In 1776, a group of 56 of the most intelligent men were elected by the people to come together and create a statement of separation from England so that these 13 colonies might unite to form their own independent state. This statement was rightfully named the Declaration of Independence. Throughout the years, people within this new country would look back and criticize the Declaration, believing that if it was written to free all people under its jurisdiction, then why did congress allow slavery to continue for almost another hundred years? Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence and a slave owner, was not, in fact, a hypocrite in his seeming to disregard colored people, who at the time made up the entirety of the slave population, when he wrote said declaration.
Thinking About Slavery
On the contrary, he was very much thinking of the slaves. Jefferson has mentioned slaves and their potential multiple times in letters to other people, and while owning slaves himself, sought for their freedom as equals. In a letter from Jefferson to one mister David Barrow J., Jefferson says, “I… am truly thankful for the favorable sentiments expressed in it towards myself… The particular subject of the pamphlet you enclosed me was one of early and tender consideration with me,” and “it should never have been out of sight.” The pamphlet Jefferson is mentioning is one regarding the connection of political and religious proceedings, and its regard to the antislavery movement. This letter clearing shows not only the amount of thought Jefferson had put into the concept of slavery, but also how important it is to him as a congressman. When he says, “No body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men,” it’s obvious he is on the side of freedom for all, but sometimes society is not ready for such big steps, as explained by Barrow when he wrote, “The mind of the master is to be apprized by reflection, and strengthened by the energies of conscience, against the obstacles of self-interest to an acquiescence in the rights of others; that of the slave is to be prepared by instruction and habit for self-government, and for the honest pursuits of industry and social duty. Both of these courses of preparation require time, and the former must precede the latter.”Being a Slave Owner
Even though Jefferson was indeed a supporter of freedom for slaves, he himself was a slave owner. Being as he was a plantation owner in the southern colony of Virginia, it would be imperative for Jefferson to own slaves on these plantations. He may have been an advocate for their freedom, but certain expectations were placed on him in the areas of production and wealth acclimation for his family. Seeing as he wouldn’t be able to just let the slaves go- slave hunters and collectors would have been on them in seconds- and for the fact that their freedom had a very uncertain future, it would have been pointless to pay them for their work seeing as they would not be able to use any money given. With a roof over their head and food on their tables, it was much easier and safer to keep these slaves, but to keep them as guests would be a social faux pas and much too expensive. So, in exchange for their housing and food, they worked the fields of Jefferson’s plantations.
With the facts that Jefferson has shown to be a supporter of freedom for slaves, and the conditions society was in – which caused the freedom of the slaves to be very tricky and taboo – the answer is clear in this debate. Jefferson was not a hypocrite in his words of the Declaration, but a forward thinker as these words would lead to the beginning of the long fight for equal rights.