Thomas Jefferson You’re Breaking My Heart

I am absolutely shaken and freaked out about this article in the Smithsonian magazine about Thomas Jefferson the slave-owner. You have to read it to the end.

It is well known that Jefferson owned slaves, slept with his slaves, etc. But he has always been portrayed as a reluctant, mostly benevolent slave owner, who abhored the situation, but was kinda trapped and always trying to figure a humane way out, and apparently that wasn’t at all true.

Not only was he cruel and allowed horrendous cruelties to continue, and specifically barbaric treatment of children, it was in order to continue to make profits, and profits over and above what he needed. When offered a way out—the money he needed to free his slaves and to be able to continue to maintain his house and life style—he declined.

Maybe someone will come along and refute this research, but it’s horrible on the face of it. I have to completely revisit everything I thought I knew about Jefferson.

One World Trade Center minutes before I heard there was a tornado watch in New York City. (End times.)

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

4 thoughts on “Thomas Jefferson You’re Breaking My Heart

  1. Read Ron Chernow’s excellent bios of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. He points out, especially in the Hamilton book, what a hypocrite Jefferson was. During the 1790’s, when the Reign of Terror was going on in Paris, Jefferson wholeheartedly supported the slaughter of hundreds of people whose guilt was very questionable. As early as the 1760s Jefferson strongly supported efforts to recapture fugitive slaves. The more I read about him, the less I like him. Hamilton, and especially Washington look better and better.

  2. I just got my copy of the Smithsonian yesterday and went to read the Jefferson article.

    Looks like hypocritcal politicians have been wtih us all the way back to Founding Fathers. I see that George Washington did everything he could to emancipate his slaves prior to his death.

    I was reading “1493” and the author’s hypothesis of why Central and South America have lagged so far behind North America politically, economically, etc. is due to the fact that they encouraged and maintained slavery for centuries. I think (and I don’t have time to Google it), that slavery persisted in Brazil until the late 1800’s.

    And look how far behind economically the states here in the US who seceded prior to the Civil War. Same hypothesis applies.

  3. What you both say about Washington. Of the two bios you recommend I’m going to read the Washington one first.

    Karen, wasn’t that article mind-blowing? That poor guy who kept trying and trying to escape. Absolutely heart-breaking, and of course there were so many heart-breaking revelations in that article.

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