Paul Finkelman: The Monster of Monticello

Paul Finkelman argues persuasively in the New York Times op-ed linked above that Thomas Jefferson’s racism and his proslavery attitudes should not be whitewashed. In this area, he was far worse than many of the other founding fathers. Here is a key passage of Paul’s essay:

…the third president was a creepy, brutal hypocrite.

Contrary to Mr. Wiencek’s depiction, Jefferson was always deeply committed to slavery, and even more deeply hostile to the welfare of blacks, slave or free. His proslavery views were shaped not only by money and status but also by his deeply racist views, which he tried to justify through pseudoscience.

It is quite possible that the Civil War itself can be laid at Thomas Jefferson’s feet. Paul Finkelman writes:

Jefferson also dodged opportunities to undermine slavery or promote racial equality. As a state legislator he blocked consideration of a law that might have eventually ended slavery in the state.

As president he acquired the Louisiana Territory but did nothing to stop the spread of slavery into that vast “empire of liberty.”

If slavery had withered away in Virginia and there had been no slave states in the Louisiana territory, there is a good chance the proslavery forces would have lost political power early enough that things would not have escalated into the Civil War. Or even if there were a Civil War, if Viriginia had become a free state, perhaps Robert E. Lee’s loyalty to Virginia would have led him to lead Union troops into battle, and so to a much quicker end to the war.

Thanks to John L. Davidson for flagging this essay.

For my take on the biggest collective moral issue of our time, see “The Hunger Games is Hardly Our Future: It’s Already Here.”

For a bit of alternate history speculation about more recent events, see my post “Sliding Doors: Hillary vs. Barack.”

I have two posts on the more positive side of Thomas Jefferson: “Thomas Jefferson and Religious Freedom” and “The Importance of the Next Generation: Thomas Jefferson Grokked It.”