hey, we’re just protecting our rights – we’re fighting for liberty!

    And that’s before you even consider his behavior vis-a-vis his slaves. You know, the beatings, the rape, selling off relatives as punishment… all that nifty stuff.

    So yeah, I admit it: I find it hard to work up much of a defense of Thomas Jefferson. At best, I think one could say (sadly), that he failed of his promise.

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  48. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Total nonsense. Northern Abolitiionists were opposed to slavery in the south on entirely moral grounds. It may have been inefficient (although the south claimed otherwise) but this was entirely incidental. And the South lost the war (which they started btw) because it was an agrarian society with a population and industrial base that was a fraction of that possessed by the North. The North didn’t fight the civil war in order to impose a more efficient agricultural system on the South but to the preserve the Union and ultimately to abolish slavery.

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  49. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Spartacus:

    Depends what you mean by “many others.” Abolitionism in the late 18th and early 19th century was a distinctly minority sentiment even in Britain where it was strongest. In the US where slavery was a cornerstone of the economic system it was virtually non existent although no doubt some including Jefferson saw the hypocrisy involved. This was a world where much of the white population of Europe were serfs (aka slaves). And at the end of the day Jefferson was a politician…..he had to get elected……all reprehensible no doubt from your cosy 21st century keyboard…..but reality nonetheless.

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  50. Alex Knapp says:

    @Brummagem Joe: Actually, you’re wrong on that point. Abolitionism was a strong sentiment in America, both North and South in the 18th and early 19th centuries. However, in the South, abolitiionism steadily weakened and evolved into the racist system that tried to secede from the Union, while in the North, abolitionist sentiment continued to grow and the major argument was HOW FAST. Obviously, there are twists and turns here, but that’s the general thrust.

    Also, worth noting that many of Jefferson’s peers were far better men than he. (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/the-myth-of-jefferson-as-a-man-of-his-times/265816/#)

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  51. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Console:

    I don’t think I’m doing a disservice to Jefferson by recognizing he was a man of his time even if a considerable free thinker and rationalist. What you’re forgetting is that he was also a politician who had to get elected and he drew his income (which he tended to overspend) from an economic system that was considered the norm at the time. Many of those genteel characters in Jane Austen novels were drawing their incomes from the same source and as I observed above much of the white population of Europe were serfs and thus in the same boat as blacks in America or Barbados. I’m not going claim Jefferson was paragon of christian virtues (not that he believed in christianity) but he really can’t be viewed out of the context of his time.

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  52. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Dr Johnson was not an abolitionist, he was however anti American and was just pointing up the inherent hypocrisy of the entire Revolutionary war as a quest for “freedom.” An hypocrisy btw that hung around for a long time……we fought WW 2 for freedom against a deeply racist enemy with an army that was segregated.

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  53. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Alex Knapp:

    So Jefferson could have been elected president as an aboltionist? Yes right.

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  54. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Alex Knapp:

    And are seriously suggesting the south was less racist in 1780 than in 1850?

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  55. Alex Knapp says:

    “And are seriously suggesting the south was less racist in 1780 than in 1850?”

    That’s the general historical consensus, yes.

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  56. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Alex Knapp:

    You wouldn’t actually like to produce some quantifiable evidence to support that contention would you? I can recognise there might have been more of siege mentality in the south by 1850 because by then slavery had become the exception rather than the norm it was in 1780 but that’s entirely different from a fundamental shift in the attitude to black people. Intuitively one suspects that blacks were more harshly treated in the 18th century than by the mid 19th because by then Southerners were attempting to demonstrate their peculiar institution was relatively benign and actually in the interest of their human property.

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  57. Rafer Janders says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    And are seriously suggesting the south was less racist in 1780 than in 1850?

    Actually, yes, it was. Just as, for example, Germany was less anti-Semitic in 1840 than it was in 1940. The arc of history, while it may bend towards justice, sometimes loops around on itself on the way…..

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  58. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Again evidence please……and the comparison between anti Semitism in Germany in 1840 which didn’t even exist as a country at the time and 1940 is irrelevant even it wasn’t grotesquely bizarre.

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  59. Rafer Janders says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    It was not just the American South — most of the white Western world in the Victorian era was more explicityl racist than it had been in the previous century. Remember, 1780 was part of the Age of Enlightenment, when the main intellectual strand was advanced by men such as Voltaire, Kant, Hume, Smith, etc., and which advocated, among other things, reason, the scientific method, and the brotherhood of man.

    By the Victorian era, however, a new strain of pseudo-scientific thought had become popular, and many during that time subscribed to the belief that there was both a God-given and a scientifically-ordained hierarchy of the races, with Anglo-Saxon whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. The Victorian era was also far more overtly religious than the late 18th century, and again increased religiosity paradoxically (or not, depending on how you look at it) contributed to an ideology of explicit racism.

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  60. Rafer Janders says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    and the comparison between anti Semitism in Germany in 1840 which didn’t even exist as a country at the time and 1940 is irrelevant

    Hardly irrelevant, and while “Germany” didn’t exist as a political country in 1840, “Germany” as an ethno-linguistic-cultural grouping of several nations did. But let’s, to satisfy your pedantry, say that Germans in 1840 were less anti-Semitic than Germans in 1940.

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  61. Rob in CT says:

    I can recognise there might have been more of siege mentality in the south by 1850 because by then slavery had become the exception rather than the norm it was in 1780

    Um… that’s not really accurate.

    Slavery in Virginia, ok. By the time of the civil war, if I understand correctly, slavery was a major Virginian export (selling them South). But slavery was absolutely *not* in decline.

    The theory I’ve seen a lot is that in the late-18th century slavery wasn’t terrifically profitable. It was, therefore, easier for folks in slave-holding areas to ponder ending it. But then the cotton gin comes along and boom go the profits. And so the arguments in favor of slavery as a clear, positive good (as opposed to a regrettable necessary evil) increasingly dominate.

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  62. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Bluster and ad homs aren’t evidence and I’m still waiting the evidence as it relates to US. Whatever happened anywhere else and in different circumstance is totally irrelevant.

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  63. Rafer Janders says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Intuitively one suspects that blacks were more harshly treated in the 18th century than by the mid 19th

    Intuitively one suspects that, but one is wrong. Plantations in the mid-19th century had become bigger and more depersonalized than they had been in the 18th centry, thanks to, as Rob points out above, the cotton gin, as well as other technological advances such as railroads and increased ease of shipping, etc. As a result, slaves went from working on what were essentially family farms close to their owners, to working on large industrial enterprises where they were essentially no more than pieces in a cog. This sums it up well:

    The growing demand for cotton led many plantation owners further west in search of suitable land. In addition, invention of the cotton gin in 1793 enabled more economic processing of short-staple cotton, which could readily be grown in the uplands. The invention revolutionized the cotton industry by increasing fifty-fold the quantity of cotton that could be processed in a day. The mechanization could efficiently handle short-staple cotton, which could be grown in more places than the long-staple cotton of the Low Country. Results were the explosive growth of cotton cultivation throughout the Deep South and greatly increased demand for slave labor to support it.[40] Manumissions decreased dramatically in the South.[41] At the end of the War of 1812, fewer than 300,000 bales of cotton were produced nationally. By 1820 the amount of cotton produced had increased to 600,000 bales, and by 1850 it had reached 4,000,000.

    By 1815, the internal slave trade had become a major economic activity in the United States; it lasted until the 1860s.[42] Between 1830 and 1840 nearly 250,000 slaves were taken across state lines.[42] In the 1850s over 193,000 were transported, and historians estimate nearly one million in total took part in the forced migration of this new Middle Passage. By 1860 the slave population in the United States had reached 4 million.[42] As the internal slave trade became a dominant feature of American slavery, individuals lost their connection to families and clans. Added to the earlier settlers’ previous glossing over of origins and combining slaves from different tribes, many ethnic Africans lost all knowledge of varying tribal origins in Africa, as most had families who had been in the United States for many generations.[42]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_the_United_States

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  64. Rafer Janders says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Bluster and ad homs aren’t evidence and I’m still waiting the evidence as it relates to US.

    Oh, if only there were some way for you to research things on the Internet!

    Whatever happened anywhere else and in different circumstance is totally irrelevant.

    Hardly irrelevant, as it relates to a pattern of increasingly ideological racism throughout the Western world from the 19th through the 20th century. It manifested in different ways in different countries, but was all part of a larger trend driven by vast cultural and economic changes.

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  65. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I think you misunderstand me. Obviously slavery was the norm in the south but the point is that it had ceased to be so pretty well everywhere else other then parts of South America and the middle east. And slavery in the 18th century wasn’t profitable?…..are you serious. How do think all those great houses were built across the south and stocked with European goodies; similarly vast wealth from Caribean plantations flowed back to Europe which is why the French Islands were always the first target in British/French wars. And you are aware that cotton was only one of the products produced on southern plantations…..rice, sugar and tobacco were very important crops in the 18th century.

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  66. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I’m still waiting for evidence……while you’re still blathering about vague and generalised abstractions.

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  67. Rafer Janders says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    And slavery in the 18th century wasn’t profitable?…..are you serious. How do think all those great houses were built across the south and stocked with European goodies

    Most of those great houses were built in the 19th and not the 18th century. Slavery became far more profitable once the cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney in 1792 and once railroads and steam travel in the 19th century made it easier to get goods to market. I’ll repeat from above:

    Results were the explosive growth of cotton cultivation throughout the Deep South and greatly increased demand for slave labor to support it.[40] Manumissions decreased dramatically in the South.[41] At the end of the War of 1812, fewer than 300,000 bales of cotton were produced nationally. By 1820 the amount of cotton produced had increased to 600,000 bales, and by 1850 it had reached 4,000,000.

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  68. bk says:

    @James Richard Perry: Happy Holidays! Moron.

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  69. Rob in CT says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1790_United_States_Census

    694k slaves out of a total population of 3.8 million (~18%).

    Virginia: 39% slave.

    By 1860, Virginia’s population was 30.6% (490k/1.6M), with the total national number having dropped to 12.7%. So I take back my “absolutely not in decline” because it was dropping as a % of the total population. But it was booming in some places/phased out of others.

    Where it existed, I don’t think decline is the word. It clearly declined in the North and northern border states and was never accepted in the Old Northwest. It was booming in the deep South, though.

    Or by “exception rather than norm” do you specifically mean how it broken down by region?
    I picked up on what I thought was a “it was dying” argument, but if you’re just talking about it becoming more isolated in the deep South, then I don’t really disagree.

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  70. Rob in CT says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Ah, I see I did misread you (my last post is, therefore a cross post).

    As for profitability: relatively less profitable. The cotton gin really does seem to have made a dramatic difference.

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  71. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Actually all the info you’ve cut and pasted doesn’t tell us is that the south was more racist in its attitudes in 1850 than 1780 nor that slaves were more harshly treated…… all it tells us is that the cotton planting industry part of the Southern economy was bigger.

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  72. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Of course the gin made a difference to the profitability of cotton plantations (which were only one part of the southern planting economy) because it increased productivity but this doesn’t imply any shift in either attitudes to blacks or the treatment they received. They were as much chattels in 1780 as 1850. Indeed isn’t the very thing Jefferson is being pilloried for is his ill treatment of slaves in the 18th centurey while preaching all men are created equal?

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  73. Rob in CT says:

    Joe,

    You’re making a pretty ridiculous demand re: evidence. There is, as you well know that there is no “racist quotient” data available (hence, I assume, your repeated requests for evidence of something you’re sure Rafer Janders cannot provide). There is, however, quite a bit of information available that allows one to make some educated guesses (“one would expect them to be treated better in the 19th century” is a guess, but doesn’t strike me as an educated one).

    This originally was a discussion about Jefferson’s historical context. Basically, The Founders time vs. the antebellum era.

    We could consult Alexander Stephens on that point…

    Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away… Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.”

    Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.

    Note that he is basically calling Jefferson a wussy liberal. Let alone Adams or others. Jefferson was unwilling to go beyond vague worries about it.

    In the context of 1860, Stephens was a “moderate.” He was a former Whig (as was Lincoln, albeit Northern Whig and Southern Whig had come to mean different things, which is why the Whigs died).

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  74. Rob in CT says:

    In case it’s not clear, I’m presenting the above as suggestive of radicalization on the slavery issue.

    As for how harshly slaves were treated… we have no way of knowing for sure. What we do know is that toward the end the internal slave trade was up and we know that this involved splitting up families, which is pretty harsh. All else equal (we do not know it was, of course), that’s harsher.

    Bringing it back to Jefferson, that particularly harsh breakup of families when slaves were sold? Apparently he used it expressly as a punishment.

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  75. Rafer Janders says:

    @Rob in CT:

    You’re making a pretty ridiculous demand re: evidence. There is, as you well know that there is no “racist quotient” data available (hence, I assume, your repeated requests for evidence of something you’re sure Rafer Janders cannot provide).

    Good point, Rob. I’d also add that despite Joe’s demanding “evidence” of us, he’s provided none of his own other than his own unsupported assertions (and, of course, his “intuitive suspicions”).

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  76. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    “It was not just the American South — most of the white Western world in the Victorian era was more explicityl racist than it had been in the previous century.”

    Er…..no…..the British abolished the slave trade in 1807, from the late 18th century onwards serfdom was progressively abolished across Europe and even Russia abolished it before emancipation In the US……. by 1862 slavery had disappeared entirely from what was considered to be the civilised world with the exception of the US.

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  77. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    “You’re making a pretty ridiculous demand re: evidence.”

    Oh dear me……how unreasonable of me to ask for evidence of rather suspect assertions

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  78. Rob in CT says:

    Way to actually respond to the substance of what I offered, Joe.

    This whole thing started with an assertion by Alex Knapp that abolitionist sentiment existed in the South in the 18th century but it died out by the time of the civil war.

    You picked that up and demanded to know if he was suggesting the South got “more racist.” I don’t know if it’s really the same thing, but Alex answered yes… to me, meaning again that the idea of abolition was dead in the South circa 1860 and this indicated changing attitudes. Since then, you’ve been demanding evidence of more/less racism, which is basically impossible to provide.

    What are you arguing, exactly? That there was a strong abolitionist movement in the South on the eve of the civil war? That the South became *less* attached to slavery? What?

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  79. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    “(and, of course, his “intuitive suspicions”).”

    Onus probandi……..if you know that means…….And at least I admit I’m relying on intuitive commensense that there was very unlikely to have been any substantive change in attitudes or treatment of black slaves between 1780 and 1850. Neither Alex Knapp or anyone else has provided any and so you, Rob and others have now fallen back on the defense that no evidence is required…..LOL

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  80. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    “What are you arguing, exactly? That there was a strong abolitionist movement in the South on the eve of the civil war? That the South became *less* attached to slavery?”

    Rob if you think I was arguing either of these propositions I’ve got assume you have serious comprehension problems.

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  81. Rob in CT says:

    I take it, then, that you haven’t read much about the time period in question. Historians have tackled this issue. What Alex said was, as far as I’ve seen, correct: most Historians would agree, at least generally, with what Alex, Rafel and I have been saying.

    Also, too: care to engage with the Alexander Stephens “cornerstone speech” quote I provided?

    All you have is that your “intuitive commensense” trumps the information we can gleen from the historical record (not just the raw economic stats, but also letters/editorials/speechs: from what I understand, the rhetoric really did change. The radicalization I referenced earlier happened).

    Out of curiosity, what evidence would convince you?

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  82. Mikey says:

    @bk: Am I the ONLY one who caught on to what @James Richard Perry was doing with this?

    Think about it…James Richard Perry…aka RICK Perry…

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  83. Rob in CT says:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/the-myth-of-jefferson-as-a-man-of-his-times/265816/

    Heh, I knew I shoulda checked in with Ta-Nehise when I first saw this thread.

    Edward Coles: totally awesome.

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  84. stonetools says:

    The NYT article comes out in the context of Founding Fathers hagiography. Conservatives, in particular, have promoted an image of the Founding Fathers as a band of intellectual and moral giants (they often call them “The Founders”) who created a Holy Document- The US Constitution- whose infallible dictates we must follow without question. Finkelstein’s article represents a welcome corrective to the idol worship.
    Thomas Jefferson was not a monster. ( I tend to leave the term ” monster” for mass murderers like Hitler and Stalin). But he was a man who did not live up to the best standards of his time , although he enunciated the best ideas of the time. Quite a few Americans of his time started out as slaveholders and ended up freeing their slaves. Thomas Jefferson chose not to.
    This makes him a hypocrite, at the very least. So one of our idols have feet of clay. We’ll survive this.

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  85. sam says:

    @Eric Florack:

    That said, it’s a side note to the issue I bring up above, as to why we’re about tearing down Jefferson NOW. I suggest the answer to that is fairly simple…. One can hardly institute foundational change as Obama’s been saying, if we’re bound to the ideas and ideals of the founders such as Jefferson.

    I suggest you are a fvcking loon.

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  86. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Oh really…. I only read history at university and I’m reasonably conversant with this topic although it wasn’t my speciality……and if all these historians all agree with you, Alex and co why haven’t he or you cited them. It’s quite clear from your comments and others that actual knowledge of the planter economy and wider European history and attitudes to chattel slavery isn’t very extensive. And you just keep playing the same record about cotton planting being more efficient….it may have been but that doesn’t automatically mean a change in outlook amongst cotton planters ……no one has produced any evidence that there was a material change in the attitude to, or the treatment of, black slaves between 1780 and 1850, and until they do I’m going rely on my commonsense view that this was VERY unlikely.

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  87. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    “The Victorian era was also far more overtly religious than the late 18th century, and again increased religiosity paradoxically (or not, depending on how you look at it) contributed to an ideology of explicit racism.”

    Another highly suspect assertion……it was the evangelical christian movement in Britain that was principally responsible for abolition of the slave trade and its ultimate elimination throughout the British empire and led the fight against it throughout the 19th century. In the US christian evangelicals were at the center of the abolitionist movement.

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  88. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    “Most of those great houses were built in the 19th and not the 18th century.”

    While this is strictly true, to suggest that planting in the 18th century was not enormously profitable is absurd. The richest men in America in 1780 were mainly planters like Washington, Charles Carroll of Carrollton and Harry Lee. Never heard of Carters Grove, Mount Vernon, Monticello and there are many more….. and of course they all had town houses that were large.

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  89. Rob in CT says:

    I brought up the cotton gin thing as 1 possible explanation for a shift in attitudes. Self-justification is a strong impulse. We rationalize very, very well.

    But obviously that’s not all that was going on. The shift around the world and within (parts of) the USA against slavery brought about the siege mentality you referred to earlier. That amped up the rhetoric as well, until you get strident arguments about the moral virtue of the system (e.g., Stephen’s “Cornerstone” speech). I think a lot of it actually was about the righteous arguments of the abolitionists, typically using religious arguments. The Southerners’ wounded pride required a response, and what you got, over time, was less “oh, it’s not really that bad… I mean, we feed them” and more “this is a Good Thing. In fact, your “wage slavery” system is worse!”

    I cannot prove this statistically, of course. We do not have poll data on racial attitudes in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are letters, editorials, speeches by various politicians, election results, and so on and so forth.

    Material differences in treatment brought up in this discussion include a fall in manumissions and a rise in the internal slave trade (which often though not always involved breaking up families). This is not the entire picture, I readily admit. However, it does not point toward improving conditions. You’ve ignored those things. Given that, I’m not inclined to waste more time trying to convince you. I simply don’t care if you believe that there was no change in attitude toward or treatment of slaves from 1780 to 1850.

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  90. Andre Kenji says:

    @Brummagem Joe: “It was not just the American South — most of the white Western world in the Victorian era was more explicityl racist than it had been in the previous century.”

    Er…..no…..the British abolished the slave trade in 1807, from the late 18th century onwards serfdom was progressively abolished across Europe and even Russia abolished it before emancipation In the US……. by 1862 slavery had disappeared entirely from what was considered to be the civilised world with the exception of the US.

    Ending Slavery and Racism were very different things. In fact, for many racists at the time importing a thousands of people of color was a bad idea. Arthur de Gobineau, one of the most infamous racist intelectuals of all time visited Rio de Janeiro and said that Brazil was doomed by the miscegenation with inferior races and that the immigration of white Europeans was the only solution.

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  91. Rafael Edward Cruz says:

    @Eric Florack: This would be Barack Hussein Obama’s attempts to implement Agenda 21, a dangerous United Nations plan that takes aim at the American economy – and American freedom – in the name of environmental reform. Under the guise of world sustainability the plan establishes a regime of rules that attempt to bypass Congress and the American people, handing over power over vast areas of the US economy to unelected UN bureaucrats.

    Agenda 21 attempts to abolish “unsustainable” environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads. It hopes to leave mother earth’s surface unscratched by mankind. Everyone wants clean water and clean air, but Agenda 21 dehumanizes individuals by removing the very thing that has defined Americans since the beginning—our freedom.

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  92. Andre Kenji says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Total nonsense. Northern Abolitiionists were opposed to slavery in the south on entirely moral grounds.

    Yes, that why they wanted to send them to the Caribbean and Africa and why many Northern States had racist laws against Blacks that were pretty similar to the Jim Crow.

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  93. mantis says:

    @Eric Florack:

    I’ve often said that it was a wonder to me that the Democrat party to this day holds Jefferson as an icon of the party.

    Someone who is unfamiliar with the names of the political parties in this country would do well to refrain from lecturing others about their history. But thank you for removing all doubt and revealing yourself the fool.

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  94. CB says:

    @Rafael Edward Cruz:

    Under the guise of world sustainability the plan establishes a regime of rules that attempt to bypass Congress and the American people, handing over power over vast areas of the US economy to unelected UN bureaucrats.

    Agenda 21 attempts to abolish “unsustainable” environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads.

    Read that again. And then re-read it. And then tell me that you people honestly, truly believe down to your corethat this is a real and existential threat.

    I mean, paved freakin’ roads? Seriously?

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  95. mantis says:

    @Rafael Edward Cruz:

    Under the guise of world sustainability the plan establishes a regime of rules that attempt to bypass Congress and the American people, handing over power over vast areas of the US economy to unelected UN bureaucrats.

    Nonsense. The mental institution needs to take away your Internet privileges, since you obviously cannot handle them.

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  96. Rob in CT says:

    Ending Slavery and Racism were very different things

    Indeed.

    The political argument in the US between the free labor and slave labor camps was not exactly righteous anti-slavery crusaders vs. slavocrats. The free labor camp was racist as hell, for the most part. And part of their argument was concern over having to compete with slave labor… thus being degraded to slavish conditions themselves.

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  97. Andre Kenji says:

    @mantis: I only know what Agenda 21 is because I was a newsjunkie Sixth Grader growing up in Brazil during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

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  98. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Are you seriously suggesting that the world in the late 19th century was more racist in overall outlook and deed than it was in 1780 where black slavery was the norm everywhere; indigenous indians were in chains across South America; the slave trade was a major global industry; and Jews across Europe were confined to ghettoes……and your evidence for this is Gobineau visited Brazil and warned of the dangers of miscegenation……wow….That compelling

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  99. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    “Yes, that why they wanted to send them to the Caribbean and Africa and why many Northern States had racist laws against Blacks that were pretty similar to the Jim Crow.”

    You said religion was at the root of much racism and when I point out the fact that evangelicals were a core group in the abolition movement you start making wild unrelated claims about laws in the north which are of doubtful reliability (or haven’t you heard of Dred Scott) and resettlement schemes SOME abolitionists supported.

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  100. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Would you like to tell me anything I’ve ignored…..if anything I’ve been over assiduous in responding to mainly specious assertions by people with rather shaky knowledge of planter society.

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  101. G.A. says:

    Where does evolution fit into this?

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  102. Mikey says:

    @G.A.: Absolutely nowhere.

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  103. Andre Kenji says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Are you seriously suggesting that the world in the late 19th century was more racist in overall outlook and deed than it was in 1780

    No, I pointed out that racism and slavery were different things. To many Racists, the idea of importing slaves(AKA People of Color) is abhorrent, for obvious reasons. It´s no coincidence that some years after Gobineau visited Brazil slavery enters a decline and there is the beginning of a program of incentives to bring White Europeans Immigrants.

    It was Alex Knapp that said that the 19th Century was more racist than 1780. In fact, what happened is that in the 19th Century there is the idea of the *Scientific* Racism, where non-whites are considered genetically inferior and Miscegenation becomes a menace to the so called “White Men”.

    By the way, reading about Slavery in Brazil I find out that there were some brutal killings of slave owners(Clovis Moura describes a Slaveowner that forced his slaves to kiss his genitals as a punishment, in the end the slaves raped his wife and then killed the couple), hundreds of revolts(Including some Muslim Slaves that tried to create a Caliphate in Salvador), quilombos (Villages founded by fugitive slaves). But I don´t find people saying that Blacks and Whites could not live together.

    And there are dozens of Jefferson´s Writings saying exactly that.

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  104. Rob in CT says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    The original argument was that abolitionist sentiment existed in the South during the time of the Founders but that it waned and by the time of the civil war is was utterly dead – representing a shift in attitudes for the worse. Again: that’s what Alex Knapp said that triggered your incredulous response. After all, we’re supposedly discussing the proper context for Thomas Jefferson.

    Well, then. In this thread, I’ve cited the Alexander Stephens “cornerstone” speech as an illustration of the shift in attitudes. It’s merely the clearest and easiest-to-google example. There are many, many others. In Jefferson’s time, a Southern abolitionist was in the minority, but there were such people amongst his elite peers. Have a look at the Ta-Nehisi Coates blog post I linked to telling the story of Edward Coles. When evaluating Jefferson, a product of his time, that seems directly on-point.

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  105. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Wow that’s a new one…..there’s no connection between racism and enslaving blacks……But no more absurd than several other assertions you’ve made ……..and you said racist attitudes were much more prevalent in late 19th century than they were in 18th which is self evident nonsense given the examples I cited and which as usual you ignore……those actual facts are pesky things so best to ignore them….eh?

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  106. Rob in CT says:

    Different != unconnected. Just FYI.

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  107. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    “The original argument was that abolitionist sentiment existed in the South during the time of the Founders but that it waned and by the time of the civil war is was utterly dead”

    Er no it wasn’t viz.

    Brummagem Joe says:
    Monday, December 3, 2012 at 10:07
    @Alex Knapp:

    And are seriously suggesting the south was less racist in 1780 than in 1850?

    **********

    Alex Knapp says:
    Monday, December 3, 2012 at 10:28
    “And are seriously suggesting the south was less racist in 1780 than in 1850?”

    That’s the general historical consensus, yes.

    ***************

    Brummagem Joe says:
    Monday, December 3, 2012 at 10:58
    @Alex Knapp:

    You wouldn’t actually like to produce some quantifiable evidence to support that contention would you? I can recognise there might have been more of siege mentality in the south by 1850 because by then slavery had become the exception rather than the norm it was in 1780 but that’s entirely different from a fundamental shift in the attitude to black people. Intuitively one suspects that blacks were more harshly treated in the 18th century than by the mid 19th because by then Southerners were attempting to demonstrate their peculiar institution was relatively benign and actually in the interest of their human property.

    ********

    Having conspicuously failed to produce any evidence you’re Now you’re just moving the goalposts.

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  108. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Different != unconnected. Just FYI.

    Wow someone else thinks there’s no connection between racism and black slavery……..Honestly I can’t make you guys up

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  109. Andre Kenji says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    there’s no connection between racism and enslaving blacks……

    No, I did not say that. I said that these were different things. Slavery was a Racist Institution. But not all opposition to Slavery was anti-racist. There were also several instances of Blacks that owned and traded slaves, by the way.

    Palmares( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmares_(quilombo)) had slaves, for instance.

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  110. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    “No, I did not say that. I said that these were different things. Slavery was a Racist Institution.”

    Different things but one was an inherent constituent of the other……and now we get your latest distraction…..black participation in slave trade……sigh

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  111. James Richard Perry says:

    @anjin-san: There are three things you must remember about the equal protection clause: 1) It was enacted for the sole purpose of preventing racial discrimination and nothing else. 2) The idea that it confers equal rights to women and those who engage in sodomy is a liberal fiction forced on us by judicial activism.

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  112. G.A. says:

    @G.A.: Absolutely nowhere.

    Of course not. No blame for the most racist pseudo/bunk science/anti Christ religion’s creation story ever….or how it effected our historical figures and their worldviews.

    Wow someone else thinks there’s no connection between evolution, racism and black slavery……..Honestly I can’t make you guys up

    Fixed that for you:)

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  113. swbarnes2 says:

    @G.A.:

    I generally don’t reply to the obvious trolls (funny how they are the most consistent supporters of Republican policies here), but really; saying that the theory of evolution is to blame for American slavery, or Jefferson’s beliefs in particular, when Darwin didn’t even go on his voyage on the Beagle until 1831! That’s 5 years after Jefferson died!

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  114. george says:

    @swbarnes2:

    I generally don’t reply to the obvious trolls (funny how they are the most consistent supporters of Republican policies here), but really; saying that the theory of evolution is to blame for American slavery, or Jefferson’s beliefs in particular, when Darwin didn’t even go on his voyage on the Beagle until 1831! That’s 5 years after Jefferson died!

    Yes, but you obviously fail to take into account Darwin’s time machine. Its why he not only was responsible for American slavery, but explains how he was able to be the real author of Shakespeare’s plays.

    These things are really quite simple if you look at it the right way.

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  115. Brummagem Joe says:

    @swbarnes2:

    Evolution is bunk science…..this may be news to biologists everywhere……HEADLINE…..modern medical science all a mistake!…..LOL…..And I may be slightly off but I think 1830 was the year that slavery was terminated in all British colonies although the trade had been ended nearly 25 years before and since the British controlled the seas this meant that those benevolent not very racist American slaveholders had to rely on baby farming to enlarge their stock of capital……LOL

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  116. Brummagem Joe says:

    @george:

    You forgot his visit to the beer kellers of Munich in 1921

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  117. G.A. says:

    I generally don’t reply to the obvious trolls (funny how they are the most consistent supporters of Republican policies here), but really; saying that the theory of evolution is to blame for American slavery, or Jefferson’s beliefs in particular, when Darwin didn’t even go on his voyage on the Beagle until 1831! That’s 5 years after Jefferson died!

    Um, Darwin started evolutionish/anti God Theory and it’s influence on think of this period ?

    Gosh, I thought there was a larger argument afoot here.Oh and I said nothing about evolution being the culprit of the beginning of slavery as you imply….

    Yes, but you obviously fail to take into account Darwin’s time machine.

    No, but you didn’t…libbrain..

    Evolution is bunk science…..this may be news to biologists everywhere……HEADLINE…..modern medical science all a mistake!

    Hey, explain to me the benefits evolution has given to biology or modern medicine?…

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  118. Mikey says:

    @G.A.:

    Hey, explain to me the benefits evolution has given to biology or modern medicine?…

    Only all of it.

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  119. Andre Kenji says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Different things but one was an inherent constituent of the other……

    More or less. The great reason that Slaves were brought to the American Continent was the fact that it was immensely profitable to do it, not necessarily because there were people that hated Africans so much that they were willing to bring Africans to their homes just to keep them under bondage. In fact, it´s possible that almost all of the richest persons in the whole planet in the 1600´s and 1700´s were either Slave Traders or people that owned slaves.

    Thomas Jefferson is a interesting example. He wrote a very deal that Blacks and Whites were different people and that they could not live together. He was in fact using Racism to justify the fact that the owned Slaves, that were very profitable to him.

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  120. Mikey says:

    @G.A.:

    No blame for the most racist pseudo/bunk science/anti Christ religion’s creation story ever….or how it effected our historical figures and their worldviews.

    This crap again? Really?

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  121. An Interested Party says:

    And are seriously suggesting the south was less racist in 1780 than in 1850?

    This makes perfect sense, in the same way that racism among whites seems to be greater where they live in the same places with large black populations…like how Mississippi and Alabama have far different reputations than, say, Iowa and New Hampshire…

    The idea that it confers equal rights to women and those who engage in sodomy is a liberal fiction forced on us by judicial activism.

    My goodness, whatever will people like this do when SSM is the law of the land…

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  122. G.A. says:

    Bunch of true believer kool aid heads I tell ya….

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  123. Mikey says:

    @G.A.: No. There is a difference between “true belief” in something and understanding why something is true.

    Just because you refuse to understand, does not mean the rest of us are “true believers.” You merely project.

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  124. @Brummagem Joe:

    You wouldn’t actually like to produce some quantifiable evidence to support that contention would you?

    One quantifiable example of this was the “re-enslavement” movement of the 1850s. During colonial times, there were free blacks, mulattos, etc. that lived in the South. This was not seen as odd because slavery was seen as something that happened to particular blacks, not the natural state of all black men.

    By the civil war times, racial attitudes had hardened and it was now believed by many in the south that all blacks were supposed to be slaves as a reflection of some supposed natural inferiority.

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  125. george says:

    @G.A.:

    Hey, explain to me the benefits evolution has given to biology or modern medicine?…

    Okay. The idea that traits are inherited (the basic idea of evolution) was a major driver in genetics, leading to the discovery DNA encoding, as well as much of microbiology and biochemistry. The alternative was the Lamarckian idea that an individuals actions drove their attributes.

    I’m still amazed that given what we know of DNA and genetics, anyone seriously doubts evolution is occurring. It even happens in bacteria with resistance to antibiotics, and in simple enough systems that we have a reasonable understanding of the mechanisms involved.

    Take away evolution (and all the mechanisms which drive it such as the whole cell mechanics of DNA replication etc) and you’re left with a huge gap where you have to explain why offspring resemble their parents.

    Seriously, how do you think a parents traits are passed on to their children? Magic?

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  126. Rob in CT says:

    Joe,

    You are hopeless.

    Different is not the same as unconnected (that’s what != means. It just means they’re not the same). Things can be different, as in “not the same” and yet be connected – very much so. OBVIOUSLY racism and slavery were connected. The point Andre was making is that they’re not exactly the same thing. This is a fairly mundane point, but apparently you think it’s just outrageous.

    As for the rest of it, you simply started your recitation of the argument 1 post later than I did. Your question regarding relative racism over time was in response to this post by Alex:

    Actually, you’re wrong on that point. Abolitionism was a strong sentiment in America, both North and South in the 18th and early 19th centuries. However, in the South, abolitiionism steadily weakened and evolved into the racist system that tried to secede from the Union, while in the North, abolitionist sentiment continued to grow and the major argument was HOW FAST. Obviously, there are twists and turns here, but that’s the general thrust.

    Also, worth noting that many of Jefferson’s peers were far better men than he. (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/the-myth-of-jefferson-as-a-man-of-his-times/265816/#)

    The whole thing was about exactly what “Jefferson’s time” was like regarding the issue of slavery. Your position, as stated in your first post in the thread, was that he was a “man of his times” and therefore he shouldn’t be judged harshly. Alex’s point, and mine, is that well, actually, if you actually look Jefferson by the standards of his own day, he doesn’t actually look all that good.

    Somehow, you took that and turned it into an argument about racism world-wide between the 17th and 18th centuries.

    Your reaction to what you consider dubious statements of others is all the more amusing now that I went back and re-read a post of yours in which you asserted serfdom = slavery.

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  127. Ken says:

    @Eric Florack: when is the last time you saw a leader of the Democrat party being quite so vocal a

    *** DRINK! ***

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  128. sam says:

    @G.A.:

    No blame for the most racist pseudo/bunk science/anti Christ religion’s creation story ever

    Glad to see you’ve recovered your disequilibrium after the election.

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  129. Eric Florack says:

    @mantis: Oh, please.
    Read the writings of Jefferson I quoted above and tell me which one of the quotes in question does not run afoul of Obama and Company.

    We’ll wait.

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  130. Eric Florack says:

    @mantis: Oh, I think I got it right. Clearly, you understand what I said. You don’t like the implications, but there’s a LOT of folks in here who don’t like being exposed to the truth.

    You, apparently are merely one more of these.

    @Stormy Dragon: You did read the quotes I posted, didn’t you? Clearly, if I’m able to quote him so, I have some idea of what I speak…. moreso than yourself.

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