This Fourth of July we should read Professor Paul Finkelman's excellent article after many incidents of recent racial hatred, gun violence, and President Obama's eulogy at Charleston, S.C. for the victims of another senseless racially motivated killing at a Bible study inside a sanctuary. It had been the target of racists before. We might look at the third president of our country and see where some of these roots derive from despite the traditional reverence accorded to Jefferson because of his role in writing the Declaration of Independence. Even the flag of the confederacy has provoked many to act to bring it down or request that governors consider that. Obama mentioned in his eulogy bringing it down would not be an act of political correctness, nor would it detract from those who fought in the civil war, but rather that the purpose the South fought to preserve slavery was wrong. Perhaps now we can face the need to make it harder to put guns into the hands of people not fit to handle a gun. Here are some sobering thoughts on one of our national heroes who was a slaveholder when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. You may be surprised to find his behavior fell far short of what we now expect of our leaders, yet in his time, and even now, he was, and is, revered for his passionate embrace of independence and the American Revolution.
By PAUL FINKELMAN NOV. 30, 2012
THOMAS JEFFERSON is in the news again, nearly 200 years after his death — alongside a high-profile biography by the journalist Jon Meacham comes a damning portrait of the third president by the independent scholar Henry Wiencek.
We are endlessly fascinated with Jefferson, in part because we seem unable to reconcile the rhetoric of liberty in his writing with the reality of his slave owning and his lifetime support for slavery. Time and again, we play down the latter in favor of the former, or write off the paradox as somehow indicative of his complex depths.
Neither Mr. Meacham, who mostly ignores Jefferson’s slave ownership, nor Mr. Wiencek, who sees him as a sort of fallen angel who comes to slavery only after discovering how profitable it could be, seem willing to confront the ugly truth: the third president was a creepy, brutal hypocrite.
Contrary to Mr. Wiencek’s depiction, Jefferson was always deeply committed to slavery, and even more deeply hostile to the welfare of blacks, slave or free. His proslavery views were shaped not only by money and status but also by his deeply racist views, which he tried to justify through pseudoscience.
There is, it is true, a compelling paradox about Jefferson: when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, announcing the “self-evident” truth that all men are “created equal,” he owned some 175 slaves. Too often, scholars and readers use those facts as a crutch, to write off Jefferson’s inconvenient views as products of the time and the complexities of the human condition.
But while many of his contemporaries, including George Washington, freed their slaves during and after the revolution — inspired, perhaps, by the words of the Declaration — Jefferson did not. Over the subsequent 50 years, a period of extraordinary public service, Jefferson remained the master of Monticello, and a buyer and seller of human beings.
Rather than encouraging his countrymen to liberate their slaves, he opposed both private manumission and public emancipation. Even at his death, Jefferson failed to fulfill the promise of his rhetoric: his will emancipated only five slaves, all relatives of his mistress Sally Hemings, and condemned nearly 200 others to the auction block. Even Hemings remained a slave, though her children by Jefferson went free.
Nor was Jefferson a particularly kind master. He sometimes punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time. A proponent of humane criminal codes for whites, he advocated harsh, almost barbaric, punishments for slaves and free blacks. Known for expansive views of citizenship, he proposed legislation to make emancipated blacks “outlaws” in America, the land of their birth. Opposed to the idea of royal or noble blood, he proposed expelling from Virginia the children of white women and black men.
Jefferson also dodged opportunities to undermine slavery or promote racial equality. As a state legislator he blocked consideration of a law that might have eventually ended slavery in the state.
As president he acquired the Louisiana Territory but did nothing to stop the spread of slavery into that vast “empire of liberty.” Jefferson told his neighbor Edward Coles not to emancipate his own slaves, because free blacks were “pests in society” who were “as incapable as children of taking care of themselves.” And while he wrote a friend that he sold slaves only as punishment or to unite families, he sold at least 85 humans in a 10-year period to raise cash to buy wine, art and other luxury goods.
Destroying families didn’t bother Jefferson, because he believed blacks lacked basic human emotions. “Their griefs are transient,” he wrote, and their love lacked “a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation.”
Jefferson claimed he had “never seen an elementary trait of painting or sculpture” or poetry among blacks and argued that blacks’ ability to “reason” was “much inferior” to whites’, while “in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.” He conceded that blacks were brave, but this was because of “a want of fore-thought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present.”
A scientist, Jefferson nevertheless speculated that blackness might come “from the color of the blood” and concluded that blacks were “inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind.”
Jefferson did worry about the future of slavery, but not out of moral qualms. After reading about the slave revolts in Haiti, Jefferson wrote to a friend that “if something is not done and soon done, we shall be the murderers of our own children.” But he never said what that “something” should be.
In 1820 Jefferson was shocked by the heated arguments over slavery during the debate over the Missouri Compromise. He believed that by opposing the spread of slavery in the West, the children of the revolution were about to “perpetrate” an “act of suicide on themselves, and of treason against the hopes of the world.”
If there was “treason against the hopes of the world,” it was perpetrated by the founding generation, which failed to place the nation on the road to liberty for all. No one bore a greater responsibility for that failure than the master of Monticello.
Paul Finkelman, a visiting professor in legal history at Duke Law School, is a professor at Albany Law School and the author of “Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson.”
"These un-prosecuted killings of African-American men go way beyond racial prejudice. They are the calling card of an Orwellian state.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me
Pastor Martin Niemoller, speaking about Nazi Germany
First, they've come for the people of color.
America's police forces increasingly serve as a private corporate army, beyond the reach of the law.
But our nation is distracted by race. And millions of white Americans are under the illusion that what was done to Michael Brown and Eric Garner can't happen to them.
These un-prosecuted killings of African-American men go way beyond racial prejudice. Ferguson Protest, NYC 25th Nov 2014 (image by The All-Nite Images)
They are the calling card of an Orwellian state:
America's founders established grand juries to protect citizens from frivolous prosecution. But today's corporate state has twisted the system to protect killer police from public scrutiny, putting them above the law.
The ultimate message is clear: police can kill American citizens without cause and face no public trial. (Steven Rosenfeld lays out the details here.)
The current focus is on skin color. Thankfully, Americans throughout the US have risen up in protest, demanding social justice and an end to racism.
But the larger issue is a police apparatus now inflicting random terror in service of a corporate state that has mutated far beyond public control.
We are still being assaulted by a cynical 40-year drug war used to disenfranchise and violate the basic rights of millions of Americans with no real recourse.
In the name of that drug war, and the one on terror, police randomly confiscate (steal) billions in cash from citizens of all races, in direct violation of the Bill of Rights and any sense of a real legal system. Police departments use these officially sanctioned armed robberies to help fund heavy war-time weaponry also coming to them as "surplus" from the federal military. Citizens of color, the young, the poor and the elderly are being systematically stripped of the right to vote by a modern electronic Jim Crow. The dominance of a corporate one-party system is furthered by the use of privately-owed, easily-rigged electronic voting machines.
The NSA and other official agencies are spying on us without restraint.
Our ability to communicate through an open, neutral internet is also under attack. Meanwhile a San Diego rapper with no record of violence has been charged with multiple "crimes" based on his lyrics. As anger with America's billionaire elite spreads, we can certainly expect the counter-attacks on open speech to escalate.
That the victims of these latest police killings are most often men of color is tragic. It also gives the corporate media the perfect distraction behind which to hide the root problem.
Throughout our history, race has been the reliably lethal facade for all sorts of political repression. It's the hate-filled poison perfectly designed to divide and distract us.
That sickness is real enough. But the ultimate cancer we face is the rise of an all-powerful corporate state and its iron grip on a violent, unaccountable private army licensed to kill--no matter what the race or cause--while knowing that the once-sacred right to a public trial does not apply to them. Should the attacks on the internet succeed, we'll also be hearing less and less about them.
Thus we are all in the shoes of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Those who think themselves somehow above it all by virtue of race or class are simply not paying attention.
Unless we rise up to secure social justice and our basic legal rights, we're all just a single cop away from being as dead as the very latest victim of official violence... at any time, for no reason, with no recourse.
Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org . His SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is at www.solartopia.org . The Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show airs at www.progressiveradionetwork.com .
HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE US is available at http://www.harveywasserman.com/, as is A GLIMPSE OF THE BIG LIGHT and clues to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.
Here’s Why: Veterans are being denied life saving care they have earned for injuries and illness sustained in service. Too many service members are wrongfully discharged from the military for displaying symptoms of a mental health condition when they should have received mental health care and a diagnosis - instead they got dumped with bad paper.
It's time to stop harming our servicemembers and veterans over paperwork. If we really care about the troops, we must make sure our veterans get the care they have earned.SIGN THE PETITION http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/protect-vets-from-losing