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Category Archives: Slavery

Independence launched for slaves, too, on July 4, 1776?

he [King George III of England] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people [Africans] who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium [disgrace] of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted [sacrificed for financial gain] his negative [veto] for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable [disgraceful] commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die [“lacking officialness”?], he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
Thomas Jefferson’s Draft of the Declaration of Independence,
Approved by the Committee of Five, July 2, 1776

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders stand by unpopular but necessary positions.
Much of the Declaration of Independence is a list of the many offenses suffered at the hands of the King of England. This was one of them, a no-holds-barred condemnation of the King’s protection, promotion, and expansion of the slave trade between Africa and his colonies.

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution in Congress calling for America’s independence. Four days later, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five” to draft the reasons why this radical action might be taken. Thomas Jefferson was one of the five and delegated by the other four to draft the original document. The Committee made a few changes in Jefferson’s work but left the paragraph above intact. Congress took up debate on the draft after Lee’s resolution for independence was approved on July 2.

This language is not in the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Congress on July 4, 1776. Why not? Georgia and South Carolina would not vote for independence if that language remained. It was a political decision that favored a unanimous  vote without this language, over a split vote with two colonies against independence if the language remained. Northern colonies which benefited from the slave trade were also complicit in the decision to drop the condemning words.

Jefferson was greatly distressed by this change. Benjamin Franklin, the senior and most respected member of the Committee of Five, counseled him  to hold his tongue. Jefferson did so.

This document shows the differences between the Declaration approved by the Committee of Five and the one adopted by the Congress. Note this entire paragraph was deleted.

Thomas Jefferson, a principled man despite his many uninformed detractors,
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He has earned mercy, not judgment.

I am informed that James Hemings my servant has put himself under your superintendance until he can hear from me on the subject of his return. I can readily excuse the follies of a boy and therefore his return shall ensure him an entire pardon. during my absence hereafter I should place him with Johnny Hemings and Lewis at house-joiner’s work. if you will get him a passage in the Richmond stage I will get mr Higginbotham to pay his fare on his arrival at Milton.
Thomas Jefferson to James Oldham, July 20, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders take difficult circumstances into account.
Hemings, one of Jefferson’s young slaves, had abandoned Monticello a few months before and was working odd jobs between Richmond and Norfolk. Someone who knew of Hemings’ whereabouts asked James Oldham, Jefferson’s former carpenter now living in Richmond, if he should confine Hemings until he could be returned. Oldham said no, that Hemings could stay with him until Jefferson’s wishes were known.

Hemings was willing to return to Monticello if he was not placed under the overseer, Gabriel Lilley, who had treated him harshly. (Lilley was known for his severe treatment, and Jefferson was seeking his replacement.) Oldham was now asking his former employer’s opinion.

Jefferson would grant Hemings, whom he called a servant, not a slave, a full pardon for his youthful folly. Acknowledging Hemings’ legitimate concern, upon his return, he would be freed from Lilley and placed under a skilled carpenter, where he might learn a trade.

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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Thomas Jefferson, in a nutshell

I love industry & abhor severity.
Thomas Jefferson to John Strode, June 5, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
These are two very good qualities for any leader.
Strode was one of several people whose help Jefferson sought in finding a replacement for his competent but over-priced manager at Monticello. Strode was a long-time friend, and the President occasionally spent the night at his home when he traveled between Monticello and Washington City. This letter, like the others, described the many duties of an overseer.

In the middle of this letter are these six words that capture the heart of Thomas Jefferson. He loved kind, industrious people. He could have described himself the same way. He was unfailingly thoughtful and always on-task. In a letter to his daughter (one I can’t find at the moment), he advised her how much a person could accomplish if they were not wasting time but always doing something productive.

One concern Jefferson had about his current overseer, Gabriel Lilley, was his occasional severity toward the slaves. Jefferson wanted none of it. He hated that kind of behavior, whether toward his servants or anyone else.

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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it. 
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Will slavery end by justice or violence?  2 of 2

the value of the slave is every day lessening; his burthen on his master dayly increasing. interest is therefore preparing the disposition to be just; and this will be goaded from time to time by the insurrectionary spirit of the slaves. this is easily quelled in it’s first efforts; but from being local it will become general, and whenever it does it will rise more formidable after every defeat, until we shall be forced, after dreadful scenes & sufferings to release them in their own way which, without such sufferings we might now model after our own convenience.
Thomas Jefferson to William Armistead Burwell, January 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders seek justice for the oppressed.
Thomas Jefferson claimed the economic value of slavery was waning and asserted a growing interest in preparing for a just end to the practice. That interest would “be goaded from time to time” by slave insurrections.

Those uprisings would be local, minor and easily dispelled at the first. Each would build on another until they became widespread, potent and violent. In time, they would force their own emancipation “after dreadful scenes & sufferings.” Any hope for a just and peaceful resolution would be lost.

Just the year before, a 13 year revolt in the Caribbean ended with the violent overthrow of slavery and the independence of Haiti. In 1800, the enslaved Gabriel attempted to mount a slave uprising in Jefferson’s own Virginia. No doubt both events influenced Jefferson’s desire for a just solution rather than a violent one.

Jefferson was mistaken in thinking emancipation would be goaded from the bottom up by growing rebellion from slaves. Through the Civil War, slavery ended from the top down through great violence between Northern and Southern white populations.

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There will be no early end to slavery.  Part 1 of 2

I have long since given up the expectation of any early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us. there are many virtuous men who would make any sacrifices to effect it. many equally virtuous who persuade themselves either that the thing is not wrong, or that it cannot be remedied. and very many with whom interest is morality. the older we grow, the larger we are disposed to believe the last party to be. but interest is really going over to the side of morality.
Thomas Jefferson to William Armistead Burwell, January 28, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What causes a leader to give up on an essential cause?
Burwell, President Jefferson’s private secretary, wrote a thoughtful analysis of two slavery related bills in Congress. One would prohibit their importation from abroad as well as their transport from one state to another. The other bill provided for emancipation. The second had already been defeated. He feared the first would be, too.

Thomas Jefferson championed emancipation for almost 35 years since his service in the colonial House of Burgesses. Since his every effort met with defeat, Jefferson retreated, not from the cause but from the timing. The nation was not ready to accept it.

He explained there were virtuous men totally opposed to slavery and virtuous men who either justified it or resigned themselves to it. The longer people lived, the more they came to accept the second group, that slavery was either necessary or inevitable.

The President held to the first position, that it was morally wrong and public interest was slowly moving in that direction. So slowly, though, that any attempt to hurry it along would hurt the cause rather than hasten it.

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We should not have to hang these people.

… our endeavor to procure an asylum in the colony of Sierra Leone for such persons of the description composing that colony as we might find it expedient to send there [appears to be unsuccessful].
… affairs in St. Domingo has undergone important changes… may furnish that opening which the resolution desired.
The acquisition of Louisiana, may also procure the opportunity desired.
On the whole it appears probable that St. Domingo or Louisiana may open to the legislature of Virginia the recourse which their resolution contemplates.
To John Page, December 23, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Determined leaders continue to seek solutions to vexing problems.
Virginia Governor John Page (1743-1808) had sought the President’s help in carrying out a directive of the Virginia legislature. Slave uprisings in St. Domingo (present day Haiti and Dominican Republic) had spurred unrest among slaves in America. An insurrection in Virginia in 1800 was foiled, and 26 of its participants were hanged. The legislature sought an alternative, some distant place where rebellious slaves could be relocated. Jefferson also sought a refuge for freed American slaves. His hope to join an English slave resettlement effort in Sierra Leone, West Africa, was rebuffed. Now, the vast expanse of Louisiana might provide that refuge or perhaps even St. Domingo itself.

In correspondence preceding this letter, Jefferson stressed that the Virginia insurrectionists were “not felons, or common malefactors [criminals]” and a far more humane response was needed. He was never successful in his efforts to remove freed slaves from the abuses of their former masters.

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The cause is noble, but the Constitution forbids me to act.

Your favor [letter] … and it’s contents perused with deep interest, as every thing is by me on a subject so pregnant of future events as that. but that subject is not within the constitutional powers of the General government. it exclusively belongs to each state … and it would contravene the duties which my station imposes on me towards them were I to intermeddle in it directly or indirectly. I have only therefore to express my wishes that it may some day terminate in such a way as that the principles of justice & safety of the whole may be preserved.
To John Crawford, October 22, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders respect limitations on their authority.
Crawford (1746-1813) was an Irish-born physician, scientist and civic leader in Baltimore. He wrote a v-e-r-y long, well-reasoned yet impassioned letter to the President, pleading for any steps leading to the emancipation of American slaves. He even addressed Jefferson’s musings in his book, Notes on Virginia (1784), whether blacks were inferior to whites.

In a short reply, Jefferson acknowledged the seriousness of the issue and the threat it posed to the republic’s future. Yet, national action was not permitted by the Constitution. The 10th Amendment, alluded to here, gave the national government (he called it “the General government”) limited and specific powers only. All other powers belonged to the states. That included issues pertaining to slavery and emancipation.

All he could do is express his personal desire for slavery’s end in such a manner that “justice [for slaves] & safety of the whole [nation] may be preserved.”

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Is a slave only a servant?

A gentleman here has given me 40. Balsam poplars to send to Monticello, and mr Randolph’s servant, who was to have returned tomorrow, will be detained till the next day, to carry them. as I set much store by these trees which I have been a long time trying to get to Monticello, I wish them to be carefully taken up & packed in bundles for safe transportation.
To Robert Bailey, October 19, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What’s a leader to do when confronted by an unsolvable problem?
19th century Thomas Jefferson is often measured by 21st century sensibilities and judged a hypocrite for declaring “all men are created equal,” while continuing to own slaves. It was a vexing issue for the new nation, but Jefferson’s record opposing slavery was clear, from his mid-20’s as a member of the House of Burgesses until his death at age 83. Believing public opinion was not ready to support emancipation, he did not take up the role of an abolitionist.

Jefferson was a slave owner all of his adult life, primarily of ones bequeathed to him by the estates of his father and father-in-law. Both Jefferson and his slaves were trapped in a system from which there was no practical or humane escape. Given that reality, he endeavored to treat those enslaved to him with benevolence. This letter gives an example.

He referred to his people as servants rather than slaves. He accorded the same status to others’, referring in this letter to his son-in-law’s “servant.” That man was the slave Davy Bowles, who would wait in Washington an extra day for the purpose of transporting “40. Balsam poplars” to Monticello. While slaves had to do their masters’ bidding without pay, Jefferson never required more of his servants than what a hired man would do for wages. When he assigned an unexpected or unpleasant task, he compensated them, though he was not required to do so. A footnote to this letter records that he gave Bowles two dollars “to take care of trees.”

A slave was a slave for sure, not just a servant, yet could be treated with the respect his humanity demanded.

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Was Thomas Jefferson just a very smart snake?

THIS POST WAS SUPPOSED TO GO OUT JULY 4, BUT I’VE HAD A MAJOR GLITCH WITH MY BLOG. 😥

 

On our nation’s 242nd birthday, I’m addressing the increasing tide of criticism leveled against Thomas Jefferson. While commended for his accomplishments, he is belittled for being highly flawed, a hypocrite, a racist, perhaps even a rapist.

This latter view was on full display in a June 15 column in the Washington Post. To their credit, my local newspaper, the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune published my rebuttal. The links below offer both editorials.

A very smart snake

Very smart, and not a snake at all 

Happy Birthday to the marvelous work-in-progress that is the USA!

Happy Birthday to one of its Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson.

There! I feel better already!

The real Thomas Jefferson
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Let us banish the murderous slave, for the good of all.

should Brown recover so that the law shall inflict no punishment on Cary, it will be necessary for me to make an example of him in terrorem [to induce fear] to others… if he could be sold in any other quarter so distant as never more to be heard of among us, it would to the others be as if he were put out of the way by death. I should regard price but little in comparison with so distant an exile of him as to cut him off compleatly from ever again being heard of … in the mean time let him remain in jail at my expence, & under orders not to permit him to see or speak to any person whatever.”
To Thomas Mann Randolph, June 8, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders know harsh actions merit harsh consequences.
Cary and Brown were slaves in Jefferson’s nail-making shop. Cary had attacked Brown, and Brown’s survival was in question. If Brown died, the law Jefferson referred to required criminal prosection of Cary. If Brown survived, punishment was left to the discretion of the slave owner.

Jefferson’s choice was to direct his son-in-law to sell Cary to some far-distant owner, both to be done with his influence and to send a strong message to other slaves. The price Cary might bring was not a factor. Restoring order at Monticello was. Until that was accomplished, Jefferson would bear the expense to keep Cary incarcerated and away from everyone.

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