I know, you probably think my title is a misquote…it is not! In my last tidbit, I explained Jefferson’s quote in his ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’: “…that the blacks…are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” In this tidbit, I want to unveil actual actions and thoughts of Thomas Jefferson on slavery.
1.TJ’s political career began as a Virginia legislator in 1769 at 26, and continued for over 40 years! Historian David Barton writes, “Upon entering that body, he approached respected senior legislator Richard Bland and proposed that the two of them undertake an “effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves”” (pg134*). The motion was overwhelmingly defeated and Bland was attacked and called an “enemy of his country”. TJ’s response to the defeat was, “…as long as Virginia remained a British colony, emancipation policies could expect no success” (pg134*).
2.Four years later in 1770, TJ took on the representation of a black slave child in court.** TJ wrote in favor of the child’s freedom, “Under the law of nature, all men are born free. Everyone comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the Author of nature” (pg134*). Jefferson lost the case.
3.Two years later in 1772, Jefferson took on another case representing another black slave child, and once again, lost.
4.During the early 1770’s, several American colonies attempted to pass laws prohibiting slavery, all of which were rejected by the British monarch, King George III.
5.In 1774, in behalf of the nation, Jefferson responded to the British imposition of slavery upon America with a letter to King George. In that letter TJ wrote, “The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state [by Britain]. But previous to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa. Yet our repeated attempts to effect this…have been hitherto defeated by his Majesty’s negative [veto]” (pg135*)
6.In 1776, prior to the Declaration, TJ wrote the following for Virginia, “no person hereafter coming into this country (Virginia) shall be held in slavery under any pretext whatever.” (pg135*)
7.Later in 1776, TJ was asked to pen the Declaration of Independence. Within the grievances, he wrote, “He (King George III) has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people which never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, so to incur miserable death in their transportation thither…He has…determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold” (pg135*). This portion of the Declaration was defeated and deleted through the efforts of the Representatives from Georgia and South Carolina.
8.From this statement, changes were made, and the final approved statement of the Declaration of Independence was birthed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among there are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Let’s stop here (more to come in next tidbit), and review what we’ve learned so far:
i.TJ was overwhelming anti-slavery in law.
ii.TJ blamed Britain for introducing and imposing slave law in America.
iii.As the “owner” of America, Britain was the primary reason slavery continued in America, when many colonies attempted to abolish it.
iv.TJ used the “law of nature” as his philosophical authority to fight slavery. What is the “law of nature”? It is a Bible doctrine taken from Romans 2:14: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves” (Rom2:14,Rom1:20; Ps19:1-3). In short, the “law of nature” was a common phrase used in early America to explain what was meant by the law(s) of God written into the Creation, which drive the nature and behavior of the created order—from the moon orbiting the earth, to a spider spinning his web; to the freedom naturally written in the heart of mankind.
In other words, in theology there are two locations where God communicates with mankind:
i.Special Revelation - The Bible
ii.General Revelation – The Creation
v.TJ’s initial written statement of the Declaration of Independence was good(see 7 above), but it only applied to American slavery. However, with its rejection and changes, ironically made by those who promoted slavery, the final statement (see 8 above) was God-inspired providence. Why? It applied to freedom for the world. In other words, Declaration of Independence was not only used to end slavery in America, but has been used to bring freedom to the people of the world—from that time, to this!
*Facts in this tidbit taken from historian David Barton’s incredible book “The Jefferson Lies”. It is a must read.
**Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson (1904), Vol.I, 474, “Arguments in the case of Howell v. Netherland.”
“Don't bring your need to the marketplace, bring your skill. If you don't feel well, tell your doctor, but not the marketplace. If you need money, go to the bank, but not the marketplace.”