How Does One Judge?…..Thomas Jefferson and Me continued

All the comment about my little comment really deserves somebody better than me to respond.

If we are not to judge ‘Massa Thom by 20th and 21st century standards (and I try very hard not to do that with any historical figure), but I can’t use his own words to make a judgement, then exactly how are we to judge?

My main argument about Jefferson is that he was for repatriating Africans, not for finding a way for the two groups (and the Native Americans) to live together. This, to me, says that ‘Massa Thom would not be particularly pleased that someone of African descent was President-elect of the U.S. My secondary argument was the intelligence argument. And while I think it is the weaker argument, The Bell Curve  essentially just updates it for the 20th and 21st century.

That’s it for now. Have to write two pages on the meanings of the word discipline in Proverbs.

8 thoughts on “How Does One Judge?…..Thomas Jefferson and Me continued

  1. I’ll try to reply to this Kim, since I don’t have any papers to write at the moment. I haven’t really read enough of Jefferson in his own words to feel confident that I can predict how he would have thought and felt given a 21st century perspective on the subject. I do know that he thought slavery was a great evil, felt a great deal of moral ambiguity about his own participation in that peculiar economic institution, and doubtlessly a great deal of shame that at the end of his life he was so mired in debt that he was unable to free his own slaves (as Washington and many of the other prominent Patriot southern planters had in their wills).

    I DO know that he was able to manumit his own children, and often set them up in a trade. Sally Hemmings, however, remained a slave her entire life — although I recently read that this was something Jefferson arranged to take advantage of a legal loophole in Virginia’s Black Codes — had he simply set her free, she would have been obligated to leave the state of Virginia, but by remaining a “retired” slave she could remain in the state in a house Jefferson had provided for her, and with the care and company of her own adult children, who for some reason as free black tradesmen were NOT obligated to leave. There was also something in this law (I wasn’t really paying attention, since I never dreamed I’d be writing this post) which prohibited slaveholders from simply releasing their slaves after they had reached a certain age — since these “massas” had benefited from that labor all those many years, they were obligated to provide for their laborers in their declining years, rather than just throwing them out in the street.

    As for the colonization issue, this was a very common attitude through much of the ante-bellum era, and simply because it seems like a stupid, unworkable, and inherently racist approach today doesn’t mean that it didn’t have it’s attractive features at the time. In effect it represented a naive desire simply to put things right by putting things back to the way they had been before slavery had even started in the Americas…an impossible fantasy, of course, but still an attractive one. Lincoln was also an advocate of Colonization at one point in his career, as were many of the more prominent Unitiarian ministers of the day. The country of Liberia is the surviving legacy of this movemnt; you can make from that evidence whatever you wish in regard to the quality of the plan itself.

    Finally, as the father of several mixed-race children himself, I think on some level Jefferson would have been delighted by the Obama victory last week, as well as delighted to discover that his initial subjective evaluations of the two races were inadequate, and that the differences in ability he perceived in the 18th were more “environmental” than “essential” and thus could be overcome with proper education and equal access to the many opportunities a free society provides for ALL its citizens. And that’s all I have time for today. Hope I haven’t taken up too much space here.

  2. Wow…Eclectic…wow.

    To somehow gild Jefferson’s actions toward his victim…now that’s a form of denial of high order.

    We have no idea when Jefferson began having sex with his slave. It could have been as young as 13, given the stresses on even house slaves at the time it wasn’t greater than 17. Can anyone say pedifile? Yet, you are ready to erect a complex apology for him on the issue of race knowing he was in effect raping the slave he had sex with.

    Looking at sex with a slave in terms of the power relationship is not revisionist, Eclectic, not when it is as simple as slavery. She was owned by him, saying “no” was not an option. We have no idea when the sex began, but there is no way you can honestly call sex with a slave “consensual”.

    If he was the egalitarian that too many UU’s (most of them white) delude themselves in to believing, then he would have freed her. There were free blacks in his area, but he never did. To go on about how he set up her the offspring from his actions, like that somehow forgive the initial act is well…repugnant. Oh and by the way neither Jefferson, nor his ancestors acknowledged the Hemming family until DNA tests finally proved it in the 90’s.

    In terms of Jefferson’s mind…Adams had it right: hypocracy. He was a moral and ethical failure with great communicative skills and a powerful scientific mind. That’s it. Franklin was a sex addict and Addams a brilliant, feminist, fundamentalist puritan control freak. Our founding fathers were not perfect. Some, however, performed loathsome acts that we as UU’s should not offer apology.

    I also wonder if you would be so sanguine if you heard that a serb who raped a bosnian gave her money afterward…so its all right. Would you say “the rapist set up the familiy of the victim so he was not a bad person?”

    Do you belive that if a Nazis SS officers in a concentration camp had sex with a jewish woman and kept her alive so she could service him, that it wasn’t rape. I mean he looked at her as less than human, and she was slave labor…so by your morals that was okay. Sure his affiliation was wrong, but in the end he had not raped her, at least by your standards.

    Do you think that since the Korean “Comfort Girls” did not suffer starvation when they were put in Japanese brothels that the act was actually positive? I guess the Tojo government, by your reckoning had not committed an atrocious act.

    Too often I meet UU’s proclaim their liberal enlightenment and then in the same breath seek any little excuse to hold Jefferson up as an example of our faith.

    Raping a slave is raping a slave, it is repugnant and loathsome, only to be outdone by a person who tries to make excuses for the act. At that time there were those who saw slavery as evil and even those who would have considered his actions repugnant. He was not a victim of his history, he was a smart man who committed horrific acts, but helped found our country. We may be indebted to him, but we should not as a faith exult, claim, or excuse him.

    If you really need a white person to point to proudly then look to Viola Liuzza. Now there was a Universalist feminist civil rights Icon who Obama owes a debt to.

  3. I didn’t choose to touch on Sally Hemmings for a reason that you guys show very well-

    We don’t know exactly the nature of the relationship there, and so people tend to see in it what they go looking for. If you go in thinking Jefferson was basically a good guy, you tend to interpret what information we have the way EC does. If you go into it seeing Jefferson primarily as a slaveowning racist, you see it Chuck’s way.

    Using what little we know, people can make convincing-sounding arguments either way. But we don’t know.


  4. If you go into it after having conducted a free and *responsible* search for the truth and meaning of Thomas Jefferson’s “expressed attitudes about race” you have second thoughts about going into it thinking Jefferson was basically a good guy. . . The reason that I prudently chose not to speculate about how Thomas Jefferson would feel about a half-white half-African man becoming President of the United States of America was precisely because I knew that I did not know enough about his “expressed attitudes about race” to comment one way or the other. After having done some responsible research into that question however I would have to say that The Eclectic Cleric has taken up too much space here, indeed he would appear to have engaged in some DIM Thinking about Thomas Jefferson.

    Some people just don’t know when to quit when they are already miles behind. . .

    Rev. Tim Jensen had previously taken up too much space elsewhere on this blog in saying –

    “Calling Jefferson (or for that matter, Lincoln) racist because their expressed attitudes about race don’t match up to contemporary understandings is simply wrong-headed.”

  5. “Using what little we know, people can make convincing-sounding arguments either way. But we don’t know.”

    Wow, CC, I really did not know your conservatism was so anti-feminist when it came to women of color. The man literally owned the woman had the means to free her, but didn’t and never openly recognised children he sired from her. Given role of women in that time it is more likely than not his relationship started when she was at least under 17 and more likely under 16, and heavens know parental consent was not an issue here.

    If this had been a white women suborned in Africa you would be screaming about it.

    Yet you would rather cling to the thin premise that the details are too unknowable to come to any conclusion. Because otherwise you would have to show compassion to a raped black woman. That is some powerful hate there, CC. Anne Coulter would be proud.

  6. Kim had asked us to leave this topic alone, and I was trying to mostly do so.

    To my thinking, people are innocent until proven guilty, even when white women in Africa are involved. I assume you don’t believe me when I say that, and I haven’t a clue how I would convince you that I’m telling the truth there. My guess is that it would be impossible for me to do so no matter how strongly I believe it.

    If experts on Jefferson are still debating the issue, then I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a layperson to remain agnostic on exactly what happened and what people’s motivations were, particularly as the conclusions you jump to about me and about my motivations remind me that it’s very hard to know what is going on in someone else’s head and why they do what they do, to say nothing of events that occurred three hundred years ago that were ill-recorded at the time.

    I don’t think we’re going to get any closer to one another on this point. Can we respect Kim’s wishes and leave the topic alone now?


  7. Not unsurprisingly you are disingenuously misrepresenting what Kim said CC. Kim did not express any desire for people to leave the general topic of Thomas Jefferson’s apparent racism and White Supremacism alone, nor did she even suggest that *we* should leave the topic of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings alone. What Kim *did* say was that she personally was not comfortable about discussing “the nature of Sally’s relationship with ‘Massa Thom”.

    Indeed she went on to say –

    If *you* all want to have that conversation, *fine*. Don’t be surprised that I won’t be a part of it.

    Having said that, I will say that Chuck B. really does need to tone down his own questionably judgmental projections and what U*Us would call “name-calling”.

  8. Going on at great length on somebody’s blog about a topic that they have stated makes them uncomfortable strikes me as rude, even if they have said that we can talk about it if we want to.

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