The New York Times
Thomas Jefferson is one of the most admired Founders, said Paul Finkelman, but only because historians keep excusing his racism and cruelty. Nearly 200 years after the third president’s death, the nation is still trying to reconcile “the rhetoric of liberty” in his writing with his “lifetime support for slavery.” In two recent Jefferson biographies, his slave-owning is essentially excused as an artifact of his times. But the ugly truth is that the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, which enshrines the “self-evident” truth that all men are “created equal,” was a disturbingly enthusiastic “buyer and seller of human beings.” George Washington and other leading contemporaries freed their slaves, recognizing the evil of owning men. Jefferson never did, keeping 175 slaves on his farm at Monticello, and selling off slaves and breaking up families so he could buy wine, art, and other luxuries. He took his slave Sally Hemings as a mistress, yet to his dying days insisted that blacks were inferior to whites “in body and mind,” and “lacked basic human emotion.” So let’s stop cloaking Jefferson in excuses: He was “a creepy, brutal hypocrite.”
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The latent sexism of the male marriage proposal
- Is it now OK to have sex with animals?
- Bush vs. Clinton in 2016 is the perfect way to make millennials hate politics even more
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- This judge is the reason we're still fighting over net neutrality
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Everything you need to know about Japan's population crisis
Subscribe to the Week