The Trouble With Thomas Jefferson

The eloquent Founder's original sin

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 800 pages, $35

In 1775 the English essayist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson wrote a spirited political pamphlet titled Taxation No Tyranny. His subject was the loud and increasingly aggressive rhetoric coming from the American colonies, where criticism of British economic policy was giving way to calls for popular revolution. “How is it,” Johnson retorted, “that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”

It’s still a good question. Perhaps no one illustrates the paradox better than Thomas Jefferson. The celebrated author of the Declaration of Independence, which famously declares that “all men are created equal” and are born with the inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Jefferson was also a slaveholder, a man whose livelihood was rooted in the subjugation of hundreds of human beings, including members of his wife’s family and his own.

At the center of Jefferson’s tangled, frequently horrifying web of blood and bondage were two women: Elizabeth Hemings and her daughter Sarah, better known as Sally. Elizabeth, the daughter of an African slave and an English sea captain, was the slave mistress of a Virginia slave owner and broker named John Wayles. Sally Hemings was the youngest of their six children. Wayles also had children from his three marriages, including a daughter named Martha. Sally Hemings, in other words, was Martha Wayles’ half-sister. At her father’s death in 1773, Martha inherited his human property, including Elizabeth and Sally Hemings. In 1772 Martha married Thomas Jefferson. Thus the Hemingses came to Monticello.

In 1782 Martha died from complications after giving birth to her sixth child with Jefferson. Among those with him at her deathbed were Elizabeth and Sally Hemings, who then was 9 years old. Edmund Bacon, one of Jefferson’s overseers at Monticello, reported that as Martha lay dying she asked her husband not to remarry. “Holding her hand, Mr. Jefferson promised her solemnly that he would never marry again,” Bacon recalled. “And he never did.”

That doesn’t mean Jefferson became celibate. In 1789, while serving as U.S. envoy in Paris, he almost certainly began a four-decade-long relationship with his late wife’s half-sister. (In addition to the oral testimony of numerous Hemings family members, the evidence for their relationship includes DNA tests conducted in 1998 establishing that a Jefferson family male fathered Sally Hemings’ son Eston.) At this point Sally Hemings was 16.

It was an affair the historian Edmund S. Morgan has called a “monogamous spousal relationship.” In her extraordinary new book The Hemingses of Monticello, Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of history at Rutgers University and a professor of law at New York Law School, uses a more specific term: concubine, which Virginia law defined at the time as a woman living with a man who was not her husband. If Sally Hemings were white, we might describe her relationship with Jefferson as a common-law marriage. But as Gordon-Reed reminds us, “Any black woman who lived with a white man could only have been his concubine. It was legally impossible to be anything else.”

This relationship apparently lasted until Jefferson’s death in 1826, by which time Hemings had given birth to seven of his children, four of whom survived into adulthood. In his will, Jefferson formally emancipated two of them, James Madison Hemings and Thomas Eston Hemings. The other two, William Beverly Hemings and Harriet Hemings, simply left Monticello on their own in the early 1820s to live—“pass”—as white. (All three males, it’s worth noting, were named after men Jefferson knew or admired, a common practice among Virginia’s planter elites.) Eight years after Jefferson’s death, his daughter Martha Randolph quietly freed Sally Hemings, who was then 53 years old. Why didn’t Jefferson emancipate her too? “Formally freeing Hemings,” Gordon-Reed observes, “while also emancipating two people obviously young enough to be their children, would have told the story of his life over the past thirty-eight years quite well.”

Among the many achievements of Gordon-Reed’s compelling, if slightly repetitive, book is her vivid illumination of these previously hidden lives. She persuasively argues that Hemings exacted a promise from Jefferson that proved no less momentous than the one he had granted his dying wife. In essence, 16-year-old Hemings, who was pregnant with Jefferson’s child and working as his domestic “servant” in Paris, chose to return to America with him, rather than remain in France, where she could have formally received her freedom. (By law any slave that set foot on French soil was automatically free.) She did so because Jefferson promised to emancipate her children when they became adults—a promise he kept. In exchange, she lived as his concubine. “Like other enslaved people when the all too rare chance presented itself,” Gordon-Reed writes, “Hemings seized her moment and used the knowledge of her rights to make a decision based upon what she thought was best for her as a woman, family member, and a potential mother in her specific circumstances.”

Jefferson apparently cared for Sally Hemings and their children, and he clearly treated members of her family (some of who were also his deceased wife’s family) with much consideration. Elizabeth Hemings, for instance, became something of a revered matriarch. Her sons Robert and James (brothers to Sally Hemings and Martha Jefferson) received instruction in the skilled trades of barbering and cooking, respectively.

Both were permitted to work for private wages, and both enjoyed relative freedom of movement outside of Monticello—so long as they came running at their master’s command, of course. “Despite their status on the law books,” Gordon-Reed writes, “Jefferson treated them, to a degree, as if they were lower-class white males.” Eventually, Jefferson freed them both.

But let’s not draw too rosy a picture. As part of the marriage settlement for his sister Anna, Jefferson handed over the slave Nancy Hemings (another of Elizabeth Hemings’ offspring, though not by John Wayles) and her two children. When Anna’s husband decided to sell these three slaves, Nancy Hemings implored Jefferson to buy them back so they could remain together as a family. Jefferson bought Nancy, an expert weaver, and her young daughter, but refused to buy her son. The family was split apart. “No matter how ‘close’ the Hemingses were to Jefferson, no matter that he viewed some of them in a different light and did not subject them to certain hardships,” Gordon-Reed writes, “their family remained a commodity that could be sold or exchanged at his will.”

Which brings us back to Samuel Johnson and his quip about slaveholders yelping for liberty. Does the fact that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves—probably including his own children—negate the wonderful things he wrote about inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence? To put it another way, why should anyone listen to what Master Jefferson (or other slaveholding Founders) had to say about liberty and equality?

It’s important to remember that the idea of inalienable rights didn’t start or stop in the year 1776. The historian Gordon S. Wood, in his superb 1991 book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, argues that “to focus, as we are apt to do, on what the Revolution did not accomplish—highlighting and lamenting its failure to abolish slavery and change fundamentally the lot of women—is to miss the great significance of what it did accomplish.” In Wood’s view, by destroying monarchical rule and replacing it with republicanism, the American revolutionaries “made possible the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements of the nineteenth century and in fact all our current egalitarian thinking.” They upended “their societies as well as their governments…only they did not know—they could scarcely have imagined—how much of their society they would change.”

As evidence, consider two very different figures whose lives intersected with slavery in the 19th century: the abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the pro-slavery politician John C. Calhoun. An escaped slave and self-taught author and orator, Douglass understood better than most just how potent the Declaration’s promise of inalienable rights could be. “Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body?” Douglass would demand of his mostly white audiences. “There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.”

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  • ||

    "despicable actions"

    I the modern US maybe. In his place I doubt many of us (black, white, red, whatever) would have acted in a manner less despicable, probably much worse.

    The quite "...standing on the shoulders of giants..." applies to ethics as well as physics.

  • ||

    quote

  • ||

    "I the modern US maybe. In his place I doubt many of us (black, white, red, whatever) would have acted in a manner less despicable, probably much worse."

    Plausible deniability doesn't make an act any less despicable. Additionally, evidence that Jefferson was fully aware of the evils of slavery make his actions that much less forgivable.

  • Elemenope||

    Mike beat me to it. Moral standards of the time not only were sliding away from justifications of slavery, but also at the very least forbade adultery and rape (and this is, even charitably, both).

    So, no excuse.

  • ed||

    I wonder how we'll be judged 200 years hence?

  • ||

    Plausible deniability?

    I really don't know how that relates to what I wrote.

    In the culture he lived in his actions don't seem that horrific. In fact he seems to have improved the plight of those under his power. We don't know all of the facts behind why he choose the way he did. Anyway, I think it's kind of slimy to adopt a better than thou attitude without being tested under similar cultural constraints.

  • ||

    "I wonder how we'll be judged 200 years hence?"

    You should probably try not to do evil things.

  • ||

    "...but also at the very least forbade adultery and rape."

    I must have missed that in the article. who did Jefferson rape?

  • Boston||

    I'll give you rape. but adultery? And forbiding adultery is a good thing?

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    I liked Ellis' "American Sphinx" on Jefferson a lot, though in the end, its view of the man is precisely wrong and Damon Root's is precisely right. Ellis was very respectful of Jefferson the man, but disdained his high-minded words as something up to which Jefferson couldn't live. (And perhaps by extension something up to which none of us could live.)

    The ideals are good. The man was flawed. But Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence, once written, virtually had to have the effect that Jefferson the man was too weak (or corrupt or whatever) to fight for.

  • ||

    "In the culture he lived in his actions don't seem that horrific. In fact he seems to have improved the plight of those under his power. We don't know all of the facts behind why he choose the way he did. Anyway, I think it's kind of slimy to adopt a better than thou attitude without being tested under similar cultural constraints."

    Moral relativism FTW?

    Anyway, judging someone's actions by "community standards" or "cultural constraints" are fine when dealing with non-coercive actions, but violence is violence no matter what your attitude is.

  • ||

    Mr Root should read Dumas Malone's definitive biography of Thomas Jefferson before taking such a defamatory stance.

    Jefferson is said to have "doted" on his servants, and never referred to them as his slaves. He did not believe in the concept of slavery, but it was a part of Virginia society at the time.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    Yeah, I'm not of the view that all sex under questionable circumstances is rape, but I can't see how sex with a slave can be rightly regarded as anything but. In the end, slavery is a worse crime and such an overwhelming offense that pointing out the rape may be redundant, but if your sexual partner is required to submit, it's rape, whether there's a struggle or not.

  • ||

    "Jefferson is said to have "doted" on his servants, and never referred to them as his slaves. He did not believe in the concept of slavery, but it was a part of Virginia society at the time."

    It certainly wasn't mandatory.

  • ||

    "I wonder how we'll be judged 200 years hence?"

    As apathetic idiots who had much knowledge avaliable for study, and yet still voted in masses for policies that limited liberty for certain individuals while also believing that race was an important milestone that had to be acheived despite the bad economic ideas that the candidate espoused.

    /I predict that the next Obama will be a gay or a feminist (not palin type)
    //200 years from now, society will be more libertarian and both parties will have ajusted.
    ///200 years ago, society wasn't so libertarian only economic policy was.

  • ed||

    You should probably try not to do evil things.

    Humanity strives to improve itself over time. No one would argue that Jefferson's time was not superior to that of his predecessors, as ours is superior to his. That doesn't mean we're perfect, or have finished evolving. It's a mistake to judge Jefferson by the mores of today.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    "Jefferson is said to have "doted" on his servants, and never referred to them as his slaves. He did not believe in the concept of slavery, but it was a part of Virginia society at the time."

    It certainly wasn't mandatory.



    And Washington freed all of his slaves on his death. Certainly this is not as much as he should have done, and not enough to excuse the owning of human beings in the first place, but better than Jefferson ever managed. Treating slaves well certainly does not excuse owning them.

  • Boston||

    I was of the idea that Jeff wanted to free his slaves, but his debt rendered him unable* to do so.

    *In his mind that is. Also not an excuse.

  • ||

    "200 years ago, society wasn't so libertarian only economic policy was."

    There's also evidence economic policy wasn't as libertarian as we thought it was.

    Libertarians, as a group, need to stop looking to the past for guidance. We certainly need to stop with this nonsensical collectivist Founders worship.

    Damon's right. The ideas they espoused were great, and those ideas do not cease to be great simply because the founders failed to live up to them. This does demonstrate, however, that we need to be able to judge an independent of the person espousing it. And we especially need to stop making excuses for them.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    Boston, I think that's right, at least according to what I've read.

    Again, while he certainly wasn't as bad as some at the time were, there's really no excusing what he did. If he'd come into slaves by birth or marriage and had freed them all as soon as he could, I would think he had done all he could. No one should be blamed for what their parents did, but if they continue, it is their own fault.

  • ||

    "Humanity strives to improve itself over time. No one would argue that Jefferson's time was not superior to that of his predecessors, as ours is superior to his. That doesn't mean we're perfect, or have finished evolving. It's a mistake to judge Jefferson by the mores of today."

    I'm not judging Jefferson as a man, per se, but I will continue to judge his actions. How else can society continue to improve itself except by recognizing the mistakes of the past?

  • Mad Max||

    "I wonder how we'll be judged 200 years hence?"

    Oh, please - our descendants (if we have any) will be grateful to have had such enlightened ancestors. To be sure, we profess a constitutional right to kill our own children in the womb, but no doubt our descendants will take into consideration that abortion was considered acceptable under the morality of our time. They may not understand all our rationalizations - euphemisms like "choice" and "equality" will seem to them to reflect underlying guilty feelings and unwillingness to confront reality, just as an earlier generation's references to "domestic institutions" and "persons held to service" to describe slavery seems to us to betoken a guilty conscience. Almost as if we had to use euphemism to conceal the reality beneath.

    But that's a digression. Our decsendants will not judge us harshly at all - they will know that we were just conditioned by our culture, so really, who's to say we were wrong?

  • ||

    "Moral relativism FTW?"

    WTF? I never said I thought slavery was OK, or that he was a good person or that it was ethical back then regardless of what the majority thought.

    But I do know it's (I don't know the correct work- shitty) to make personal comments about someone who commits unethical acts which were at the time not illegal and in many cases acceptable.

    You can certainly criticize the actions but we don't have enough info to make intelligent comments about his character. ESPECIALLY when we're the product of over a century of civil rights movements. That's much of my point- temper your criticism with the knowledge that you don't know that you would have acted any better.

  • Ashley||

    Some think Paine wrote the first draft of the Declaration. Seeing the parts excised (passages against slavery and condemning England) -- and some of the strange historical points around it -- lend strong credibility to the idea.

  • ed||

    Our decsendants will not judge us harshly at all

    You have no way of knowing that. They may very well damn us for betraying everything that America once stood for. If the current economic debate is any indication, we're well on our way to deserving that damnation.

  • Elemenope||

    And Washington freed all of his slaves on his death.

    Actually, he freed all of his slaves by will upon his *wife's* death, who outlived him. Which made things a little tense for dear old Martha in her final years. As a result, she took it upon herself to free most of them a little while after he died.

  • BDB||

    I like how Mad Max hijacked this into an abortion thread.

  • ||

    To pretend that "that's just how it was back then" is a very weak argument. Many, many people (including many of the Founders, such as Adams), found the institution of slavery despicable. Most likely, Jefferson saw his slaves as property (no matter how well he treated them) and, since he pretty much spent his entire fortune on dalliances, felt the need to maintain as much "property" as he could.

    As an intellectual, he had many great ideas, but considering even his high-minded support of the French Revolution, he was certainly also a very flawed man as well.

  • ||

    I read in the biography, Jefferson: A Life, in 1994 that it was likely a nephew of Jefferson that fathered these children. The DNA evidence only indicates a male Jefferson. So maybe that is the case or maybe my memory of what I read 14 years ago isn't very good. I also thought the reason he didn't free his slaves while living had something to do with his debt and the banks.

  • ||

    Jefferson is my favorite president. IM not so HO, you add the positives and negatives of the man and the sum is still greater than any other American politician. Frankin is a darned close second.

    Certainly by modern standards bopping your slave is rape. Even if she wants and initiates it.

  • ||

    Marcvs,

    Were you responding to my post? If so that's not what I said.


    If not my apology.

  • ||

    "(By law any slave that set foot on French soil was automatically free.)"
    And was it 1812 that Britain formally outlawed slaveholding? Nice words - deeds not so much.

  • Elemenope||

    I like how Mad Max hijacked this into an abortion thread.

    He failed. So, no harm done.

    Jefferson is my favorite president. IM not so HO, you add the positives and negatives of the man and the sum is still greater than any other American politician. Frankin is a darned close second.

    Much more fun would be hijacking this thread into a "who's your favorite ________". I have to say, my favorite "guy who happened to become president" has to be Madison, but he wasn't all that stand-outish as prez. One could be a dick, I suppose, and pick W. Henry Harrison (short is good). I guess upon reflection I probably too would have to go with Jefferson as fav president, with Lincoln a close second.

  • Mad Max||

    BDB,

    There was a small sub-thread about "I wonder how we'll be judged 200 years hence?"

    This is relevant to the larger thread because it gives some perspective on our passing judgment on Thomas Jefferson.

    Although my sarcasm wasn't understood by everyone, I was suggesting that there are things about our modern behavior which may not go down well in 200 years' time.

  • ||

    "Much more fun would be hijacking this thread into a "who's your favorite ________". I have to say, my favorite "guy who happened to become president" has to be Madison, but he wasn't all that stand-outish as prez. One could be a dick, I suppose, and pick W. Henry Harrison (short is good). I guess upon reflection I probably too would have to go with Jefferson as fav president, with Lincoln a close second."

    What? Lincoln was one of the worst.

    They were all pretty awful. Grover Cleveland was probably the "least bad," but he was still pretty terrible.

  • LibertyMark||

    Uh oh. Lincoln fight! Everybody clear the room! There's gonna be trouble!

  • Elemenope||

    Lincoln was one of the worst.

    Please. Enlighten me...without resorting to "wahhh, emergency income tax during war; wahhh, suspension of Habeas Corpus during insurrection". Because those are usually the excuses I hear, and they are (for many reasons, given the circumstance under which he was operating) fucking stupid.

  • Elemenope||

    Uh oh. Lincoln fight! Everybody clear the room! There's gonna be trouble!

    LOL. Let's throw down!

  • LibertyMark||

    I hate Lincoln. There. All done.

  • dhex||

    notorious l.i.n.c.o.l.n.

    http://m.assetbar.com/uuadBmM54.gif

  • ||

    "Please. Enlighten me...without resorting to "wahhh, emergency income tax during war; wahhh, suspension of Habeas Corpus during insurrection". Because those are usually the excuses I hear, and they are (for many reasons, given the circumstance under which he was operating) fucking stupid."

    Buh? Without resorting to all the bad things he did, how is he bad? Is that really a fair way to frame this discussion?

    Look, I'm not going to fall back on the nonsensical Misesian Neo-Confederism but suspension of habeus corpus and massive conscription are bad. Very bad. Presidents shouldn't do that.

  • Elemenope||

    I was suggesting that there are things about our modern behavior which may not go down well in 200 years' time.

    I wholeheartedly agree. However, I somehow doubt our (likely genetic engineering-using, cloning, etc.) descendants will pick on "abortion" as the thing to give a shit about.

    I think it will be more likely that they will look back at our state with pity ("ah, the poor dears, they couldn't design their babies and bring them to term artificially"), not judgment. Perhaps some elements of the thing will be incomprehensible to them, and even evoke knee-jerk revulsion ("they used chemically-propelled lead slugs to kill people? That's *fucked up*!"), but the considered judgment will probably be "dark ages, too bad".

  • Elemenope||

    Mike --

    Um. Huh. I don't know how to tell you this, but if you aren't going to rely on Neo-Confederism, then THERE WAS A CIVIL WAR ON! Needed to be fought. Conscription: no choice. Taxes: no choice. Habeas Suspension: (perhaps) no choice.

    And I said to avoid those two canards (Habeas, and Income Tax), not ignore what bad he had done besides them. I'm looking for a fresh argument. Conscription was a worthy effort, if unfortunately dumb on the account of THERE WAS A CIVIL WAR ON!

  • PC||

    Hmmm Reason regulars arguing over Lincoln. There is only one way to solve this...killing a lot of poor people and militarily occupying their family's towns.

  • Kolohe||

    Jefferson's fundemnental hyprocrisy wasn't the slaveholding thing. His fundemental hyprocrisies were the Louisiana Purchase and the Barbary Pirate actions, both of which lead to the country to a Hamiltonian destiny vice Jeffersonian one, and for which I, the nation, and humanity are grateful (I acknowledge that the Cherokee, Sioux, et al don't share this sentiment).

  • ||

    Please. Enlighten me...without resorting to "wahhh, emergency income tax during war; wahhh, suspension of Habeas Corpus during insurrection". Because those are usually the excuses I hear, and they are (for many reasons, given the circumstance under which he was operating) fucking stupid.

    Which is why you defend bad Bush policy - because he can generate a plausible excuse?

    el, I go to Fark for those kinds of my-opponents-are-crybabies arguments. At least there they can mask the shallowness of the argument with the teenage crying girl pic visual aid.

  • Elemenope||

    Which is why you defend bad Bush policy - because he can generate a plausible excuse?

    You're comparing apples and bricks, and one hopes you know it.

    Further, there's a helluva difference between "plausible excuse" and "no fucking choice".

  • ||

    "Um. Huh. I don't know how to tell you this, but if you aren't going to rely on Neo-Confederism, then THERE WAS A CIVIL WAR ON! Needed to be fought. Conscription: no choice. Taxes: no choice. Habeas Suspension: (perhaps) no choice."

    Oy. Okay. I really don't want to have to get into this argument again.

    Suffice it to say, yes, I am aware there was a war going on. I do not agree that it needed to be fought, but that does not mean that I at all sympathize with the Confederacy. They were probably a worse government domestically than the Union, even ignoring their protection of slavers. That said, the way to fight against evil is not to destroy city after city, killing countless innocent people with conscripted soldiers.

    That said, I said he was one of the worst, but I don't buy the argument that he was the worst. I'm not sure on the numbers, but Johnson and Nixon probably killed more people. This is why I don't like the "who was the least awful president" argument.

  • ||

    Jefferson's influence on the Bill of Rights kept many tens of millions from slavery than he ever enslaved himself.

    I'd say he gets a pass, just like when J Lo said the N word in that song.

  • Robert Goodman||

    How did Jefferson acquire slaves? Did he enslave them? If he'd never come along, wouldn't they still have been slaves? I fail to see how leaving things as they are is an evil act, else you get into a duty to rescue, to sacrifice one's own interest for others' welfare.

  • Mad Max||

    'I wholeheartedly agree. However, I somehow doubt our (likely genetic engineering-using, cloning, etc.) descendants will pick on "abortion" as the thing to give a shit about.'

    They might not, if they're living in some dystopian heckhole in which human life is even more openly commoditified than today. They may even look back to this era as a golden age.

  • ||

    You're comparing apples and bricks, and one hopes you know it.

    Further, there's a helluva difference between "plausible excuse" and "no fucking choice".


    Wahhh!


  • ||

    "How did Jefferson acquire slaves? Did he enslave them? If he'd never come along, wouldn't they still have been slaves? I fail to see how leaving things as they are is an evil act, else you get into a duty to rescue, to sacrifice one's own interest for others' welfare."

    Okay, let's try a thought experiment. Suppose you are walking down the road one day and see your friend mercilessly strangling a stranger. He says, "Oh, thank god you showed up! My hands were getting tired. Can you take over for me?" You do, strangling the stranger while your friend goes off for a drink of water. He comes back, resumes his strangling, and you walk away.

    Then, when the police come, to arrest you for murder, you say, "How did that man come to be strangled? By me? Certainly not. If I had not come along my friend would simply have continued to strangle him on his own. He was in a state of strangulation when I arrived, I kept him in that state, and he remained in that state when I left. I fail to see how leaving things as they are is an evil act, else you get into a duty to rescue, to sacrifice one's own interest for others' welfare."

    Of course, you had no positive duty to aid the victim of strangulation (though you perhaps had a moral obligation to do so), but you did have a positive duty to refrain from strangling him yourself.

  • kinnath||

    Without Nixon, I would never have heard the phrase "rat-fucking". Life would not be complete without it.

  • ||

    ^^^That was a joke. I disagree with you EL, but unlike SOME PEOPLE (not you) I don't feel compelled to put up ~30 posts in an effort to change your mind or validate my position. I'm cool with you saying I'm wrong, and will now get back to work (unless you post something that requires a response....!)

  • ||

    If I were pregnant and my fetus wanted to have a slave revolt, I suppose there's nothing I could do to stop it. I doubt it would get very far, though. *Muah ha ha*


    It would probably just shrivel up on the bathroom floor, I'd imagine. That right there would right end the glamour of slave revolts!


    The day that fetuses can run away from the plantation, um, gestation, is a good day to compare gestation to slavery.

  • libertarian democrat||

    How did Jefferson acquire slaves? Did he enslave them? If he'd never come along, wouldn't they still have been slaves? I fail to see how leaving things as they are is an evil act, else you get into a duty to rescue, to sacrifice one's own interest for others' welfare.

    Really? You inherit a caged woman to be used for rape that your dad had before you... do you keep raping them since that is leaving things as they are?

  • !||

    So mike, is the victim of strangulation white or black? It makes a difference.

  • libertarian democrat||

    And despite his shortcomings, I am still a big fan of Jefferson for what good he did do. He helped the cause of liberty greatly.

    I judge him less harshly than I would a friend who had slaves now, but keeping them is reprehensible.

  • ||

    "Really? You inherit a caged woman to be used for rape that your dad had before you... do you keep raping them since that is leaving things as they are?"

    Yeah, this is a much simpler way of saying what I was trying to say.

    In retrospect, Goodman's question is so obviously ridiculous that he was probably trolling.

  • ||

    "If I were pregnant and my fetus wanted to have a slave revolt, I suppose there's nothing I could do to stop it. I doubt it would get very far, though. *Muah ha ha*


    It would probably just shrivel up on the bathroom floor, I'd imagine. That right there would right end the glamour of slave revolts!


    The day that fetuses can run away from the plantation, um, gestation, is a good day to compare gestation to slavery."

    Also, if there's any comparison to be made between slavery and gestation, it probably goes the other way around. If anything, the pregnant mother is enslaved by the fetus.

  • Mad Max||

    "The day that fetuses can run away from the plantation, um, gestation, is a good day to compare gestation to slavery."

    Wait, I'm not sure I follow - slavery is bad because slavers are physically capable of running away?

    "If anything, the pregnant mother is enslaved by the fetus."

    I should say enslaved by her rapist or abuser (in the case of rape or abuse) or by herself (if the sex was by consenting adults).

  • Mad Max||

    slaves are physically capable

  • ||

    "I should say enslaved by her rapist or abuser (in the case of rape or abuse) or by herself (if the sex was by consenting adults)."

    Enslaved by herself? That makes no sense. If you own yourself you cannot enslave yourself, anymore than you can murder yourself. Slavery implies a lack of consent. There is no way you can not consent to your own will.

    Clearly, the mother is forced to consent to the presumed will of the fetus. The problem is that the presumed will of the fetus involves utilizing her body in a way that she (presumably, if she is seeking an abortion) does not consent to. If that is not slavery, I don't know what it is. Would you prefer I call it rape?

  • Elemenope||

    That was a joke. I disagree with you EL, but unlike SOME PEOPLE (not you) I don't feel compelled to put up ~30 posts in an effort to change your mind or validate my position. I'm cool with you saying I'm wrong, and will now get back to work (unless you post something that requires a response....!)

    I like disagreements. And, no, it is unlikely we'll be able to move each other on this one.

  • ||

    Wait, I'm not sure I follow - slavery is bad because slavers are physically capable of running away?


    No, I'm saying it's just an inapt comparison, in a creative way.

    Look, I'm not getting into an abortion debate. I just came here to make tasteless jokes. Honest, mister.

  • Elemenope||

    Mike --

    Are you arguing that akrasia is impossible? If I desire to be thin, and I know that cheesecake is bad for me, but I cannot resist the instinct to eat yummy sweet cheesecake, is my will thwarted by the instinctual response or not?

  • kinnath||

    No person in a position of power has ever been flawless, nor will there ever be one.

    I can't say whether Jefferson's flaws were greater or lessor than other great people from history.

    But, Jefferson's declaration is THE driving influence in my modern political philosophy.

  • ||

    "Are you arguing that akrasia is impossible? If I desire to be thin, and I know that cheesecake is bad for me, but I cannot resist the instinct to eat yummy sweet cheesecake, is my will thwarted by the instinctual response or not?"

    I think you're assuming there's some irreconcilable conflict between your desires. I think the situation you describe is not one of incompatible desires, but time preference. You can desire to be thinner, and to continue to eat cheesecake, but your desire to eat cheesecake take precedence in that case.

    In other words, it is possible to act against your "better judgment," but not against your will (unless you are drugged/hypnotized by a third party, in which case you have been enslaved by them)

  • Mad Max||

    "Clearly, the mother is forced to consent to the presumed will of the fetus."

    I agree with you that you have to impute to the fetus some sort of will-to-enslave in order to make the fetus look like a slaveowner. After all, Jefferson made a conscious decision to keep slaves, to sell some of them, and (perhaps) to take one of them as a concubine. These were all willed choices.

    If you're going to compare fetuses to slaveowners, you have to make it look like they (the fetuses) are willing the supposed slavery. After all, the woman's "forced pregnancy" supposedly benefits the fetus, and the fetus is presumed to will those things from which it benefits.

    Let us extend this logic:

    If a woman holds a person in slavery for the purpose of caring for and feeding her one-year-old baby, the baby is presumably *willing* that result, since it's the the baby's advantage. Thus, the baby is willing the slavery.

    If a man embezzles from his boss in order to make money for his child, even though the child doesn't know of the embezzlement and is too young to do anything about it anyway, nevertheless the child is willing the embezzlement because the child benefits from it.

    This is fun! The fetus not only wills the forced pregnancy, but can be treated as a moral agent, to the extent of killing it.

    The actual moral agents who initiated the forced pregnancy - the rapist, abuser, or woman herself, gets lost sight of.

  • wino||

    Anybody who likes D'Yquem can't be all bad.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    LMNOP:

    And Washington freed all of his slaves on his death.

    Actually, he freed all of his slaves by will upon his *wife's* death, who outlived him. Which made things a little tense for dear old Martha in her final years. As a result, she took it upon herself to free most of them a little while after he died.



    I didn't know that. Interesting. History really is like a game of telephone when you're lazy.

  • Elemenope||

    History really is like a game of telephone when you're lazy.

    It really is, isn't it? ;)

  • Elemenope||

    Mike, you can certainly feel bad about eating the cake *while* eating it (guilt being the residue of will thwarted by instinct). Ask anyone on a diet.

  • shecky||

    That slavery was commonly accepted provides historical context. Moral justification, less so.

    Even weaker is the argument that Jeff would have freed his slaves were it not for his debt. But it only builds upon the shaky moral ground of slavery he was already aware of. It's like a thief saying he would give up robbery, except he has a car payment to make.

    Root has it right, I think. The grounding Jeff helped set so early on is a foundation that's allowed us to be so much richer, even if he couldn't quite live up to the ideals he set forth.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    Hijacking thread (everyone else is doing it):

    "BLANK" is really like "BLANK" when you're "BLANK".

  • ||

    Max,

    No, I'm not claiming that any unknowing beneficiary of an action is assumed to consent to that action. That would obviously be absurd.

    What I am saying is that the only logical argument for banning abortion is that the fetus is presumed by the pro-lifers to wish to remain in the mother's body against her will. If we do not presume that this is the will of the fetus, but rather that the fetus doesn't care either way, then there is no ethical claim against abortion, since neither party is being wronged. It becomes merely a case of assisted suicide.

  • ||

    When you compare the founders thought on government to the rest of the world,at their time,they look very good.All were ruled by kings and queens of a sort,serfs still existed in Russia and Asia.Slavery was common in Africa,Asia and the Middle East.France was rule by Bourbon degree.In their times they were truly radical.

  • ||

    "Mike, you can certainly feel bad about eating the cake *while* eating it (guilt being the residue of will thwarted by instinct). Ask anyone on a diet."

    You can feel bad about it, but there's really no case to be made that you have been wronged in any way. And anyway, even if you have, who do you sue? Yourself? Are you forced, then, to make restitution to yourself?

  • ||

    Elemenope-

    Lincoln was the worst, then the 2 Roosevelts, followed by 43.

  • ||

    But I do know it's (I don't know the correct work- shitty) to make personal comments about someone who commits unethical acts which were at the time not illegal and in many cases acceptable.

    So criticism of, for example, Hugo Chavez would be considered--what's the correct word? oh, yeah, shitty.

  • Mad Max||

    "the only logical argument for banning abortion is that the fetus is presumed by the pro-lifers to wish to remain in the mother's body against her will."

    And since I'm not aware of any pro-lifer making that argument, then the entire pro-life case is thereby invalidated, because all the other arguments are so self-evidently illogical that no discussion is even required.

    "the fetus doesn't care either way"

    If the fetus survives the abortion, wait until it grows up and ask him or her whether aborting him/her would have been a good idea. Take a survey and publish the results.

    "merely a case of assisted suicide."

    At what age can a human being (or a pre-human) consent to be killed? How would that consent be manifested? How does a fetus write a suicide note?

  • Elemenope||

    Mike, I agree on all that followed. Obviously you can't make a claim against yourself. My only object was to rebut your presumption that it was impossible to enslave or overthrow or thwart one's own will.

  • Herbert Barger||

    One would think that a responsible reviewer would want to stress "both sides of this controversy", which he didn't. Anyone of us researching a topic would surely consult the search engines for names like, Thomas Jefferson, Herbert Barger, Dr Eugene Foster, the Jefferson Hemings DNA Study, the Scholars Commission Report, etc. YOU try them!

    As assistant to Dr Foster who conducted the DNA Study, may I inform the public that all this MISINFORMATION written by people who have agendas, and they are showing, is an attempt to confuse the public by political correctness and historical revisionism and portray TJ as a father of children that he did not father.

    Nothing proves the rumors but much has come to light about those who try to portray this to the public. The DNA test match could NOT miss....Dr Foster tested a KNOWN carrier of Jefferson DNA as claimed by the Eston family for years. He did not reveal this to Nature as I recommended, but went ahead with a reason that he was trying to prove or disprove the Carr brothers claim that they fathered some of Sally's children. Their DNA did not match any others thus for this ONE Hemings they were "off the hook" but NOT ALL. Madison's descendants REFUSE to DNA test his son.....nothing proves by DNA that Madison and Eston had the same FATHER. Why do they refuse?

  • Dan||

    Is there a more organized forum of discussion on this topic somewhere?

  • ||

    How does a fetus write a suicide note?


    "Dear everyone,

    I just can't bear the prospect of the cold, stark reality of the outside world. The mere thought of it just makes me want to curl up. Over the past few months I've felt so isolated. Some days I get so fed up all I want to do is bang my head against the wall. I feel like I'm always kicking against the pricks. I can no longer just sit here waiting, watching my life go down the tubes. So, farewell.


    signed,

    fetus"

  • ||

    "And since I'm not aware of any pro-lifer making that argument, then the entire pro-life case is thereby invalidated, because all the other arguments are so self-evidently illogical that no discussion is even required."

    They make it implicitly. Killing is murder only if the party being killed doesn't consent. Would you not agree with this?

    "If the fetus survives the abortion, wait until it grows up and ask him or her whether aborting him/her would have been a good idea. Take a survey and publish the results."

    "At what age can a human being (or a pre-human) consent to be killed? How would that consent be manifested? How does a fetus write a suicide note?"

    I agree with both these points. Very few people want to die. If you sneak up on someone in the middle of the night and stab them to death, it is murder, because we assume that they did not consent to this. But that does not mean that someone who asleep is not a moral agent. They are simply incapable of using their agency at the moment, like a young child or a fetus (if you grant that a fetus is a person, which for the sake of argument I am).

    So, either a fetus is a person or it isn't. If it isn't, there is no abortion debate. But if it is a person, then it is also a moral agent, which is using another person (the mother) against her will. Whether or not she originally consented to the agreement is irrelevant.

    Suppose you are a vampire. I let you bite me in order to feed yourself. Unfortunately, you are some sort of new, mutant vampire (bear with me) who, upon feeding on one person, can then only feed upon that same person, or else die. Am I then obligated to allow you to continue to feed off me, to utilize my body as if it were some unowned resource? Of course not.

  • ||

    "Mike, I agree on all that followed. Obviously you can't make a claim against yourself. My only object was to rebut your presumption that it was impossible to enslave or overthrow or thwart one's own will."

    I think the problem here is that we are not working with the same definitions of "enslave" or "will."

  • ||

    Suppose you are a vampire. I let you bite me in order to feed yourself. Unfortunately, you are some sort of new, mutant vampire (bear with me) who, upon feeding on one person, can then only feed upon that same person, or else die. Am I then obligated to allow you to continue to feed off me, to utilize my body as if it were some unowned resource? Of course not.


    It's much more than that. What are the implications of making abortion illegal? Then inevitably the government has a right to sift through women's private medical records. Then come the midnight raids on the houses of women who "suspiciously" miscarried. Because pregnancy is in fact a "medical condition", it must be respected if for no other reason than the right to private medical history and personal privacy. Women's bodies are not the domain of the state.

  • ||

    "It's much more than that. What are the implications of making abortion illegal? Then inevitably the government has a right to sift through women's private medical records. Then come the midnight raids on the houses of women who "suspiciously" miscarried. Because pregnancy is in fact a "medical condition", it must be respected if for no other reason than the right to private medical history and personal privacy. Women's bodies are not the domain of the state."

    Of course, I agree with this. I was simply trying to point out that the basic ethical argument against abortion, even if you grant all the premises the pro-lifers claim, does not stand up to scrutiny.

  • Mad Max||

    "So, either a fetus is a person or it isn't. If it isn't, there is no abortion debate."

    Even if a fetus isn't a person, but only a lifeless mass waiting to come alive (as medieval scientists taught), then there would still be the question whether it should be legal to destroy such a "pre-human." The law traditionally said it should be *illegal,* even when it wasn't known whether a particular fetus was alive at the time of destruction.

    Modern scientific evidence, showing that a fetus is a living person from the time of conceptions, only strengthens the case against legal abortion. Even if we went back to medieval concepts of fetal development, that wouldn't automatically justify destroying what the Supreme Court calls "potential life."

    "Killing is murder only if the party being killed doesn't consent. Would you not agree with this?"

    No, I don't agree. Consent of the victim has traditionally *never* turned a murder into a legal homicide. That's why the advocates of assisted suicide want to *change* the law.

    And not even the advocates of legalized assisted suicide would apply their reform to minors, let alone fetuses. Their schemes allow a killing to be legal only if (a) the victim is an adult, perhaps even an adult with chronic illness, and (b) the victim has gone through certain formalities in order to make his/her consent unambiguous. Since there is no way a child, baby or fetus would allowed to consent to suicide under these reforms, consent is *still* not a defense in a fetus' case.

    In any case, the fetus is not in a position to grant or withhold consent. Even if we lowered all the age-of-consent laws so that people can consent to suicide (and, by extension, to sex, tatoos, alcohol, etc.) as soon as they're conceived, there still remains the problem of the fetus formulating the wish to die, get a tatoo, etc. and having formed that wish, communicating its consent.

  • Mad Max||

    'Then come the midnight raids on the houses of women who "suspiciously" miscarried.'

    What if a mother (or father) reports that her 1-year-old died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? Remember, the "syndrome" which (at least in some cases) turned out to be plain old murder? Does that in itself justify midnight raids? If not, why would abortion do so?

    "Then inevitably the government has a right to sift through women's private medical records."

    With a proper warrant, yes, just like with a proper warrant, police can check a suspected robber's medical records to see if his injuries coincide with the injuries inflicted by the shop clerk when he defended his store against the robber.

  • ||

    Max,

    I think you're misreading my argument. I never claimed that a fetus consented to be killed. In fact, I think I made that pretty clear.

    If a fetus is not a human, but rather a "pre-human," and is still entitled to legal rights, then we have a serious problem. Sperm and unfertilized eggs are also "pre-humans." So is a hamburger. We get into a serious reducto ad absurdum here.

    "No, I don't agree. Consent of the victim has traditionally *never* turned a murder into a legal homicide. That's why the advocates of assisted suicide want to *change* the law."

    This is true, but it is an is/ought fallacy. The law does not recognize a person's right to kill himself, but, if we accept that a human is a self-owner it should.

  • Mad Max||

    What about the poor robbery suspect's medical privacy? What about the sanctity of *his* medical records? We can violate that sanctity (with procedural safeguards) because we actually regard robbery as a crime worth punishing.

  • ||

    It's a mistake to judge Jefferson by the mores of today.

    Which is why we judge him by the mores he claimed to value most. It yields the same result, while shutting down the "changing times" argument.

    but no doubt our descendants will take into consideration that abortion was considered acceptable under the morality of our time.

    Or they'll consider the existence of people who genuinely think that a cluster of cells that has been dividing for a week is morally and legally equivalent to a fully developed and autonomous person to be an unfortunate historical artifact on par with the people in the Middle Ages who beleived that black magic was possible. This presumptuous projection of our prejudices into the future while assuming that our strain of thinking will obviously be the one that's victorious in the long run is fun! Let's never stop.

  • Dan||

    'Is there a more organized forum of discussion on this topic somewhere?'

    I guess not. :(

  • Mad Max||

    Mike,

    As I understand it, your case is this:

    (a) Abortion is either "assisted suicide," because the fetus "doesn't care either way," and since assisted suicide should be legal, abortion should be as well, OR

    (b) The fetus is imposing its will on the mother, thus acting like a slaveowner, and the mother can therefore kill it. (like a slave killing his master)

    You keep referring to the will of the fetus, and its status as a moral agent. Here's an example:

    "if it is a person, then it is also a moral agent, which is using another person (the mother) against her will."

    I understand that the will and moral agency are legal fictions, but necessary fictions (in your view) if the abortion is not to be classified as a (permissible) "assisted suicide."

    If I've missed something in your argument, I'm sorry, I'm always willing to be enlightened.

  • Craig||

    Some think Paine wrote the first draft of the Declaration. Seeing the parts excised (passages against slavery and condemning England) -- and some of the strange historical points around it -- lend strong credibility to the idea.

    Except that there is a well documented history of Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin being assigned to a committee to draft the Declaration, with Adams and Franklin pushing most of the work off on Jefferson, who was a better writer.

    Some think the moon is made of cheese, but the fact that it has a pale white color and craters doesn't lend any credibility to the idea.

  • CLS||

    I have no problems with discussing Jefferson's relationship and how our culture dealt with slavery at that time. Facts are facts after all. But I do have problems with inaccuracy. The author says: "If Sally Hemmings were white, we might describe her relationship with Jefferson as a common-law marriage." What do we mean by "white" in this case? How white is white? Is he using some legal definition or a common sense one (they are rarely the same).

    Consider that we know Sally's father was white. At a minimum that would make her half-white at the very least. But that would only be true if her mother was completely black. In fact her mother had a white father as well. That would mean Sally was 3/4ths white and 1/4th black. Yet in the PC world of discussing race 1/4th black means black. Oddly the old segregationist laws had similar definitions where a small amount of "black blood" is considered dominant.

    The article says that two of Jefferson's children with Hemmings left "in the early 1820s to live--'pass'--as white." Of course, they would have been 7/8th white and could "pass" easily. But to call that "passing" again implies that even a shred of "black blood" in a lineage dominates. Where exactly does the blood line diminish significantly enough to refer to them as white instead of as "passing" for white. If not 7/8th white is 15/16th enough?

    So much inaccurate discussion exists because of the PC minefield in talking about the issue. Thus we ignore the fact that in slave-holding one could be "white" and a slave as was the case with Sally Hemmings and with her children (till Jefferson freed them). Equally messy and ignored is the fact that free blacks could own slaves and that some did. Slavery is an abomination regardless whether the slaves are black or white or whether the owners are black or white. In slave America whites such as Jefferson did own white slaves and some free black owned black slaves. But that sort of reality is messy so best ignore it.

  • Mad Max||

    "a fully developed and autonomous person"

    When does a human being become fully developed and autonomous? Does it have full human rights at any time before that? What about afterwards?

    Do you get full development and autonomy at the time of birth? How is a newborn baby autonomous? What rights does it have?

    When you lose your autonomy (eg, by major illness, coma, insanity, etc.), do you lose your rights as well? Does that include the right to life?

  • ||

    When you lose your autonomy (eg, by major illness, coma, insanity, etc.), do you lose your rights as well?


    In a pro-life world, yes. In that world, when you become pregnant, you magically lose autonomy and your womb is property of the state until you magically regain autonomy(?) 9 months later when a new ward of the state is born.

  • Mad Max||

    smacky,

    You seem to be assuming that which is to be proven. Does autonomy include the right to kill a fetus?

  • ||

    "When you lose your autonomy (eg, by major illness, coma, insanity, etc.), do you lose your rights as well? Does that include the right to life?"

    I think that's kind of been the point I've been making. If a fetus is a person, then, surely, it has rights. But, if it has rights, then surely it is also a moral agent. But even assuming for a moment (however illogically) that a being can have rights without being a moral agent, surely those rights would not include a right to trespass, or to use someone's body against their will.

    If I invite you into my house, you are there with my permission, but when I demand that you leave, you must. If you pass out, I have a right to drag you out. If you wake up and start gnawing on my arm, I have a right to stop you, using deadly force if necessary.

  • Boston||

    Look, I'm not getting into an abortion debate. I just came here to make tasteless jokes. Honest, mister.


    Liar.

  • ||

    "You seem to be assuming that which is to be proven. Does autonomy include the right to kill a fetus?"

    This is tautological, Max. Does autonomy include the right to kill a person? It does if he is punching you in the throat.

  • Zeb||

    If Jefferson had had access to abortions, we wouldn't be here now having pointless arguments.

  • Lefiti||

    Hey, I've got an idea. Let's read our liberal attitudes toward race into the past and use them judge various historical figures, say, Thomas Jefferson.

  • Joel||

    Feh. I'm agnostic about Jefferson and slavery. Maybe it was just the way morals were in aristocratic Virginia and he didn't feel he had a choice, though it's certainly true his deeds didn't match his rhetoric.

    But I still say he was a f*cking hypocrite. He wrote the Declaration, claimed all sorts of high-flown moral underpinning for the Revolution - and then DURING the revolution, while governor of Virginia, he behaved like the worst kind of tyrant during Claypool's Rebellion. For which he can rot in hell as far as I'm concerned.

  • dhex||

    cls: not to speak for mr. root, but i believe when he says that if ms. hemmings was considered white by the law their relationship would have belonged in a different classification.

    it's fairly straightforward.

  • ||

    "If Sally Hemmings were white, we might describe her relationship with Jefferson as a common-law marriage." What do we mean by "white" in this case? How white is white? Is he using some legal definition or a common sense one (they are rarely the same).


    We and the author are calling her "black" because under the laws of the time, she was black. It's applying the one-drop rule within it's proper historical context to describe social relationships. You're either obtuse as all hell, or you're a troll.

  • ||

    ...he was certainly also a very flawed man as well.


    Aren't we all.

  • ||

    MIke-

    No, it does not. One does not have a right to kill another because the other is punching you in the throat. That is murder.

  • ||

    Unless it is a cop, soldier or some other armed thug of Caesar.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    I was about to end the abortion debate with a comment on the article when the server squirrels ate my comment.

    Big Sigh.

  • ||

    "No, it does not. One does not have a right to kill another because the other is punching you in the throat. That is murder."

    You're right, that was a bad example. Killing someone in that case would obviously not be proportionate.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Jeff was flawed yet he still wrote the Declaration of Independence. Besides, how can you throw rocks at the Patron Saint of Libertarians?

    I once moved a sixteen year old girl into my place. Go Jeff! She WAS white though. Well, partly white anyway. Mostly white. She would have passed the test in 1787.

    He might not have been allowed to marry Sally but nobody was screaming Statutory Rape.

    Besides, as StupendousMan pointed out it is difficult to judge other eras by our modern standards. I mean, how idiotic is dueling? Let's ask Hamilton. We don't do that anymore. It's even illegal. Yet it was perfectly acceptable 200 years ago.

    The Hemmings story is fascinating and ought to be told. Yet another facet of a complex man whose legacy is immeasurable.

  • ||

    Mike and libertymike,


    Actually, if someone is punching you in the throat, they could easily kill you that way (windpipe collapses, artery rupture or broken neck, to name a few), so killing someone in that case would probably be legally defensible.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Since you guys want to argue about abortion, here is one of the best Pro Life Arguments Ever. 450mb dl

    NSFW or kids or maybe yer Old Lady

  • Mad Max||

    "I mean, how idiotic is dueling? Let's ask Hamilton. We don't do that anymore. It's even illegal. Yet it was perfectly acceptable 200 years ago."

    It was illegal then, too. Aaron Burr got indicted, and only avoided justice by fleeing the jurisdiction.

    Dueling was more prevalent, despite the law, in certain circles, but then, killing people for dissing you hasn't exactly gone out of style even in the 21st century.

  • Mad Max||

    TWC,

    Wait, you actually meant NSFW.

    But the slide show is worth viewing by H&R commenters. At what stage of her life would it be acceptable to kill the hot chick?

  • ||

    At what stage of her life would it be acceptable to kill the hot chick?


    Good question. At what stage of life would it be acceptable to kill an ugly chick? Or a serial killer?

  • ||

    Smacky-

    Yeah, I thought of that after I posted-you are right. Sorry, Mike.

  • ||

    "Actually, if someone is punching you in the throat, they could easily kill you that way (windpipe collapses, artery rupture or broken neck, to name a few), so killing someone in that case would probably be legally defensible."

    Well, I think it would depend of the circumstances. Surely you would be obligated to at least attempt lesser measures first. If those measures were unsuccessful, though, then it would be defensible.

  • Mad Max||

    "At what stage of life would it be acceptable to kill an ugly chick? Or a serial killer?"

    Maybe when they've been convicted of a capital crime?

  • ||

    Mike,

    If someone is continually punching me in the neck, I'm going to assume at that point that they don't really care whether I live or die and act accordingly.

  • d||

    Good. Don't idolize Jefferson. Jefferson wasn't a god, nor was Washington. Or Napoleon. Or Lenin, or Marx, or Hitler. Nor were Mises, Rothbard, Friedman, FDR, Obama, or Ron Paul.

    Listen to people, learn from them, consider their ideas, but don't turn them into gods.

  • Clemsonuee||

    Jefferson certainly had his flaws. The reason he was in debt and unable to free his slaves (if he had really desired) was his inability to limit his spending to his income. During pretty much his entire life he bought stuff he couldn't really afford.

    Jefferson did write most of the Declaration, but it's not like he invented the ideas. A document very similar was written (I think it was by George Mason) earlier in the year. Jefferson was an extraordinarily talented wordsmith, but most of his most famous stuff is not really original.

    The Sedition Acts were repealed under Jefferson's presidency, but new laws were enacted that were in some cases worse than the Sedition Act (at least the Sedition Act allowed for truth as a defense). Throughout his presidency newspapers were sued for printing items defamatory.

    Also Jefferson's hypocracy extends past Sally Hemmings. He often bragged about never writing a newspaper article, and that was likely true, however he did pay for other people to write articles and cajoled friends to do that which he considered despicable.

    All that said he was an extraordinarily talented man, and his talents did often result in the betterment of man.

    He certainly falls in the catagory of great men who look a lot worse on closer inspection; but then again few don't.

  • Clemsonuee||

    As an aside dueling was illegal in New York, but it was legal in New Jersey, which is where Burr and Hamilton dueled.

  • Eric Haskell||

    Haven't read the article yet but the blurb cracked me up.

    Associate Editor Damon W. Root examines Thomas Jefferson's deeply tangled relationship with his slave Sally Hemings and her family.



    That makes it sound like reason has turned into the National Enquirer - 200 years behind their deadline.

  • ||

    Let me put it this way: I'd much rather have Jefferson as a president than Bush or Obama. By an order of magnitude.

  • ||

    The article seems to assume Hemmings and TJ had a relationship, which is by no means proven. It's a very close call, but I'd say the weight of the evidence tips slightly to the "no" side. In any event, it does seem like some of you are ignoring the reality on the ground for dissing whichever Jefferson was banging Sally. The lifestyle the Hemmings lived as "slaves" in 18th Century Virginia was far better in almost every way than what they could have hoped for as freedmen. Sally Hemmings trip to France is notable for two reasons. First, the fact that it generated no contemporaneous references to a relationship between Jefferson and Hemmings from French authors who would have been in position to observes such a relationship. Second, under French law Hemmings needed only assert her freedom and it would have been granted. She obviously did not avail herself of this right.

  • Paul||

    Additionally, evidence that Jefferson was fully aware of the evils of slavery make his actions that much less forgivable.

    I haven't read this book, and may never, but I think this statement can be countered with nuance.

    On its face, yes, you're right. But what "evils" Jefferson was aware of may have been different than the "evils" we're aware of in regard to slavery in the modern age. This doesn't change Stupendousman's point, in a way.

    To reference a thread yesterday: According to the bible, homosexuality is an abomination. So is eating shellfish.

  • Paul||

    Moral standards of the time not only were sliding away from justifications of slavery, but also at the very least forbade adultery and rape (and this is, even charitably, both).

    So, no excuse.


    lmnop. Your own words betray the point. "Sliding away" from justifying slavery is suggestive that they didn't have quite the same progressive view about slavery that we have today.

  • Paul||

    "I wonder how we'll be judged 200 years hence?"

    You should probably try not to do evil things.


    Like...being gay?

  • charles||

    I still want to make favorite presidents lists!

    1. Washington
    1A. Lincoln
    3. Grover Cleveland
    4. Chester Arthur
    5. Coolidge

  • ||

    Is it beyond the scope of American cynics to consider the possibility that the relationship between Jefferson and Hemmings was truly an affaire du coeur? Hemmings voluntarily returned to Monticello because that is where she wanted to be, even if she had to make the best of a less than perfect situation. Likewise Jefferson did the same. They should admired for having braved the 18th and 19th centuries as a multi-racial couple -- even if the law didn't allow for them to do so openly. I can only imagine the pious historians 200 years from now condemning 20th century Gay libertarians as turncoats for having agitated for Domestic Partnership rights while living in the closet with their boyfriends. In history, context is everything.

  • ||

    Nature magazine did a genetic study some years back among the descendants of Sally Hemmings. They identified a common gene from the descendants of Jeffersons brother Field that would have been common to male Jeffersons and passed along to descendants. Tracing that particular gene among the descendants of Sally Hemmings they found that only Eston, the youngest, actually carried the "Jefferson" gene. Descendants of the other four children did not, including descendants of Thomas Hemmings (the oldest and the one conceived during her stay in Paris).
    Eston was the only one identified as carrying the gene and given that Thomas Jefferson himself was 65 (in those pre-Viagra days) at the time of Estons birth, and that there were 20 some odd other Jeffersons in the vicinity, any of whom could have passed on the gene, it is most likely TJ himself was not the father of Eston either. (His brother Randolph seems to be the most likely candidate).
    Much of this story seems to have originated from slander spread by Jeffersons political opponents of the day.

  • In Defense of Jefferson||

    I would suggest looking at this site for a little perspective concerning the DNA "evidence."

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    But the slide show is worth viewing by H&R commenters. At what stage of her life would it be acceptable to kill the hot chick?

    Mad, First I didn't know dueling was illegal. Should have used Tombstone and 'fair fight' as a sampler.

    Secondly, your not going to get much argument from me over abortion. There's no percentage in it.

    I could be persuaded to consider a viability standard but for the most part I figure that the kid in the high chair whose mouth you just spooned yogurt into and handed a sippy cup to is what your snuffing when you call Planned Parenthood for a Dusting and a Cleaning.

    So, in that sense I probably should sign on with Libertarians for Life.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    Is it beyond the scope of American cynics to consider the possibility that the relationship between Jefferson and Hemmings was truly an affaire du coeur?

    It probably was. That doesn't excuse the slavery though. Love doesn't make the crimes one partner in an affair commits against the other.

  • ||

    There are some posting here who are simply spewing hot air (see directly above, and Mike especially) without prior knowledge, study, or a modicum of understanding of the times as they were, or of how Thomas Jefferson really was as a person (including the author of the piece).

    Jefferson originally wrote to abolish slavery in the Declaration of Independence only to have it voted out by other members of the Continental Congress. He did dote on his servants, and treated them extremely well.

    I didn't think that there would be so many buffoons on such an "enlightened" site such as Reason. I swear to God, America is doomed and terminal stupidity is the cause of death.

  • Mad Max||

    "Jefferson originally wrote to abolish slavery in the Declaration of Independence only to have it voted out by other members of the Continental Congress."

    No, he tried to blame George III for the African slave trade, but he didn't try to include abolitionist clauses in the Declaration. This was a declaration of Independence from Great Britain, in other respects, it did not seek to modify any domestic laws.

    You *can* give Jefferson partial credit for the Northwest Ordinance, which arguably created, by law, the largest slavery-free area in this history of the world to date. You can also give him credit for supporting, and signing, the bill in 1807 which made the importation of slaves from Africa completely illegal effective in 1808 - the first year in which such a total ban could constitutionally take effect. Even before that law, he signed legislation chipping away at the African slave trade in some respects.

    That's more than most of *us* have done against slavery.

  • Mad Max||

    Elemenope at 1:10 PM yesterday:

    '"I like how Mad Max hijacked this into an abortion thread."

    'He failed. So, no harm done.'

    Seems like you spoke too soon.

    Oh, and . . . bwahahahaha!

  • ||

    I think the founding fathers knew they would not get anything done if they took on slavery along with the British. It must have been the 800 pound gorilla in the room when they approved some of the text in the declaration of independence. The sad fact that it took a civil war almost 100 years later that divided the whole country shows just how big of an issue it was.

  • geniusiknowit||

    If you kill someone, that person will be dead, and thus be unable to care that they were killed.
    We say murder is wrong because, while we are alive, we do not want to be murdered by others, and we do not want our loved ones to be murdered by others. But nobody suffers from their own death. Murder is not a crime against the deceased, for the deceased has no opinion of the act one way or the other. Murder is a crime against the deceased's surviving family, for they are the only ones who really suffer the loss (family may include close friends as well, perhaps employers/employees of the deceased and others bound to the deceased by contract).

    Even if abortion is murder, who cares? Who suffers the death?

  • ||

    Mad Max,

    Thank you for your obviously informed response, but that is not how I understood the situation according to Dumas Malone's definitive 6 volume biography of Thomas Jefferson.

    I understood that he worded the document in a much stronger tone, only to have it watered down by the Continental Congress, but I have never seen or read the text of one of the "original" copies of the Declaration that he sent to George Wythe and others.

    Either way, this article shamelessly bad-mouths Jefferson in a manner he was undeserving of. He was a man of his words and sincerely wished liberty and equality for all, regardless of race.

  • Mad Max||

    The different drafts of the Declaration of Independence can be found here. Jefferson wanted to include the following language, which was approved by the drafting committee but rejected on the floor of Congress:

    "He [George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidels powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. He has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce determining to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."

    So he accuses King George of (a) promoting the African slave trade, and (b) trying to provoke slave insurrections. This is not a proposal to abolish slavery. By definition, there would be no need to worry about slave insurrections if slavery was abolished. PS - Both the UK and the US later abolished the African slave trade, but that was several decades *before* the abolition of slavery itself. Opposition to the African trade was largely based on humanitarianism, but for many whites (including slaveowning whites), there was an element of self-interest. Importing African slaves meant more black people, which racists wouldn't necessarily want. There was also a greater perceived danger of insurrection from Africans with active memories of past freedom. Finally, imported African slaves competed with the domestic slave trade (Virginians, for instance, liked to breed slaves for sale further south).

    As for the reason that Congress deleted this paragraph, the general understanding is that those who supported the African slave trade (North and South) didn't want anything which reflected on their activities. An alternative hypothesis is that the Continental Congress wanted to preserve Jefferson's reputation as a secularist, but here was Jefferson insulting George III by calling him worse than "infidel powers." This necessarily implied that being an "infidel" was a bad thing - that was what gave the insult its sting. But the assumption that infidelity is wrong is an assumption which a true secularist would never want to make, so obviously, Jefferson must not be seen making that assumption.

  • Robert Goodman||

    Okay, let's try a thought experiment. Suppose you are walking down the road one day and see your friend mercilessly strangling a stranger. He says, "Oh, thank god you showed up! My hands were getting tired. Can you take over for me?" You do, strangling the stranger while your friend goes off for a drink of water. He comes back, resumes his strangling, and you walk away.

    Then, when the police come, to arrest you for murder, you say, "How did that man come to be strangled? By me? Certainly not. If I had not come along my friend would simply have continued to strangle him on his own. He was in a state of strangulation when I arrived, I kept him in that state, and he remained in that state when I left. I fail to see how leaving things as they are is an evil act, else you get into a duty to rescue, to sacrifice one's own interest for others' welfare."

    Of course, you had no positive duty to aid the victim of strangulation (though you perhaps had a moral obligation to do so), but you did have a positive duty to refrain from strangling him yourself.



    The trouble with your analogy is that you think of the mere continuing ownership of a slave as a perpetual action, like strangulation. Actually according to the laws of Va. at the time, as explained to me by Fred Cookinham, freeing the slaves would've required action and incurred considerable expense. You weren't allowed to simply abandon a slave and thus turn hir into a free person. Without a positive act of manumission, the slave would be considered unclaimed property subject to anyone else's claim. And to free a slave in practical terms required setting up an endowment (that's where the expense came in) for the former slave to use as a pension, because even free blacks in Va. by then were legally barred from doing the same sorts of work that slaves commonly did; it wasn't even legal to teach them to read. Manumission was a lot like getting a divorce and paying alimony.

  • cls||

    Shem wrote: "We and the author are calling her "black" because under the laws of the time, she was black. It's applying the one-drop rule within it's proper historical context to describe social relationships. You're either obtuse as all hell, or you're a troll."

    I see why some libertarians are so good at winning friends and influencing people. The moment they misread a point someone is making they resort to insults. Shem, you really need to get a personality -- well at least a decent one.

    The point of my post was to emphasize that by modern standards, not by the old segregationist standards, Hemmings WAS white. People tend to be ignorant of the fact that whites, by modern definitions, could be slaves and blacks could be masters. That is a nuance that people miss.

    My secondary point is that the PC crowd today continue to define Hemmings as black, but not because that was the law of the time. They are against the law of the time. But they uphold that sort of defintion, something they have in common with the segregationists of the past. How making those points makes one a troll I don't know. As for obtuse there are two potential reasons something appears obtuse. One is that the writer wrote in a vague, difficult to understand way. The other is that the reader just doesn't have the brain power to get it. As for Shem's situation I will let the evidence speak for itself.

  • ||

    I get more than a little angry at individuals that smear the memory of a dead man who is unable to defend himself. There is no such proof that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings ever conceived a child together. In the first place the first person to publish this was Thom Callander of Jefferson's time who was a well known liar and scoundrel. Callander spread this because Jefferson refused him a postmaster position and Callander attempted blackmail to secure it. In the second was an recent english professor who claimed that DNA had provided "proof" that Jefferson had fathered Hemmings child. For DNA there has to be a male heir to Jefferson and since Jefferson had no male heirs then no such evidence exists. The so called "professor" admitted later that he had lied and no such evidence existed but the news media were much less reluctant to publish this retraction than they were to print the orginal story. Check the facts I've just stated Mr Root and publish a retraction. You have smeared a great man's name and even dead for 182 years he deserves justice.

  • Revisionist||

    I didn't think that there would be so many buffoons on such an "enlightened" site such as Reason. I swear to God, America is doomed and terminal stupidity is the cause of death.

    Personally, I'd be willing to advocate the enslavement of the enlightened, but on further reflection it would be an exercise in futility. Not only do they obviously not do any work, but most of them are too ugly to rape, to boot.

  • ||

    You need to understand that many things were different in that time period, and you need to use that time setting as a frame of reference to make an educated opinion.

    Jefferson originally inherited slaves. There were few or no good options for manumitted slaves then and for many decades later. Some owners, like Jefferson, felt a stewardship for these people.

    Imagine yourself in that position. You've inherited people you truly feel should be free, but there is no way to free them in your society without seriously lowering their quality of life. For some it would be a certain death sentence.

    It wasn't uncommon for men of that time period through the time of the Civil War to marry relatives of their deceased spouses. My great grandfather married four related women, one after another's death, to keep the plantation "in the family." Plus, it wasn't easy to get out and meet people before electricity and motorized vehicles, etc.

    My great grandfather also tried to free his slaves after the Civil War, but they all refused to leave him. He was good to them, and they had no where else to go. He provided for them in his will; whereas, his own white children got to fend for themselves since the whites had privileges in our society that the manumitted slaves did not.

    Maybe Jefferson and Hemmings had a relationship out of convenience, but from other things I've read, it seems to me like Jefferson and Sally Hemmings loved one other.

    I live in a town where some of Jefferson's "black" descendants live, so go tell them they don't exist. Their family histories and DNA confirms it. Anyone who claims otherwise is ignorant or racist.

  • Comrade Laissez-Faire||

    "In the culture he lived in his actions don't seem that horrific. In fact he seems to have improved the plight of those under his power."

    That includes homosexuals. While he was president, he reduced the penalty for "buggery" from death to castration.

    The United States was largely created out of brute conquest of the North American Indian continent and in part, African slave labor. The Constitution and Bill of Rights originally only applied to white male landowners. Most American presidents prior to Kennedy upheld and exercised varying degrees of institutional racism towards non-whites, and even second-class citizenship towards white women prior to 1925. The Democrats and Republicans to this day still exercise a racist American Indian policy.

    However, like with the theory of trickle-down economics, time has proven that in America there is such a thing as trickle-down rights.

    P.S. Keep the abortion issue out of the REASON comments section except when abortion is the original topic.

  • Regis Carnifex||

    In Wood's view, by destroying monarchical rule and replacing it with republicanism, the American revolutionaries "made possible the anti-slavery and women's rights movements of the nineteenth century and in fact all our current egalitarian thinking."

    So why did England abolish slavery and adopt women's suffrage before the US?

  • ||

    For all his faults, Thomas Jefferson was by far my favorite Founding Father. George Washington and Tom Paine are a close second.

  • nfl jerseys||

    think

  • PS||

    Sally Hemmings was SIXTEEN years old and PREGNANT in Paris. How could she have claimed her freedom?

    She had no money, she probably was illiterate (it was illegal to teach slaves to read), she was about to be a new mother, she couldn't speak the language, and she had no one outside the Jefferson household to call upon for help or support. The notion that she somehow had an unencumbered "free choice" to leave her master is idiotic. Her entire family is in the US: somehow she's supposed to both be aware of the option and to choose FREEDOM under these circumstances?

    Yeah, sure. She'd be free to die in childbirth alone and unsupported, or starve to death in a country where she can't work because she doesn't speak the language and has a newborn that needs constant care.

    Choice and freedom are always circumscribed by context, an inconvenient reality that blindly ideological libertarians (not ALL libertarians) fail to acknowledge.

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