That’s all fine and good and I make no excuses whatsoever for Jefferson’s slavery issue. NONE. But what I didn’t see in that entire article was something about Jefferson’s general views on governance and commerce. I was hoping to see laws or views he supported/held that showed an anti-libertarian POV.
There, slavery aside, I see very little to nothing.
The Fly Bottle
I don’t mean to be rude. But this issue is important.
There are lots of reasons to despise Alexander Hamilton — given his record as a Caesarian centralizer, rampaging war-luster, and the spiritual and political father of U.S. state capitalism. There are also lots of cases where Thomas Jefferson was better than Hamilton on things that Hamilton was rotten on. This should be taken into account if you are ever trying to rank U.S. revolutionaries according to their libertarian merits. But the reverse is also true, and the issues that Jefferson was rotten on — like, oh, slavery — were not small potatoes or minor personal foibles. And while I think that Will Wilkinson is making several interrelated mistakes, among them misrepresenting and unfairly minimizing the case against Hamilton, when he says…
If you think central banks are a bigger issue for liberty than human enslavement, trade, or the growth of capitalism then your priorities are screwed.
… what I would like to stress, at the moment, is that if you ever, ever find yourself thinking that it might possibly be appropriate to reply to a remark like that by saying something like this:
Central banking is one of the worst forms of human enslavement, actually. You should try going out more often, WW, and read some Hoppe and DiLorenzo for good measure.
Then you need to stop. Right there. And just—well, you know the rest.
Thomas Jefferson wrote a couple of documents that I admire very much. One of them I consider to be one of the finest and most important political documents written in the history of the world. But Jefferson was a man, not just the signature on a series of essays, and he also did many other things in his life. He was an overt and at times obsessive white supremacist. He was a rapist. He was a posturing hypocrite. He was President of the United States. He was himself a war-monger, who launched the United States’ first overseas war within months of his first inauguration. Most of all, he was a active slaver, a lifelong perpetrator of real, not metaphorical, chattel slavery. He violently held hundreds of his fellow human beings in captivity throughout their lives and throughout his, with the usual tools of chains and hounds and lashes. He maintained himself in an utterly idle life as a landed lord of the Virginia gentry by forcing his captives to work for his own profit, and living off of the immense wealth of things that they built and grew by the sweat of their own brows and the blood of their own backs. He had no conceivable right to live this life of man-stealing, imprisonment, robbery and torture, and no justification for it other than racist contempt for his victims and the absolute, violent power that he (with the aid of his fellow whites) held over the life and limb of hundreds of victims. He knew that his own words in the Declaration of Independence condemned his own actions towards
his slaves, who were by right his equals, beyond appeal, but he went on enslaving them anyway for the rest of his life and would not even make any provisions in his will to set them free when he finally died. He was a hereditary tyrant, claiming, based solely on his descent, the right to go on perpetrating a reign of terror over his prison-camp plantation more hideous and invasive than anything ever contemplated by the most absolutist Bourbon or Bonaparte. Not because he was in any way extraordinary or at all harsher than the average, compared to other white slavocrats, in how he treated
his slaves—but rather because that kind of terror and violence is part and parcel of what forcing hundreds of people into chattel slavery means. As insidious and destructive as government-centralized banking and the money monopoly may be — and I am the last person to deny that — it is callous, counter-historical, inhuman bullshit to try and pass it off as
one of the worst forms of human enslavement in comparison to American chattel slavery. It’s bullshit that needs to stop.
A side note. When trying to explain Jefferson’s view on slavery, one thing that a lot of people seem to take as a point in his favor is his opposition to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In 1807, Jefferson in fact signed a bill banning the trans-Atlantic slave trade (which could not take effect until 1808 because the U.S. Constitution only granted Congress the power to regulate the international slave trade 20 years after its ratification). It comes up a couple of different times in the same comments thread.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually speak in Jefferson’s favor. Jefferson, like many other white Virginian slave-camp commandants, was indeed for banning the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which he, like many other white Virginian slavers, sometimes fiercely denounced as infamous and inhumanly cruel. They were right about that part, and they were right that the trans-Atlantic slave trade ought to have been banned, but their primary reasons for wanting it banned were quite different from what people reading them today often conclude. If, after all, they were actually against the slave trade for humanitarian reasons, then they certainly ought to have the same problems with the internal slave trade in the United States, and the exportation of slaves out of the United States (for example, down to the death-plantations of the Caribbean). Those parts of the slave trade also involved the hellish passage of hundreds of slaves, shackled below decks, in sea voyages from New England or the upper South to the far-away places they were sold down to. But you’ll find little of that from Jefferson or his fellow white Virginian slavers, and the reason is that they profited from the internal slave trade. By the late 18th and early 19th century, Virginia was in the process of a long decline in agricultural productivity, but the landed lords held on to their stream of pirated wealth — by becoming the leading exporter of slaves to other, more productive plantations, down in the Deep South and in the Caribbean. Jefferson’s opposition to the slave trade, like that of many of his fellow Virginia slavers, was not nascent abolitionism. It was pure protectionism, designed to prop up the Virginian slave-traders’ profits while they retained the same absolute, violent power over
their slaves at home.
Hope this helps.