Thomas Jefferson as tyrant

Rather compelling NY Times piece on the slave master of Monticello.

Nor was Jefferson a particularly kind master. He sometimes punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time. A proponent of humane criminal codes for whites, he advocated harsh, almost barbaric, punishments for slaves and free blacks. Known for expansive views of citizenship, he proposed legislation to make emancipated blacks “outlaws” in America, the land of their birth. Opposed to the idea of royal or noble blood, he proposed expelling from Virginia the children of white women and black men.

Thomas Jefferson the man will be continued to be debated for decades to come. But let us continue to peel away at the veneer of what has been built up about the man. For all his greatness and intellect he was deeply flawed in not being able to see the greatness in a fellow race of mankind.

Jefferson claimed he had “never seen an elementary trait of painting or sculpture” or poetry among blacks and argued that blacks’ ability to “reason” was “much inferior” to whites’, while “in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.” He conceded that blacks were brave, but this was because of “a want of fore-thought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present.”

Yet Jefferson corresponded with the brilliant Benjamin Banneker a black genius of his time. How he could not see the error in his thinking is saddening.

via The Real Thomas Jefferson – NYTimes.com.

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