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
- 10 things you need to know today: November 24, 2014
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- What would it take for humans to build a settlement on Mars?
- Want to eliminate the scourge of frat culture? Lower the drinking age.
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- Yes, the Obama administration's green loans are unprofitable. They should be.
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
Subscribe to the Week