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ASPartOfMe
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28 Nov 2022, 6:14 pm

In Paris, Thomas Jefferson Revealed His Real Beliefs About Slavery - by Fred Kaplen

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Jefferson had addressed the topic of slavery in Notes on the State of Virginia, and the published version had extended his views to a wide audience in America, England, and France, where he had had discussions with Enlightenment luminaries and French admirers of the United States, particularly Lafayette, Nicolas de Condorcet, and Jacques Brissot, all three of whom felt that Jefferson stopped at a bridge far too short of where antislavery ought to go. They would not have known that at his residence Hôtel de Langeac Jefferson had had two mulatto servants who in America were legally his slaves. In France, they were not, and by their own simple declaration they would have been considered free, an opportunity which neither Sally nor James Hemings availed themselves of. They may not have known of this right, or they may have preferred a life of certainties with Jefferson to one of uncertainties in France.

If this was their choice, it may have been by agreement with their master, including promises of special treatment and advantages. Aware that he was in violation of French law, Jefferson had quietly evaded the legalities. As always, when it came to his slaves, he did what was practical and in his own interest. As an intellectual, especially among friends and colleagues, he was rarely reluctant to make it known that he believed that slavery was, in theory, a moral iniquity, a stain on a civilized society. Still, his innate self-protective duplicity often came into play.

In France, in 1789, the year of the start of the French Revolution, Jefferson’s good friend, Lafayette, of course knew that Jefferson owned many slaves. Who else among the members of Jefferson’s salon and intellectual-political circle knew? When Jacques Brissot, a leading abolitionist and the founder in 1788 of the Society of the Friends of the Blacks, invited Jefferson to become a member, he declined. It would be incompatible, he said, with his official position. If Lafayette was ever disappointed in Jefferson, it was with Jefferson’s refusal to act on his professed anti-slavery views, as well as his belief that Blacks were innately less intelligent than whites. Sometimes Jefferson leaned a little one way on this point; sometimes, the other.

The idea that emancipated Blacks could become capable, competent, and self-supporting free laborers seemed to him problematic but possible. In fall 1788, he had received a request from Edward Bancroft, an American doctor, scientist, and patriotic pamphleteer living in London, for information about an experiment by an antislavery planter in Virginia who had liberated his slaves and employed them as paid labor. Bancroft had told his London abolitionist circle that Jefferson had mentioned this incident when they were dinner guests of a mutual friend in 1785. Jefferson could not recall the occasion, but the subject was of interest to him. Bancroft had served as Franklin’s assistant during the peace-treaty negotiations in Paris in 1783. A double agent, he had been spying for the American colonies in London and Paris while also serving the British, though apparently of little consequential help to either side.

Jefferson responded early in 1789 that “as far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made, to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children.” To get them to work, they needed to be watched and even whipped. It was not the fault of the slaves, he said, for “a man’s moral sense must be unusually strong, if slavery does not make him a thief. He who is permitted by law to have no property of his own, can with difficulty conceive that property is founded in anything but force. These slaves chose to steal from their neighbors rather than work . . . and in most instances were reduced to slavery again.” Time, education, and proper modeling might, however, make slaves into morally responsible and productive free laborers. Maybe, or maybe not, Jefferson thought. “I am decided on my final return to America to try this one. I shall endeavor to import as many Germans as I have grown slaves. I will settle them and my slaves, on farms of 50 acres each, intermingled, and place all on the footing of the metayers [tenant farmers] of Europe,” which meant they were not to own the property they farmed. “Their children shall be brought up, as others are, in habits of property and foresight, and I have no doubt but that they will be good citizens [as] some of their fathers will be so: others I suppose will need government . . . to oblige them to labor as the laboring poor of Europe do, and to apply to their comfortable subsistence the produce of their labor, retaining such a moderate portion of it as may be a just equivalent for the use of the lands they labor [on].” Despite his intention to try the experiment, he never did, and his plan did not envision ownership, only tenancy. If the plan had been tried and been successful, Jefferson would still have been the legal possessor of the land.

Even if Jefferson felt discomfort when among his Paris associates about the conflict between his opinions and his ownership of slaves, his hypocrisy probably was disregarded. It may never have come up; it may have been tactfully avoided. For them, the reality of Jefferson as slaveholder apparently had much less presence than his moral opposition to the institution. None of his French friends owned slaves, a legal impossibility, which differentiated him from abolitionists like Brissot, Richard Price, Edward Bancroft, and the most distinguished intellectual whom Jefferson conversed with in Paris, the Marquis de Condorcet. Well known for his brilliance as a mathematician and social scientist, Condorcet may have influenced Jefferson’s arithmetic in claiming that the length of a generation was nineteen years in his argument that each new generation should not be responsible for the debts of the previous one.

Jefferson read Condorcet’s denunciation of slavery in Reflections on the Slavery of Negroes, a powerfully eloquent screed, two copies of which Jefferson bought in 1788. He decided to translate it, a contribution to the effort to persuade the next generation of Americans to do what his generation could not. In late 1788, he translated the opening passages. There’s no evidence that he showed them to Condorcet or anyone else, and it probably was not his intention to have his name affixed as translator. He did not explain why he got no further.

Did Jefferson believe Condorcet’s claim that Nature had endowed Blacks “with the same genius, the same judgment, the same virtues as the Whites?” As he translated from French to English, were Jefferson’s convictions as well as his pen committed to what the words explicitly claimed? The translation could have been exploration or conclusion, or both. Even if he agreed with Condorcet, the gap be- tween principle and practice remained, between the continuation of his life as the benevolent slaveholder he thought himself to be and the moralistic philosopher for whom in the abstract slavery was a moral evil.

When Jefferson arrived at Monticello in December 1789, the welcome he received from his slaves must have seemed to him entirely compatible with the necessities of life and his sense of what he deserved. For him, slavery remained an essential reality of his time and place. Life as he had known it and as he expected it to be for some time did not admit of an alteration in its psychological and economic structure. The land that he returned to possessed him, and he possessed it. And his slaves, whatever his relationships with them, were inseparable from the land. Because it was inconceivable that he could work the land himself or pay people to do so, he believed it would be of little use to him without slaves, and the land and what he built on it were inseparable from the fundamental values he also deeply held—family, friends, education, knowledge, patrimony, and patriotism.

Adapted from Kaplan’s new book His Masterly Pen: A Biography of Jefferson the Writer


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Dox47
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28 Nov 2022, 7:09 pm

Yeah, TJ was a bit of a hypocrite on the whole slavery thing, which is something I've honestly come to understand a bit better as I age and lose my zeal for moral and intellectual purity.


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cyberdad
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29 Nov 2022, 12:36 am

ASPartOfMe wrote:
his sense of what he deserved. For him, slavery remained an essential reality of his time and place. Life as he had known it and as he expected it to be for some time did not admit of an alteration in its psychological and economic structure. The land that he returned to possessed him, and he possessed it. And his slaves, whatever his relationships with them, were inseparable from the land. Because it was inconceivable that he could work the land himself or pay people to do so, he believed it would be of little use to him without slaves, and the land and what he built on it were inseparable from the fundamental values he also deeply held—family, friends, education, knowledge, patrimony, and patriotism.


In my view this is an extremely generous interpretation of Jefferson's actual beliefs. Washington, Madison and Jefferson were all acutely aware of the psychological and physical anguish they subjected their slaves to as the colonies they represented were subject to similar struggles against oppression from the British crown. The idea they were somehow oblivious that slavery was evil goes against the very beliefs they espoused and breached their christian values, especially given the anti-slavery literature emanating from Britain itself and all three (especially Jefferson) were well read/versed in these issues.

Jefferson, his father and his brother's treatment of female slaves needs no elaboration. At best he was simply a cold/callous individual with no personal integrity or sense of empathy for his fellow humans who he happily exploited in mind, body and soul. At worst he was no different to most slave owners who had a tendency to express sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies.



NobodyKnows
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30 Nov 2022, 12:05 am

Jefferson wasn't half as hypocritical as Hamilton, who pretended to be an abolitionist but owed the entirety his wealth to marriage into a cynical family of slave-holders. Hamilton took part in managing their plantations, personally signing orders to buy and sell human beings. And while he did eventually support a small number of abolitionist laws (which you can count on one hand), every one of those laws included a decades-long 'grace period' that shielded him from ever having to personally free a single slave.



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30 Nov 2022, 12:42 am

It's not hard to imagine. We wear shoes/clothes, eat fruit/vegetables, drink coffee and tea and use tech with components that all rely on slave labour.

The mindset of Washington or Jefferson is no different to the CEOs of Adidas or Nike except Washington and Jefferson personally abused their slaves.

Companies like H&M clothing market themselves as ethical and responsible global clothing brand but the reality is that if they paid their factory workers more than subsistence wages they would not be able to compete.



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30 Nov 2022, 2:18 pm

cyberdad wrote:
It's not hard to imagine. We wear shoes/clothes, eat fruit/vegetables, drink coffee and tea and use tech with components that all rely on slave labour.


Yeah, society as a whole is cold/callous. And senseless too, as a lot of electronic components made with coerced labor could be easily made without it.



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30 Nov 2022, 4:10 pm

NobodyKnows wrote:
a lot of electronic components made with coerced labor could be easily made without it.


One of the problems when the means of production is located in a developing country with limited labour laws/union protection then it's impossible to demand anyway. The multinationals essentially allow for exploitation because switching to ethical means of production/cultivation or mining means the cost is too high and the company simply can't compete anymore,

One good example is tea production in Sri Lanka. The tea pluckers traditionally were drawn from slave labour under the British who drew people from India experiencing famine. The pluckers lived on meagre rations enough to survive on the plantation but no access to education or medical assistance etc. When Sri Lanka became independent the newly nationalised plantations continued to exploit the pluckers and the government sneakily claimed they were "stateless" so were not subject to the same rights as citizens. The result is that the tea plucker community continue to this day to be second class citizens and their labour is almost free. Some companies now claim their production methods are "ethical" but this has been demonstrated to be untrue. Many of us need to think of these people as we sip our chamomile tea.



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01 Dec 2022, 1:07 pm

cyberdad wrote:
NobodyKnows wrote:
a lot of electronic components made with coerced labor could be easily made without it.
switching to ethical means of production/cultivation or mining means the cost is too high and the company simply can't compete anymore


I can't speak for tea harvesting, but in the case of electronics assembly there are often economical ways of automating it. For example, surface-mount components are soldered all at once in an oven rather than one-by-one with an iron. And inductors can be made by sintering a bare copper coil into the ferrite rather than winding magnet wire over a separate core (which is often still done by hand, although it's gotten a lot more automated).



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01 Dec 2022, 6:25 pm

NobodyKnows wrote:
I can't speak for tea harvesting, but in the case of electronics assembly there are often economical ways of automating it. For example, surface-mount components are soldered all at once in an oven rather than one-by-one with an iron. And inductors can be made by sintering a bare copper coil into the ferrite rather than winding magnet wire over a separate core (which is often still done by hand, although it's gotten a lot more automated).


Automation doesn't stop the exploitation of people who mine the minerals that become components in chips/boards or processors. Small children sent into tunnels that cave in and children breathing in excessive amounts of pollution into their little lungs all so some geek can get the latest iphone and show off to his fellow geeks in Starbucks while drinking coffee harvested by slaves in Africa wearing Jordans stitched together by slaves in sweatshops in Asia.



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03 Dec 2022, 9:42 pm

cyberdad wrote:
Small children sent into tunnels that cave in and children breathing in excessive amounts of pollution into their little lungs...

Correct, although open pit mining can be automated quite a bit:

Image


Quote:
all so some geek can get the latest iphone and show off to his fellow geeks in Starbucks while drinking coffee harvested by slaves in Africa wearing Jordans stitched together by slaves in sweatshops in Asia.

I don't know many geeks who flaunt their iPhones. HTCs with mechanical keyboards were popular in the Bay Area until they stopped making them. I used my Palm Pilot until the screen died, and a flip phone until last year.



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03 Dec 2022, 9:47 pm

NobodyKnows wrote:
I don't know many geeks who flaunt their iPhones. HTCs with mechanical keyboards were popular in the Bay Area until they stopped making them. I used my Palm Pilot until the screen died, and a flip phone until last year.


I mean NT geeks low-key flex to their fellow geeks. Everyone knows that.



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03 Dec 2022, 9:51 pm

NobodyKnows wrote:
cyberdad wrote:
Small children sent into tunnels that cave in and children breathing in excessive amounts of pollution into their little lungs...

Correct, although open pit mining can be automated quite a bit:

Image



You do realise that large scale extraction equipment can't be deployed in every developing country right? Who pays for it?

The cost of purchasing extracted minerals from child miners like Cobalt is way cheaper than investing in shipping transporting and maintaining hugely expensive large scale equipment. If it wasn't they would already be doing it.



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03 Dec 2022, 10:20 pm

Yes the USA still exploits slavery, we just do it away from our own country so that nobody really has to think about it.

That's kinda why as a southerner I always feel like the rest of the country who look down on us for having had slaves during the American Civil War are hypocrites, given the fact that they like all Americans benefit from modern day slave labor.

Not excusing what the south has done, I'm just saying it's extremely hypocritical...



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04 Dec 2022, 12:37 am

DeathFlowerKing wrote:
Yes the USA still exploits slavery, we just do it away from our own country so that nobody really has to think about it.

That's kinda why as a southerner I always feel like the rest of the country who look down on us for having had slaves during the American Civil War are hypocrites, given the fact that they like all Americans benefit from modern day slave labor.

Not excusing what the south has done, I'm just saying it's extremely hypocritical...


The south is hardly a slave economy anymore but the legacy is more raw in the memories of black southerners.



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04 Dec 2022, 1:09 am

cyberdad wrote:
DeathFlowerKing wrote:
Yes the USA still exploits slavery, we just do it away from our own country so that nobody really has to think about it.

That's kinda why as a southerner I always feel like the rest of the country who look down on us for having had slaves during the American Civil War are hypocrites, given the fact that they like all Americans benefit from modern day slave labor.

Not excusing what the south has done, I'm just saying it's extremely hypocritical...


The south is hardly a slave economy anymore but the legacy is more raw in the memories of black southerners.


I don't think it's just black southerners, black people all across the US are not exactly trusting of white people and for good reason. Many of them don't live under the delusion that the northern states were non-racist compared to the deep south.

And like I said, the legacy of slavery is still alive and well with the US when it comes to the way we exploit people in other countries.



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04 Dec 2022, 4:18 am

DeathFlowerKing wrote:
cyberdad wrote:
DeathFlowerKing wrote:
Yes the USA still exploits slavery, we just do it away from our own country so that nobody really has to think about it.

That's kinda why as a southerner I always feel like the rest of the country who look down on us for having had slaves during the American Civil War are hypocrites, given the fact that they like all Americans benefit from modern day slave labor.

Not excusing what the south has done, I'm just saying it's extremely hypocritical...


The south is hardly a slave economy anymore but the legacy is more raw in the memories of black southerners.


I don't think it's just black southerners, black people all across the US are not exactly trusting of white people and for good reason. Many of them don't live under the delusion that the northern states were non-racist compared to the deep south.

And like I said, the legacy of slavery is still alive and well with the US when it comes to the way we exploit people in other countries.


The legacy is that segregation is still alive and well in both the north and south. I was shocked to find the most segregated city in the US is Chicago. I used to think it was a progressive and dynamic place.