Politics: Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson and the Meaning of the Declaration:

That the Continental Congress Intended to Include All Men.

Mark A. McDonald,

Oakland Community College, December 2008.

The following was presented at the conclusion of an introductory course in American Government, to sum up some of the things considered over the past few months and show how the study might be continued. It arose in response to a question of an exemplary student, when, in discussion after class, it was emphasized that the section excluded from the Declaration demonstrates quite clearly what the first self evident truth was understood to mean. It was asked whether there were other similar statements of Jefferson supporting what was said to have been demonstrated. The essay is intended to provide the explanation that would have been attempted had there been time, as well as to sum up some of the teachings from the class, and allow for the continuing study which the course is to have prepared. It follows an old familiar thesis, hopefully showing novelty in the presentation and in points that arise in thinking it through.


   It is often thought that the founders of our republic did not intend to include all mankind, when it was printed in our Declaration that we hold it to be a “self-evident truth,” that “all men are created equal.” Instead, it is suspected that the intention was to include either all males in the gender sense or all whites in the racial sense. It is thought, for example, that because Jefferson owned slaves, and indeed published opinions about the deficiencies of the Africans in America and the practical difficulties of emancipation, he could not have meant what he said in writing the first assertion of the second sentence of the Declaration. The reasoning seems to be that since some were slave owners, and the rights of women yet unspoken, Continental Congress could not have adopted this as the American proposition, axiom, or credo, if they had understood its meaning to include either women or Africans, as those enslaved in America. Paradoxically, this opinion is held by those extremely opposed to slavery, the radical abolitionists, and those who favored allowing the spread of slavery. The most usual opinion today is surprisingly similar to that of Senator Douglas and Chief Justice Taney in the Dred Scott case, or, to some who favored allowing slavery to spread across the nation (Storing, 1976, 1-2).[1] As Taney wrote the opinion, the founders indeed wrote that all men are created equal. Yet because some were slaveholders, and because they understood how the language they used would be heard by the civilized world, they “knew it would not… be supposed to embrace the Negro race…” (Scott v. Sanford, 1857, Storing, 1976, 18). Another former Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, and numerous historians might also be counted among adherents of the opinion. Marshall thought the Constitution defective from the start, sanctioning slavery, excluding blacks and women from the “We the people” of the preamble (Washington Post, 1987). We hope through what follows to join those intending to make manifest the error at the basis of this opinion, and to restore the honor due to these, as well as to consider the bit of truth that has caused the accretion.

   In his Vindicating the Founders, Thomas G. West has joined a growing tradition[2]opening the contemporary assumptions to critical review. These writers demonstrate that the founding generation, and even the six great founders unanimously, are indeed the cause of our contemporary achievements in the field of civil rights, and the source of the principles toward which the movements for civil rights have aimed, and indeed worthy objects of our gratitude and veneration. While coming to a conclusion about the Declaration so similar to the arguments of those supporting the spread of slavery, the contemporary prejudice seems too to transfer the opinion of a certain faction in the South, or indeed of the nation of the 1830’s-50’s, onto the founding generation. “But why,” it is asked, “if Jefferson were sincere in his “philippics” against slavery (as Adams called the statements), did he own, and fail to free his slaves? And why did women and blacks not gain the right to vote until so late? Why did the Constitution allow slavery and inequality to continue?


I: The Constitution

   That slavery was allowed to continue when the colonies became states under the Constitution cannot be explained without the principle of the federalism peculiar to the United States. Federalism refers to the unique compromise between state and national powers that resulted from the Constitutional Convention. The states joined under a sovereign national government for limited collective purposes, and the national government is delegated supremacy, but only certain explicitly stated powers, and the unstated powers implied by these. The powers that are not delegated remain to the states, and this is something like a reservation of partial sovereignty, so long as the state does not contradict the Union where the union has supremacy. No state, for example, can establish a monarchy or titles of nobility, contrary to Article IV of the Constitution. The states brought to the convention powers concerning national matters to be given up to form a more perfect union, and slavery was not among those powers. It is because the southern states would not join or remain in the union otherwise that slavery continued under the Constitution, though it is likely that a majority of delegates would have voted against it. Each state is responsible by default for its own domestic laws including those regarding slavery. The national government was not delegated the authority to end slavery in the states, nor yet even to secure the Bill of Rights within the states. For this reason, Lincoln, prior to the war, in his First Inaugural Address, emphasizes, that he does not have the authority under the Constitution to end slavery or to emancipate the slaves in the southern states. The delegates from the southern states–especially South Carolina and Georgia, are not given the authority by their constituents to offer the abolition of slavery. So Edmund Randolf and Charles Pinkney would tell the Constitutional convention that their constituents would not permit them to agree to abolition even if they thought it best (Madison, 1958, 279). The alternative would apparently have been to leave open the possibility that southern states ally with Britain or other foreign powers, and would have prevented the eventual abolition of slavery (West, 1997, p. 20). One sees this alliance principle working when later the Emancipation Proclamation, enacted as a war measure, moved antislavery sentiment in these European countries, and prevented the intervention of Britain and France on the side of the Confederacy at the turning point in the Civil War.[3]The leading founders all affirmed, on many occasions, that blacks are created equal to whites, that slavery is wrong[4] and that it ought be abolished. West collects instances from Washington, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, and cites Madison: “We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, the ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”[5] This comment in the Constitutional Convention demonstrates that Madison saw the question of race in light of his treatment of majority faction and the rights of minorities in Federalist 10. Another great statement of Hamilton, from The Farmer Refuted, is as follows: “I consider civil liberty…as the greatest of terrestrial blessings. I am convinced that the whole human race is entitled to it, and that it can be wrested from no part of them without the blackest and most aggravated guilt.”[6] As Lincoln said, the founding “fathers of our government” intended and expected that slavery would become extinct. Far from making a government that was part slave and part free, as Douglas would argue, they “found the institution existing among us, and they left it as they found it…because of the difficulty–the immediate impossibility of its immediate removal.”[7] At least in the sense of responsibility for the first cause of the action, the colonies and states rather than the national government are responsible for slavery.

   We might add to these American lights the speech of George Mason, author of the Virginia Bill of Rights and Coauthor with Jefferson of the Virginia Constitution, which served as rough drafts for the U. S. Declaration and Constitution. In the Constitutional Convention, Mason spoke, on Tuesday August 21, 1787. Luther Martin had attacked the slave trade clause as inconsistent with the principles of the revolution, and dishonorable to the American character. Rutledge of South Carolina answered, reminding the antislavery delegates that what was being debated was whether the southern states would be in the union at all. Colonel Mason then spoke on the evils of slavery. He began with the convenience to the enemy in the recent war and the disdain for labor fostered among the poor. He continues…

…They produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on the country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities.[8]

The speech raises the specter of divine justice, a theme in Jefferson and Lincoln, though perhaps in no other founding writer. The inevitable chain of causes and effects usually appears only in hindsight, and is rarely foreseen. Mason concluded that the claimed right to import slaves was, like many other rights, now to be properly given up.

  Voting qualifications are established by the states, and so, as West points out, women could vote in the 1790’s in New Jersey. West writes: “For the first time in history, the women of a political community shared with men the right, stated in public law, to select their rulers.”[9] Blacks too, as Lincoln and Judge Curtis point out, voted for delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Free Blacks voted in every state north of Pennsylvania, and even in five slave states (Delaware, Maryland, N. C., Kentucky and Tennessee).[10]Since Taney had some inkling of this fact, it is difficult to imagine what definition of citizenship, beyond “free inhabitant of a city,” he could be working with. It is difficult to see how one born on U. S. soil, including the offspring of slaves, would not be citizens and free, since offspring born to non-resident aliens might even be so. Or, how is it that slavery is inherited? Before the Fourteenth Amendment, which overruled Taney’s decision, the definition of citizenship was unclear, in part because of the federal system. Yet this ambiguity surely does not leave room for the free construction of a definition, even by the Court. The voting is vastly significant, not only because the founding period may be the first in which blacks and women voted anywhere in the world, but especially because it means that women and blacks are included in the “We the people” by whom and for whom the Constitution was made. As Lincoln notes, the argument of Chief Justice Taney that “Negroes are not included among the people for whom and by whom the Constitution was made,” is simply wrong. It is based on “assumed historical facts that are not true.” He is also wrong about the opinion of the founding generation on these matters, and he may be the first to transfer the opinion of the 1850’s back onto the late 1700’s. “We the people” includes all the people of the nation, and is not simply the same as all the citizens of the states, or even all the kinds that represented this people by voting. The particulars in this bunch, the people, would seem to be persons, and the opening of the Constitution is not even “We the citizens…”

   In the Preamble of the Constitution, Gouverneur Morris gives strange treatment to the principle of equality, while Jefferson was away in Paris. When the purposes of government are described, equality, or the guarantee of equal treatment under the law,[11] as well as the aim “to secure these rights,” are apparently left out. It could be argued, though, that equality under the law is assumed under the purpose “to secure justice,” somewhat as majority rule, unless otherwise stated, is just assumed. The forbidding of titles of nobility, and hereditary attainders are the main manifestations of the principle of equality in the Constitution prior to the amendments begun in the Bill of Rights. In the Bill of Rights again, equality must be assumed, as implied by the due process clause, and is not made explicit until the Fourteenth Amendment. The Bill of Rights could not be applied to the states until after the Civil War. Though Madison hoped it would be so applied, the measure was prevented by the Senate.[12] Civil liberties are secured by bills of rights in the states. Throughout the pre-Civil War history of the U.S., the disproportionate power of the states in the Senate worked to protect slavery, and later, discrimination.


II: That Lincoln is Correct to Read the Declaration as Pertaining to All Men, Including the Blacks in America.

   The speech of Lincoln on the Dred Scott case contains an argument about the meaning of the proposition that “all men are created equal.” While Douglas argues that the statement meant that all white British men on this side of the Atlantic were created equal to all British men on the other side of the Atlantic, Lincoln argues that the axiom includes black men, and that it means we are equal not in every sense, but equal in being endowed with certain unalienable rights.

   The argument of Douglas gains some plausibility because the primary intention, a purpose that does have to do with the separation from Great Britain, is the denial of inherited privilege or inherited nobility. No part of mankind is entitled to rule over another part, or none are so superior to others so as to justly rule them without consent. Note that the question is distinct from that of the slight inferiority or superiority of the various races in various endeavors, differences of slight degree, due mostly, as it turns out, to “cultural” factors, or the cultivation of the activities. The racial superiority of which the principle of equality is the direct contrary is not the differences in fact between the different groups of people, but a fundamental difference in kind. The use of the word “saddled” by Lincoln seems intentionally to recall the statement in Jefferson’s 1826 letter, one of the rare statements that provide a glimpse or window into the meaning of equality. Jefferson writes:

The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.

                                   To Roger C. Weightman, Monticello, June 24, 1826

The primary meaning of the teaching of equality is against inherited privilege in general, of which the master-slave relation in race-based slavery would seem to be an obvious particular instance. The meaning of equality is spelled out in the following three assertions. Lincoln explains: “They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal–equal in ‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’” In the Peoria speech, Lincoln elaborated in relation to the third assertion: No man is born superior to another in such a way as to justify ruling that other without his consent: neither the inherited nobility of England nor, it would seem, the white race of America. In a government whose purpose is to secure rights, the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed. In order to argue that the Negro is not included in the recognition of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and could be ruled without consent, the South would be forced to argue not unequal proficiency, but that the Negro is not a “man.”

   The understanding of man implied in what is becoming an archaic use of the word in the universal sense was stated in the tradition most clearly by Aristotle, who Jefferson lists as among the authors of the “elementary books of public right” at the basis of the thought of the Declaration.[13] Jefferson wrote that “We,” that is, those opposed to European privilege and confident in the ability of the people to consent to their officers in the government, “We believed that man was a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights, and with an innate sense of Justice, and that he could be restrained from wrong and protected in right by moderate means.”[14] The universal meaning of the word man is emphasized by what appears to be Franklin’s correction of Jefferson’s “sacred and undeniable” to “self-evident.”[15] Our being a rational animal is indicated by the presence of speech, by which the rational animal is also the political animal (Politics, I. ii). A self-evident proposition is like a tautology in that it is evident to anyone who can see its terms, though not to all. It was not evident to the British, nor to the South. It is a proposition in which the truth of the predicate is contained in the definition of the subject. An example is the truth that a spatial whole is larger than any one of its multiple parts.[16] Hence if one knows what it means to be “man,”[17] an instance of the species it also follows that in every such instance, one knows that each is equal in the things that pertain to man, among which, we hold, are the natural rights.

   That Jefferson intended to include all men in the statement of the principle of equality can be demonstrated from his most famous public writings. His most openly abolitionist statement is his earliest, in Jefferson’s first published essay, the 1774 A Summary View of the Rights of British America. Under the theme of how the king has prevented the colonies from passing salutary laws, He writes:

The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies where it was, unhappily, introduced in their infant state. But previous to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa. Yet our repeated attempts to effect this, by prohibitions and by imposing duties which might amount to a prohibition, have been hitherto defeated by his majesty’s negative, thus preferring the immediate advantage of a few British corsairs to the lasting interests of the American States, and to the rights of human nature, deeply wounded by this infamous practice.

   The attribution of the rights of human nature to those suffering the injustice of slavery is the clear refutation of the Taney-Douglas reading. The indicated intention is first to end the slave trade, and then to enfranchise the slaves. Jefferson also wrote a draft for the Virginia Constitution, which limited slavery by forbidding that anyone entering Virginia be held in slavery there. Yet the writing that most thoroughly clinches the argument of Lincoln against Douglass, because of its appearance in the Continental Congress and the Declaration itself, is the piece edited out of the original draft of the Declaration. In this, Jefferson attempts to blame slavery on George III. The astonishing thing about this passage is what appears to be the attempt to put slavery off along with British rule, in the same basket as it were, under the banner of the principle of equality. When the passage failed to gain the consent of all thirteen states, and was edited out, what is missed is an opportunity to escape from slavery and its effects on U. S. History. The drama of the writing of the Declaration thus prefigures the compromise between North and South that was to allow slavery to continue in the southern states under the U. S. Constitution. The paragraph edited out, (retaining the lack of capitalization) reads as follows:

he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its 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 infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Britain. determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce: 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 he urges them to commit against the lives of another.[18]

The passage was edited out for numerous reasons, though primarily due to the opposition of South Carolina and Georgia to the open condemnation of slavery.[19] It could also have been edited out for what has been called, by Joseph Ellis, the “tortured complexity of the numerous ideas involved, leaving congress in sheer bewilderment.” Ellis writes, “With regard to slavery, Jefferson’s formulation made great polemic sense but historical and intellectual nonsense.”[20] Ellis, though, seems to think Jefferson’s primary motive is hypocritical, to absolve himself and other slave owners from complicity in slavery. Carl Becker is glad it was left out, because whatever slight plausibility it then had is lost in light of the subsequent continuation of slavery in America (1942, 213). But could not the inaccuracy have been corrected and the passage retained? “Just after “sacred rights of life and liberty,” the line could jump to …Determined to keep an open market…, then “…prostituted his negative…he is now exiting these…” It is possible that Jefferson’s concluding charge against the British was intended to make possible the setting aside of slavery along with British rule. It gave to the southern states, including Virginia, the opportunity to reject slavery with British rule, and step out, right at the beginning, from under the painful contradiction between American liberty and slavery that would in fact lead to the destruction of the South. However unlikely it is that the southern states would be persuaded to follow, it would have been unfortunate had none of their representatives, entrusted with the public good, ever presented the opportunity.

   The passage is carried over from Jefferson’s draft of the Virginia Constitution (June, 1776) and might have been amended by the committee to retain the most substantial ideas while alleviating the tortured complexity. The Virginia Constitution version, coauthored by Mason, reads, in the list of indictments: “By prompting our Negroes to rise among us, those very Negroes whom, by an inhuman use of his negative, he hath refused us permission to exclude by law.” In the Declaration, this is reduced to “He has incited domestic insurrections among us…” In a foreshadowing of the objections of the southern states at the Constitutional Convention, the southern states prevented the explicit inclusion of blacks in the principle of equality. The implicit condemnation of slavery in the self-evident truth remained, or passed by the southern members of congress perhaps because its language was broad enough to include the possibility of their reading it as referring primarily to the inequality of British men on the other side of the ocean. The ground of the objection of the colonists began with the violation of the rights of British subjects, and shifted after 1774 to the natural rights basis as the decision was made for independence. Indeed, if they were able to see the universal intention of natural rights, they might themselves hope to see slavery disappear. Had they understood the universal implication of the first assertion of the second sentence of the Declaration, the southern states might have required yet further editing. They did not, and the self-evident truth remains. Africans certainly do have these rights, as the rights of life and liberty in these persons were violated when they were captured and carried across the sea to be sold as slaves. This statement would have concluded the list of transgressions of the English King. Its exclusion avoided raising a question so near to the right of revolution of the slaves. Their siding with the British, though, would not be an exercise of the right of revolution, as would be their own rebellion, but an attempt to purchase the liberty with which another, not their slave owner, has deprived them, and to purchase this liberty not with manly rebellion, but rather with murder. Jefferson’s delicate attempt to put off the responsibility for slavery from the people represented by the southern delegates is too untrue to pass the editors, and too dangerous to assert, especially without more time to persuade that the slaves should join the revolutionaries rather than Britain. Underlying slavery is a dangerous state of war that justifies the rebellion of the one enslaved. The perpetuation of this condition is more a danger to the public good than is an orderly emancipation.

   The excluded passage seems not to have been available to Lincoln, since it seems he would have mentioned it at some point or in some place in his argument against the Dred Scott decision. In fact he does not need it to read the intention of the Declaration. The passage demonstrates for us that Jefferson, who wrote both this sentence and the first principle of the second sentence of the Declaration, intended to include blacks in the “all men” who are created equal. Slavery is a “cruel war against human nature itself,” the very human nature that is the reason that we have unalienable rights with which we are endowed by the Creator, or from the beginning, and the reason that it is unjust for governments to violate, rather than to secure these rights, or arrange that we be governed without consent. If the brighter part of Nineteenth Century American history can be summed in a single sentence, it would be: “Lincoln read Jefferson.” And so should we.

   The early opposition of Jefferson to slavery demonstrates his permanent opinions, though, as he wrote in 1826, he did not permit himself to speak on slavery on occasions where speaking would have no beneficial effect.[21] Jefferson had been impressed when, in the Virginia legislature, he had petitioned an older member, Colonel Bland, to “move for certain moderate extensions of the protection of the laws to these people.” The Colonel was “denounced as an enemy of his country & was treated with the grossest indecorum.”[22] Contrary to the impression that Jefferson opposed slavery more in speech than action, his great statements occur in public documents, or founding actions. In addition to his Summary View and his draft of the Declaration, Jefferson, in 1784 authored a draft of the Northwest Ordinance, which banned slavery from the territory. The proposal was at that time voted down, but the Ordinance of 1787 eventually did ban slavery, due also to the efforts of Rufus King. The Northwest Ordinance sets the principle that slavery is not intended to enter the territories. It is a good question how slavery ever entered Louisiana. Jefferson is jarred from his apolitical post-presidential retirement by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which compromised the intention of the Northwest Ordinance and began to extend the difference on slavery beyond the southern states, becoming a geographical line across the nation.

   The other famous Jeffersonian statement is of course the passage from his Notes on the State of Virginia, in which he expands upon the corruption of the character of both masters and slaves, addressing the right of concubinage exercised by some slave owners over their female slaves:

The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part and degrading submissions on the other…The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances…

The depravity of the southern whites might be the next inferiority counted as leaving men unfit for self-government. Slavery degrades the southern whites, overseers and the poor, who learned despotic habits and disdain for manual labor. This was a problem in America from the time that John Smith, at Jamestown, tried to incite unaccustomed aristocrats to labor. The first Africans were imported here, and for this reason, in 1619. The suspicion is that in the hotter climates especially, the aristocratic Europeans are disinclined to labor, and so their planting enterprises require slaves. This would be the historical connection between inherited nobility and race as a title of nobility. As we have suggested, there is an inseparable theoretical connection.[23] Tocqueville describes the difference between the cultivation flourishing on the free northern bank, though not on the southern bank of the Ohio River, dividing Ohio and Kentucky.[24] Slavery, by permitting one half of the people to trample on the rights of the other,” makes “despots” of one part and destroys the love of their nation for the other. Note that he writes of the slaves as a part of “the people.” Jefferson then famously continues:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I think that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever…an exchange of situations is among possible events…The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.

                                                     Notes on the State of Virginia, XVIII

   The denial of natural rights involved in slavery is a denial that these liberties are the gift of God. The assumption is, again, that the gift of the divine is not an inheritable title to rule, but unalienable rights that are there equally from the beginning. The assumption of the second sentence of the Declaration, unspoken, is that it is unjust to violate the unalienable rights of humans. Now, justice turns out, for those who do not take justice seriously as the end of Government,[25] to have surprising effects, even upon one’s own self-interest, in the end, and usually even in the narrowest of senses. One could argue that this surprising effect is demonstrated repeatedly in both foreign and domestic policy. The fulfillment of the fear of Jefferson for his country begins with the deaths of some three hundred sixty four thousand Union and one hundred thirty thousand Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. It is not clear yet that every drop of blood drawn by the lash has been paid, as Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural Address, by one drawn by the sword. Nor is it clear that the northern effort, unparalleled in the history of race relations, has been appreciated. The veterans are forgotten, though they did not do this to be remembered, but to preserve the Union. The danger, according to Jefferson, is that the memory of the wrongs done, the deep rooted prejudices, genuine natural differences, and new provocations, such as the history of Jim Crow after the failure of reconstruction, will “produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of one race by the other.” (Notes, XIV, p. 186). The passage in Chapter XVIII ends rather with the hope that the abating of masters and the rising up of the spirit of the slaves is preparing for a total emancipation. In an ambiguous sentence, he hopes, that this will occur by the consent of the masters “rather than their extirpation,” which might mean either colonization or forced liberation:

The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.

                                                                                          Notes, XIV

III. The Practical Approach of Jefferson to Slavery.

   The question of Jefferson’s practical approach to slavery breaks into the two questions of his household policy and his prescription for his state and nation. His household rule is of course deeply private and inaccessible despite his celebrity. The interesting questions have focused on his love[26] for Sally Hemmings (to be addressed below) and why he did not free his own slaves. Unlike Washington, he did not free all his slaves upon his death, though he did free some (all Hemmings, including Robert in 1794 and James in 1796.)[27] The liberation of his slaves was made difficult by his personal debt, partly inherited with many of his slaves. Emancipating slaves in Virginia in the 1700’s without a general emancipation may not be for their benefit. For example, Slaves freed might be captured and re-enslaved. By 1814, emancipation has become illegal in Virginia.

   The clearest discussion of Jefferson on why he did not free his own slaves is in the 1814 letter:

My opinion has ever been that until more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed and clothe them well, protect them from all ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen, & be led by no repugnancies to abdicate them, and our duties to them. The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good: and to commute them for other property is to commit them to those whose usage of them we cannot control. I hope, then, my dear sir, you will reconcile yourself to your country and its unfortunate condition; that you will not lessen its stock of sound disposition by withdrawing your portion from the mass.

                   Letter to Edward Coles, Monticello, August 25, 1814

   There is no reason to doubt his sincerity when he writes, in 1820,

…The cession of that kind of property (for so it is misnamed) is a bagatelle which would not cost me a second thought, if in that way, a general emancipation and extirpation could be effected; and gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. But as it is, we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, self-preservation in the other…

                     Letter to John Holms, Monticello, April 22, 1820

   Tocqueville, too, writes that the southern states “could not abolish slavery,” as had been done in the north, “without running very great risks” which the north did not face.[28] A revolution had occurred in Haiti in which a black slave rebellion led to the deaths of 60,000 Africans and every white on the island, numbering about 100,000, with atrocities on both sides. There were uprisings in America, all quickly crushed, notably at Stono in 1741 and in Virginia in 1831, ending the abolition movement in the South. John Brown would attempt to lead a general armed rebellion just before the civil war. He too was hanged for treason in 1859.

   The practical proposal of Jefferson for the end of slavery is guided primarily by concern for public safety. We may yet prove that Jefferson underestimated the capacity of Americans to set aside racial prejudice. Yet our suspicion is that when today we assume that Jefferson ought obviously to have freed his own slaves, and would have if he had meant what he said, we do not sufficiently appreciate the practical difficulties involved in the liberation of the slaves in the South at that time. Each would, first, be freed without resources into a world in which slavery remained legal. Ellis summarizes:

   His most practical proposals, all of which came in the early 1780’s envisioned a program of gradual abolition that featured an end to the slave trade, prohibition of slavery in all the western territories, and the establishment of a fixed date, he suggested 1800, after which all newly born children of slaves would be emancipated.

   Jefferson’s policy for Virginia is submitted for the Report of the Committee of the Revisers in revising the laws of Virginia, in 1799, authored by Jefferson, Wythe and Pendleton, and recorded in the same Chapter XIV of the Notes. As Jefferson indicates, his proposal was not included in the bill submitted by the revisers. The proposal is to emancipate all slaves born after the act of the legislature is passed, train the young in useful arts and sciences, and then when the females are 18 and the males 21 years old, to colonize them somewhere, such as the colony in Liberia later attempted. It is in answer to the question “Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state?” that Jefferson responds with the above quoted fear of convulsions ending in extermination. And it remains for us a question, whether the ancient prejudices can be overcome and the memory of wrongs done forgiven. The prejudices of the whites and the memory of the wrongs done to the blacks would make their living together difficult, as the subsequent history especially in the South has demonstrated. While it is not clear that their vision of future possibilities included the victory in the Civil War and the astonishing success of Martin Luther King, these very achievements may have obscured for us certain difficulties that Jefferson and Lincoln were able to face more soberly. Martin Luther King, by combining revolution with nonviolence, may almost single handedly have spared our nation some such “frightening racial nightmare.”[29] In his Letter From Birmingham Jail, he himself identifies the alternative to his course, which we may have seen more of had it not been for him.

   Jefferson proposes abolition as a state rather than a national politician, or as president. As president, in 1807, when Congress was voting to end the slave trade, he urged them to “withdraw the citizens of the united states from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa.”[30] If he is an abolitionist, he is a cautious rather than a radical one.

   So Jefferson, like so many of the greatest of the founders, very much opposed slavery, and for the reason of the principles of the Declaration. Yet, like Abraham Lincoln again, he is not the same as the abolitionists. Benjamin Franklin, for example, was president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and petitioned congress for the abolition of slavery just before his death in 1790. Though he was not an active abolitionist throughout his life, abolition was the work with which he crowned his great two-generation career. It is the principles of the Revolution, seconding the early abolition movement among the Quakers, which led to abolition.

   As Tocqueville writes, it was “Christianity” that “first destroyed servitude,” or led the abolition of slavery in the late Roman world. “The Christians of the sixteenth century reestablished it.”[31] In the War of the Revolution, the right of the monarch to make all men slaves had not yet been clearly rejected, and there were for the most part, no elected governments or consent of this sort anywhere else in the world. Abolition in the period of modern slavery was an idea or a public possibility barely twenty years old. Denmark was the first European nation to ban the slave trade, in 1794, followed in 1807 and 8 by Britain and the U. S. The state of Vermont had already become the first to ban slavery itself, in 1777. By the time Denmark had banned the trade, slavery was already outlawed in six U. S. states. Britain abolished slavery throughout the empire in 1832. The French ended slavery in 1848, and the Dutch in 1863. The U. S. as a whole did not abolish slavery until the Thirteenth Amendment, after the Civil War (1865). Brazil did not follow until 1888, and slavery existed in isolated Asian and African nations throughout the last century. Prior to the ban on slavery in Vermont, it may be that no nation or sovereignty had ever abolished slavery before. The idea seems to have emerged very recently before the revolution, and not even to have occurred to anyone from 1619 through the 1740’s. The very idea of abolition seems to have originated with the Quakers in Europe and America, who took the first steps, around 1750, forbidding slave trading by their own members. The Quakers then created a schism in their own group over the issue, by expelling slave owning members.[32] Quaker abolitionism joined with the separate stream of the natural rights theory, based on the coherence of the ideas of a nature of unalienable human rights and a spark of the divine in every human. The question for U. S. History is why it took so long between 1808 and 1863, and again why the measures enacted into law and established in the Constitution took another century to begin to take effect.

   The Fugitive Slave Clause in the Constitution leaves it very difficult for northern abolitionists to swallow whole Lincoln’s political religion of obedience to law.[33] Jefferson rather noted that law might be only the will of a tyrant.[34] It is the principles of our government, rather, that “should be the creed of our political faith.”[35] Our natural liberty is violated by a compulsion to do injustice,[36] and when the conflict between law and natural liberty becomes too obvious, it is not only offenders but also the respect for law that suffers. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, explains that civil disobedience, properly executed and understood, in fact demonstrates “the highest respect for law.” Like Socrates, the disobedient openly accepts the legal penalty, thus complying with the law.

IV: Natural Equality

   The answer to the first question for U. S. history only begins with the invention of the cotton gin in 1793. Something happened in American government after the presidency of Madison and, as Jefferson foresaw, with the end of the founding generation. The natural rights theory at the basis of American government ceased to inspire, and rights came to be disregarded, even in moneymaking, as Jefferson predicted.[37] Jefferson wrote to Coles:

   I had always hoped that the younger generation receiving their early impressions after the flame of liberty had been kindled in every breast, & had become as it were the vital spirit of every American, that the generous temperament of youth, analogous to the motion of their blood, and above the suggestion of avarice, would have sympathized with oppression wherever found.

                 Letter to Edward Coles, Monticello, August 14, 1814

By the time of Lincoln, the Declaration was indeed “assailed and sneered at, and construed, and hawked at till if the framers could rise from their graves, they could not at all recognize it,” its “plain unmistakable language” done “obvious violence to.” As Lincoln notes, prior to the 1850’s, no one held the opinion of Douglas that the Declaration did not include all men, as is the most common opinion today. The Declaration was described as a “self evident lie” on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and had the South succeeded in seceding, they, and not Nazi Germany, would have been the first modern nation based on a theory of a master race.[38] They too take race to be something like a title of nobility.

   The opinion of natural equality is different from proficiency, or equality of abilities, and it is this distinction that makes it difficult to understand the principle of equality. The Asians, for example, who have emigrated especially from China, Korea and Japan, excel at certain aspects of computer technology, and are naturally over represented in reference to their proportion in the general population in these fields, in which respects they can be said to demonstrate a racial superiority, and in a kind of intelligence, at least in America. The difference may be due to both a natural proficiency and a cultural tendency to cultivate that proficiency. This, however, has almost nothing to do with a claim of Asian racial superiority in the sense contrary to the principle of equality, nor any claim to rule anyone without consent. The protection of the opportunity of diverse and unequal capacities is, as Madison notes, “the first object of Government.”[39]

   Sojourner Truth appeals to this distinction between two senses of equality when at the woman’s rights conference in 1851, she argued, regarding intellect: “If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yarn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have my little half measure full.”[40] Lincoln makes the very same argument, probably from her speech:

…I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands, without asking leave of anyone else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.

                                   Speech on the Dred Scott decision, 1857

Natural equality, and its civil counterpart, do not depend on equal proficiency, but on equal humanity, and so have nothing to do with racial equality and superiority in these slight and malleable differences of degree. Lincoln defeats Douglas by separating the issues of natural equality from the question of proficiency and the further questions of social and political equality. He tries to enable a majority to clearly distinguish the natural equality that is at issue. He then relates the two senses, when he argues against the opinion of Taney and Douglas that the founders did not intend to include Negroes because “they did not at once actually place them on an equality with whites.” The argument “comes to nothing,” because “neither did they place all white people on an equality with one another.” Civil equality not the same as natural equality is intended to flow inseparably from Natural equality: “They meant simply to declare the right so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.”[41] Political equality was secured with the Civil War Amendments, yet the courts decided in the 1883 Civil Rights cases and again in Plessy v. Ferguson, that social equality was not implied. Public accommodations might be decided as matters of private, not state action. In his famous dissent in the Plessy v. Ferguson, John Marshall Harlan wrote that our constitution is “colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates distinctions of race.” When the separate but equal rule was overturned in Brown v. Board of Education, the court could not gain unanimous agreement on the basis of Harlan’s dissent, and so took the different ground of the harm done to people by segregation. Yet the movement is toward Harlan’s dissent.

   There is an argument that Lincoln here takes the principle of equality as it appears in the Declaration, as a timeless principle or, as in the thought of Locke that established it, a characteristic of an imagined original condition prior to civil society, and makes of it something new: a goal in the future to be striven toward.[42] This is more like the forward-looking thought of the Christian apocalypse than it is like the reference to the origins of a biblical Eden. It is argued that Lincoln re-founds the United States by emphasizing the Declaration over the constitution.[43] Jaffa argues rather that the Constitution assumes that the United States already exists, that the Declaration is a part of U. S. law, and is presupposed by the Constitution, so that the principles need not be restated in the preamble.[44] And it seems clear that the Fourth of July was always celebrated as the birth of our Independence, even in the Constitutional Convention.[45] The Declaration, as Lincoln assumes when speaking on the Dred Scott case, was always read on this day. Jefferson too, long before Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, understood progress on the issue to be the progress of natural rights coming to be secured by our institutions.[46] The principles regarding the nature of man are always, and so are past, present and future, manifest in both the origin and the end, and in the present.

   Jefferson’s Chapter XIV of the Notes appears to establish his opinion of the racial inferiority of blacks, and, if one is to believe his appearance to a French ambassador, he repeated the opinion that emancipation was made difficult by the need to prevent race mixing, in June of 1996.[47] For Jefferson, the inclusion of blacks in natural equality coexisted with what appears to us a rather southern opinion regarding the inferiority of blacks as a race. This opinion is promoted by slavery itself, as Tocqueville writes of the black man: “From birth he has been told that his race is naturally inferior to the white man, and almost believing that, he holds himself in contempt.”[48] In the Chapter of the Notes on the Laws (XIV), he first states the appearances of differences and inferiority attempting to consider the question objectively. Because slavery was worse among the Romans than in America in a number of ways, Jefferson concludes that it is not only the terrible condition of slavery that causes the appearance of racial inferiority. He then cautions that the opinion of inferiority in the faculties of reason and imagination must be hazarded with great diffidence…” The reason: “They have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history.” For this reason, he puts the theory of black inferiority forward “as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” He then pleads for the right of natural history to consider the kinds within a genus “as distinct as nature has formed them.”[49]

   Following this conclusion in hypothesis, and the appeal to natural history, there follows a curious section in which Jefferson appears to contradict his later stated hope for emancipation by consent of the owners, avoiding extirpation, in Chapter XVIII. He begins: “This difference of color and perhaps of faculty is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people.” He then cites the opinion of many of the advocates for the slaves, who join with those opposed to abolition because they cannot answer the question of what is to be done once they are freed, and fear for the “dignity and beauty of human nature.” These are hence a group different from himself or his own opinion. It is for these that Jefferson says that for the Romans, it was necessary only to free their slaves, while for us “when freed he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.” Tocqueville too comments on this difference in comparison with the abolition of Roman slavery, where the freedman is indistinguishable from those always free in the general population into which they are freed: “In the modern world…the fact of servitude is most fatally combined with the physical and permanent fact of difference in race.” “Every difference,” as Aristotle writes, “is apt to cause faction,”[50]and the fear was that these differences would for the Americans be insurmountable. Slavery ends, but prejudice remains, and black anger too follows not the lines of genuine injuries, but the lines of race, seeing all whites as the cause of past injury. Still, it is clear that he says many things in the Notes that we would no longer say. Common opinion cannot, if even natural history can, imagine the effects of both cultivation and amalgamation, or the ways in which human natures are malleable and the ways in which what man is is the same everywhere and always. For the European, the tradition of civilization passed down through families connected for centuries or millennia to Western civilization, all the way back to Israel and Ancient Greece, were available. Their emigration was voluntary, and of not the least adventurous. Originally a people uncivilized and without letters, these are different yet from others without letters, the ancient Britons, Europeans, Asians or Native Americans, especially on the West coast of Africa. The slaves were brutally uprooted, even by other African tribes in war, then sold and shipped to work among people of a different language, their families broken, then they might be beaten and worked into a dreary stupor of submission, and forbid to learn to read. Let a few generations go by in circumstances like these, and empirical natural history is then to judge of their inferiority! Let go by another century of liberty and the equal protection of the laws, the cultivation of education, and the restoration of the family and new traditions, and if the races are still distinguished, none will remember that there ever was such an issue.

   Jefferson later changes his opinion slightly, in the letter to Coles, writing that it is the degrading effect of slavery on a people that has left few to doubt that Negroes were “as legitimate subjects of property as their horses or cattle.” And who knows how to estimate the ennobling effects of kindness, liberty, education, cultivation, and the better elements of civilization over even a few generations, when the vast majority of mankind goes to their grave unaware of the wonders and benefits of these apparently profitless ways of spending time?

   This section of the Notes may practice a rhetoric regarding opposition to abolition familiar to us from Lincoln, in which he tries to separate the questions of political and social equality from the question of the abolition of slavery and equal rights. Douglas had attempted to use the overwhelming majority prejudice against Lincoln by conflating the issues. In his speech against the Dred Scott case, Lincoln would use the voluntary and forced concubinage of slaves practiced by some (perhaps twenty percent?) of the slave owners to answer the attempt of Douglas to present Lincoln as favoring amalgamation. Racism did not fear amalgamation enough to control the vice that leads to most amalgamation in America. The leading cause of amalgamation is slavery. Therefore those concerned about race mixing should be abolitionists. Lincoln knows the contradiction between spirit and lust at the root of the despotic rule that is American racism. He uses this knowledge to expose the fear of amalgamation as a lie revealed by the nature of slave owners in spite of themselves, and purging this, leaves the sympathetic reader in compassion especially for the daughters of Dred Scott and all those subjected to slavery, and hopeful for the flourishing of human happiness everywhere. It is incidental by this time to note that in voluntary and forced concubinage, the nineteenth century slave owner betrays that he could not possibly deny the humanity of the Africans. No one prior to the 1850’s was ever forced to maintain this logical absurdity.

   Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia was finished in 1782, the same year that his wife died. He feared the reaction to his Notes, not as he would today, for its hypothetical conjecture of racial inferiority, but for the condemnation of slavery,[51] especially in Chapter XVIII. This section included the condemnation of the effect of slavery on the ethical character of the slave owner that reads like a confession, not necessarily of Jefferson in particular, but of slave owners in general.

   This was just before Sally Hemmings accompanied Jefferson and his daughter to France, and probably long before the affair that led to the birth of Eston, who it is now said is likely to have been the son of Jefferson. Sally returned from France pregnant with her first son, said to look like Jefferson, though now it appears that this was not his offspring. A nephew of Jefferson’s, the son of his friend Carr, who married Jefferson’s wife Martha’s sister, is said to be responsible for some of the children of Sally Hemmings, and a recent film presents the Carr relation as not consensual. Jefferson may even have rescued her. Such children would be ¾ “white.” American racism always had the peculiarity of wanting to classify small amounts of African ancestry as black. Homer Plessey, for example, at one-eighth African, was for this reason chosen to challenge the law. Amalgamation would seem to be the only natural solution to the problem of race, taking care of itself as time goes by, and the unique national character formed.

   It appears possible that the Hemmings affair left Jefferson politically vulnerable, and so his private life affected his public, possibly hobbling his efforts toward emancipation. What is noted, and requires explanation, is what appears, as Ellis writes, as a shift toward passivity and procrastination” that set in “sometime between 1783 and 1794.” It would be surprising if it were for him like a sin and guilt, though it would be less surprising if he feared the publicity of the affair would harm his action as President. To this day, the affair is said to show that our political heroes are mortal. Yet if he loved her, one wonders if it does not rather show another way that they are akin to the immortals, for whom race is of course meaningless (Galatians 3:28; Col. 3:11; Matthew 23:10).

   It is interesting that throughout all history the supporters of Jefferson had denied the rumor of the affair of Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, while his enemies, beginning with his Federalist opponents, held the rumors to be true. It is only in the present decade that interracial marriage has become presentable on TV, and it may be yet some time before this passes entirely unnoticed. Love and faction are of course perennial human stories, and if Jefferson chose love over convention, he might rank as one of the heroic lovers.

   Sally Hemmings was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, and it would be some time after his affair with Maria Cosway that he loved her. They may have lived almost as husband and wife, with the odd addition that he technically owns her, and in a way that white wives were not technically owned. We should not underestimate either her beauty or his private intellectual liberty. In addition to her similarity and friendship with Jefferson’s departed wife, it is plausible that he loved her when one considers the private liberalism of his character, his regard for science and nature, and the elevation of his sentiments. The love thesis is supported too by his lack of affairs after France. But it seems that the matter left him vulnerable publicly, neutralizing his effectiveness toward ending slavery. As when he was visited by Tom Paine in 1789, and heavily criticized for association with such property-less rabble, Jefferson had a way of honorably pursuing his private happiness in dignified disregard of his appearance or the political effects. He simply refused to address the charges of the affair.

   In keeping with the letter to Edward Coles, the famous descriptions of the joy of the slaves whenever Jefferson would return to Monticello indicates that his own household rule was rather royal than despotic. It is an extraordinary paradox that the aristocrat Jefferson led the democratic element of a revolution, and the royal nature so immune to conventional inequality as to live in complete disregard for the despotism of the more usual slave society. Jefferson’s household was run competently by managers George and Ursula, while the family of Betty Hemmings, the offspring of Jefferson’s father in Law, also worked in the house. There is no record of his having beaten a slave, though in some cases such an order was given to overseers, disciplining over one hundred slaves. The policy was to sell off troublemakers. His slaves worked as free laborers do. As Ellis describes the household rule of Jefferson over his slaves, it is paternal, some being considered as part of the family.[52] Eston, for example, would be both cousin and half-brother to the daughters of Jefferson, and a generation younger.

   Monticello may have been an example of what Aristotle considers as the original type of monarchic rule in paternal household rule, and if this rule is exercised for the benefit of the ruled, it is royal. As Tocqueville writes: “It can happen that a man will rise above prejudices of religion, country, and race, and if that man is a king, he can bring about astonishing transformations in society…”[53]

   The closest character to Jefferson at Monticello would be something like Shakespeare’s Theseus, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, preparing for his wedding to his conquered Amazon bride, in his philanthropy or magnanimity toward the craftsmen of Athens, who, though they do not yet vote for Duke, are not slaves. It is, though, not quite like the rule of Prospero in his household on the island or upon his possible return to Milan. The aristocratic natures of a Lincoln or Jefferson demonstrate a sort of character that could rule justly for the benefit of the ruled even without their consent. Royal rule gains the consent even of conquered love, revealing that the supposed truth that power necessarily corrupts is true only of this world, and for us while, by base self interest, confined there.

[1] pp. 1-2;”This view of the American founding– that ‘the Founders excluded Negroes from the ‘rights of man’ expressed in the Declaration of Independence and sanctioned slavery and Negro inferiority in the Constitution’– is a view that the radical abolitionists…share with their pro-slavery antagonists.” The opinion of Taney in the Dred Scott case is “one of the most authoritative statements” of this view.

[2] West, Thomas G. Vindicating the Founders. Harry V. Jaffa, The Crisis of the House Divided (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1959, 1989).

[3] Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, “Emancipation Proclamation,” 2005.

[4] West, Thomas G. Vindicating the Founders.

[5] Ibid, p. 5.

[6] Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted. In Alexander Hamilton and the Founding of the Nation, ed. Richard Branden Morris. NY: The Dial Press, 1957, p. 19, 13.

[7] Abraham Lincoln, Alton, October 15, 1858., in The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, edited by Robert W. Johannsen, NY: Oxford University Press, 1965, p.311-312; West, Vindicating the Founders, p. 32.

[8] James Madison, Notes of Debates. In The Federal Convention and the Formation of the Union, edited by Winton U. Solberg. NY: Bobbs-Merrill Company, inc., 1958, p. 281.

[9] Ibid, p. 22.

[10] West, Vindicating the Founders, p. 26.

[11] Equal treatment under the law had been recognized as a right in the 1641 Massachusetts body of Liberties (Encarta, 2005).

[12] Our text includes the following: “The proposed amendment that Madison characterized as ‘the most valuable amendment in the whole lot’–which would have prohibited the states from infringing on the freedoms of conscience, press, and jury trial–had been eliminated by the Senate.” Schmidt, Steffen W.; Shelley, Mark C., and Bardes, Barbara A. American Government and Politics today (Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth, 2009, p. 36).

[13] Letter to Henry Lee, Monticello, May 8, 1825. The pursuit of happiness may enter the thought of Mason and Jefferson from Aristotle’s Ethics, where happiness is the end or goal of human action (Ethics, I. 4, 7, 8, 12).

[14] Letter to William Johnson, Monticello, June 12, 1823.

[15] Carl Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas, p. 142 n1.

[16] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Question 94, Article 2; I am indebted for this and much else in the argument to Leo Paul de Alvarez, in his class called Principles of American Government, University of Dallas, 1987.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Carl Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas, pp. 180-181.

[19] Ellis, Joseph. American Sphinx, p. 60.

[20] Ibid., p. 61.

[21] Letter to James Heaton, Monticello, May 20, 1826.

[22] Letter to Edward Coles, August 25, 1814.

[23] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, II. 10, p. 349.

[24] Ibid, II. 10, 344-349.

[25] James Madison, Federalist 51.

[26] Fawn Brodie, in Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, may have been the first to suggest that it be understood as a love (Ellis, p. 365).

[27] Ellis, p. 179.

[28] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, II.10, p. 354. He cites peculiarly southern difficulties with gradual emancipation, pp. 354- 356.

[29] Martin Luther King. Letter from Birmingham Jail. from A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King. Edited by James Washington. (NY: Harper and Row, 1986).

[30] West, Vindicating the Founders, p. 3.

[31] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. II. 10, pp. 340-341.

[32] Harold, Stanley. “Abolitionist Movement,” Microsoft Encarta, 2005.

[33] Abraham Lincoln, Address Before the Springfield Young Men’s Lyceum, 1838.

[34] Jefferson, Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany, April 4, 1819.

[35] Jefferson, First Inaugural Address.

[36] Montesquieu presents a definition of liberty that is superior to the democratic definition of Jefferson (Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany, April 4, 1819) and others (Aristotle, Politics, V. ix, 1310 a), The Spirit of the Laws, XI.3. Political liberty consists in not being compelled to do what is wrong, nor prohibited from doing what is right. Both Montesquieu and Jefferson escape the objection of Storing that the American understanding of liberty as self-government left an unusually wide opening for slavery (Storing, p. 21-22; West, p. 23), Jefferson because liberty is limited by basic duties and the rights of others (Letter to Francis W. Gilmer, June 7, 1816).

[37] Notes, XVII.

[38] West, Vindicating the Founders, p. 21.

[39] James Madison, Federalist 10.

[40] Francis Gage, transcriber. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, 2005.

[41] A. Lincoln, Speech on the Dred Scott case, 1857.

[42] Jaffa, The Crisis of the House Divided, p. 321.

[43] Wilmore Kendall, cited in Leo Paul S. de Alvarez, Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.

[44] Harry Jaffa, American Conservatism and the American Founding, Durham, N. C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1984, pp.196-197.

[45] Edmund Randolf, Thursday, June 28. In James Madison, Notes of Debates, loc. cit., p. 187.

[46] Hamilton writes: Civil liberty is only natural liberty modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society.” The Farmer Refuted, p. 13. The same could be said of Natural and Civil equality, beginning with the equal right to liberty. Interestingly, the substance of natural and civil rights is the same, natural right persisting in society where it is modified and secured. For Locke, liberty flows logically from equality, the opposite of natural rule and subjection (Second Treatise of Government, II. 4, VIII. 95.

[47] Ellis, p. 175; citing Stanton, Thomas Jefferson and his Slaves, p. 174.

[48]Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, II.10, p. 319.

[49] As in the case of the theory of Indian migration (Notes, XI, Peterson edition, p. 142), Jefferson is here on the right track. Contemporary science understands the difference between the blacks and all other races as a difference within the same genus, species and sub species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The type, our sort, called “Cro-Magnon” by the anthropologists, originated at least 120,000 years ago in Africa, and an astonishing recent theory holds that all other races derive from a single crossing out of Africa and into Europe by the San tribe, 70,000 years ago, and from here the races spread out, first across the Middle East, and the Pacific down to Tasmania, and later across Europe, Asia, America (From the PBS documentary “The Real Eve,” 2005). These developed then for some seventy thousand years in slightly different circumstances, beginning with the difference between those who move and those who stay. But the differences among the human races are far less pronounced than the difference among breeds of dogs, in part because the other kinds have been killed off, and in part because we were not much subjected to cultivation through breeding, as dogs were for possibly as many as 120,000 years. Their ability to interbreed means that they are biologically still the same species, more so than Horses and donkeys. For mankind, nature’s own selection, through the appearance of beauty and nobility in love, has in the orders of liberty rightly been allowed the authority and the natural right which cannot in any case be denied.

[50] Aristotle, Politics, V, iii, 1303 b.

[51] Ellis, p. 101-102.

[52] Ibid., p. 180; 175- 181.

[53] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, II.10, p. 356.


Becker, Carl L. The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Ideas, New York: Random House, 1942.

Madison, James. Notes of Debates. In The Federal Convention and the Formation of the Union, edited by Winton U. Solberg. NY: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1958.

Storing Herbert, “The Founders and Slavery,” in The College, Annapolis, MD: St. John’s, March 5, 1976.

Washington Post, May 7, 1987. In Democracy Under Pressure, Milton C. Cummings, Jr and David Wise. Belmont, CA: Thompson, p. 49.

West, Thomas G. Vindicating the Founders. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997.

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