Thomas Jefferson was one of our country's founding fathers and our nation's third president, he was intelligent and passionate, yet he too had a dark side. Yet we must remember the times were different during the 1700 and 1800s, and none of us were there and do not know what it was truly like.
Jefferson is known for his famous phrase ¨all men are created equal¨. I genuinely believe this statement meant only white men, you know, the ones born biologically men, because this statement did not ring true for women, predominantly minority women, or enslaved people. Jefferson was said to own a slave kingdom.
In Jefferson's early days, he stated that the African slave trade was a ¨moral depravity¨and a ¨hideous blot¨ and he was opposed to the slave trade, and he planned to push against those who wanted to enslave people in Virginia. However, Jefferson's views changed when he realized how economical it was to have free, enforced labor, especially on his Monticello estate.
As a result, Jefferson switched his views on slavery and once owned 130 enslaved people at once and over 600 enslaved people in his lifetime, most born on his lands. Monticello became a mini-empire, all run on slave labor; it included blacksmithing, woodworking, textiles, farming, and the main attraction was the nail factory.
The nail-making operation required enslaved boys between 10-21 to work up to 14 hours daily to make 1,000 nails daily. If they did not perform up to Jeffersons' strict rules, those who worked in the nail factory only received a portion of their food rations and sometimes beat and if underperforming continued, they would become a field hands.
Those who produced more nails than required, some up to 10,000 per day, received extra privileges, leisure time, a uniform, and opportunities to become skilled tradespeople. However, most of the children employed on the farm had been born into slavery, and Jefferson felt anyone born on his property was his property. He considered the women who had children valuable.
"I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm."
Unfortunately, the story only gets worse; in 1784, Jefferson was living in France while he was the Minister of France, and his two daughters joined him, along with their enslaved. One, in particular, he took an interest in, Sally Hemings.
Jefferson once described her as ¨quiet a child handsome with long straight hair down her back¨and ¨decidely good looking¨. However, it is reported that he raped her multiple times while living in France, and she became pregnant.
While Hemings was living in Paris, she was technically free and was paid a monthly salary of two dollars. However, since she was free in France when they left, she did not want to return with Jefferson, refusing to return to a place where she was once again enslaved, and a life of enslavement was not appealing. To get her to return, Jefferson had to persuade her he promised her:
Extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her children should be freed at the age of 21 years."
With this promise, she returned with him, as at that time, she was already pregnant with his child; sadly, she lost that one but went on to have six of his children. The legitimate children of Jefferson denied this; however, in 1998, a DNA test confirmed that Thomas Jefferson ¨most likely¨ was the father.
Jefferson kept his promise and her children that survived into adulthood were set free. However, those were the only ones permitted to leave; no other enslaved were freed. When Jefferson became president, the scandal became public news.
"It is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps, and for many years past has kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves…Her name is Sally."
However, nothing ever came of the scandal, as it was common during those times. Yet in his 1785 book, Jefferson shows his true colors of how he felt about black people stating that they were ¨ inferior to the white in the endowment of both body and mind."
Not only did Jefferson have his own opinions on the enslaved and slavery he supported other countries to continue enslaving people. For example, Loaning France 300,000 was intended "for relief of whites on the island."
During this time, the enslaved of Haiti liberated themselves in 1804. Jean-Jacques Dessalines wrote to Jefferson, stating they would fight for their freedom; they did and won. As a result, Jean-Jacques Dessalines became the first black ruler; Jefferson refused to recognize Haiti as a sovereign republic when Haiti won its independence.
As Thomas Jefferson was once ranked as the 7th best president, he was a hypocrite who lacked a moral conscience.
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