We are coming upon another July 4th celebration. Along with the celebration, recriminations abound regarding Thomas Jefferson owning slaves. He wasn’t the only leading light for independence who owned slaves. George Washington owned slaves, too. In fact 41 signers of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves.
This year seems to be another time when it is open season on criticizing Thomas Jefferson for not freeing his slaves. I suppose this is understandable because it was Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence. After all he included the phrase that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These words ring so true but even today he is blamed for not freeing his slaves.
Looking at the facts it is unfair to pick on Jefferson. Jefferson in 1784 attempted to ban slavery in the Western Territories. His attempt failed by 1 vote. In 1806 Virginia passed a law that made it almost impossible to free your slaves within Virginia. Jefferson in 1814 attempted to seek an exemption from the law to free 5 slaves. Do we not have unrealistic expectations regarding Jefferson? Was he to break the law in order for Jefferson to assuage today’s judgment on his life and his life’s work?
America was heavily influenced by England. England did not ban slavery until 1833.
But yet we continue to focus our displeasure on Thomas Jefferson. Just recently Bill Moyer roundly criticized Jefferson for his apparent contradiction, in that Jefferson was so eloquent in speaking to the rights of man but he owned slaves. But in fact it is wrong to take today’s morality and criticize a man who lived so long ago. You have to look at the context of the time our historically influential figures lived in to get a proper perspective.
No man is perfect, especially those who we look to with such high admiration. Even the father of our country, George Washington owned slaves. Ben Franklin owned slaves as well, even though he later became an abolitionist. Franklin was not perfect either, he was known to like the ladies and like a whole lot of them.
Let us appreciate the greatness of our founding leaders that led to our becoming independence, and stop looking for some perceived imperfections based upon today’s morality. Jefferson and his comrades are to be admired for what they created. Long live our Independence and the fond memories of the greatness of those who brought about our country through their genius. Those words of the Declaration of Independence still inspire the world, and leave today’s citizens with a lot to live up to. Let us continue to work towards turning those hallowed words of equality that Jefferson so eloquently spoke of into a reality for all of our citizens.