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Jefferson is a proxy target in the modern political war

Jefferson is a proxy target in the modern political war

The Founding Fathers owned slaves.  We knew that, didn’t we?

Slavery was an institution in many places in the world, including the newly formed United States.  It took a generation and a civil war to end it here, long before it was ended elsewhere.

That fact is used as a modern political weapon by the left, as if the Republican and Tea Party embrace of Jefferson’s writings and ideals is a call to reinsitute slavery.

Never is the question asked, in that time period in the world, who was so pure?  Indeed, who is so pure today? The monstrous treatment of women in the Islamic world today gets hardly a mention from the people obsessed with attacking the human imperfections of our Founding Fathers.  A critical examination of a certain other historical figure likely will get you targeted for beheading.

The politicized nature of the examination Jefferson is evidenced in the title and substance of an op-ed in The NY Times by law professor Paul Finkelman, The Monster of Monticello.

If there was “treason against the hopes of the world,” it was perpetrated by the founding generation, which failed to place the nation on the road to liberty for all. No one bore a greater responsibility for that failure than the master of Monticello.

Okay, Jefferson the man did not live up to his own ideals.  The historical record should be written, but is the caricature and historical context presented by Finkelman complete or fair?

David Post at Volokh conspiracy vehemently disagrees, Why Don’t People Get It About Jefferson and Slavery?

This is truly outrageous and pernicious and a-historical nonsense.  The truth is that few people in human history did more, over the course of a lifetime, to “place the road on the road to liberty for all” — and indeed, to eliminate human slavery from the civilized world — than Jefferson.  Don’t take my word for it  – take Lincoln’s (who was himself, of course,  one of those “few people”).  ”I am sustained by Mr. Jefferson” he said, in 1858….

Why is this so hard for people to see? Even if Jefferson had done nothing more than pen those words and get them inserted into the foundational document for the new country — and he did plenty more, see my paper here — declaring that principle to be a self-evident truth and at the foundation of any legitimate government was an act of political courage, not cowardice or hypocrisy, at a time when slavery was at the heart of the way of life and an economy across vast swaths of colonial America.  Maybe Prof. Finkelman would have come up with a way to more quickly eliminate the institution from the new republic than Jefferson did, one that would have eliminated the horrible bloodshed of the Civil War.  But nobody had such a plan, at the time – not Jefferson, not Washington, not Clay, not anyone.

Jefferson, Finkelman tells us, was not a “particularly kind” slave-master; he sometimes “punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time.” And he  believed that  ”blacks’ ability to reason was ‘much inferior’ to whites’ and that they were “in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”  So what?  Really – so what?  If you want to think that he was a bad guy — or even a really bad guy, with truly grievous personal faults — you’re free to do so.  But to claim that that has something to do with Jefferson’s historical legacy is truly preposterous.

The obsession with Jefferson is highly political.

Because he was imperfect in documentable and very human terms, he is a target for reasons of modern politics, not historical accuracy.

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Comments

I recall that Jefferson was the go-to Founder during the William Jefferson Clinton scandal involving Ms. Lewinski. We all remember the DNA testing that was intended to prove that the greatest of the Founders fathered a child will Sally Hemings!

The Profit Mohammed was a slave owner.

From Mark Steyn in a piece on William Wilberforce:

“The Victorians, if plunked down before the Anna Nicole updates for an hour or two, would probably conclude we’re nearer the 18th century than their own. A ‘social conscience’ obliges the individual to act. Today we call for action all the time, but mostly from government, which is another way of excusing us and allowing us to get on with the distractions of the day. Our schoolhouses revile the Victorian do-gooders as condescending racists and oppressors — though the single greatest force for ending slavery around the world was the Royal Navy.”

    BannedbytheGuardian in reply to LukeHandCool. | December 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Oh yes nobody knows slavery like the Victorian British. I am reading the stories & first hand accounts of Empire Governors 1850-1870s. It was endemic throughout Africa . some of the great explorers were funded to root out slavery eg Stanley Livingstone.

    On the American continent NE Indian tribes had a thriving trade raiding the coast from Vancouver to California. Quite the Vikings.

    In fact the west. America’s not under British control were a black zone for slavery . The French explorer De LaPerouse reported in 1787 mass inhumanity by the Spanish in what today is California & LA. Especially . All those lovely names eg Santa Monica were missions of brutality.

    This period also covers the next installment of slavery via the recruitment of Chinese Coolies & their travails. BY the 1870s this was the subject of Empire wide reforms.

Please remind me which political party claims Jefferson as its founder and holds its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

I have often wondered why Republicans, Conservatives and the Tea Party Movement are so successfully demonized and slimed by the Left, but we just bang our heads helplessly when trying to warn the pubic about the true natue of Democrats, Leftists and the Progressive Movement.

It occurred to me that your post above is a real clue to the answer. You discuss, in some detail, the pernicious fallacy of the Democrat attack against Thomas Jefferson and how they are using it against today’s Tea Party. You did what we who are right-minded always do: we present facts and logical arguments. It came to me that we are going to have to give up this approach.

We have to start speaking about the DNC, Democrat Congressmen and Senators, Pres. Obama and the MSM in terms of being Adult-Womanhood Haters because they rarely ever speak against (or even mention) the place to which women are relegated under Shariah law. They are misogynists because they do not denounce, and are therefore complicit in, the way Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.,etc. treat women.

They are Collaborators in the beheading of gay men and the honor killing of young women when they don’t roundly condemn these actions as they are reported.

They totally lack emphathy for the common man when they side with Elites who care more for Spotted Owls and Delta Smelt, etc., then about flesh and blood moms and dads trying to make a living.

I could go on, but perhaps you get the picture. We have to learn how to raise name-calling to the fine art attained by the Left. Seriously.

    WE’RE doing it.

    But we are collectively failing to demand it among the elected and appointed GOP leadership. This has to be task number one.

    Aggie95 in reply to givmelibrty. | December 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    well first you make an assumption that the democrats care about truth or honor or even their so called fairness ….remember what they say about assumptions …and keep in mind these are the people who re elected people like billy ( cold cash ) jefferson ….jessie jackson …. marrion barry ….. charlie rangle ….alcee hastings ….hank ( gaum gonna tip over ) johnston … and their key note speaker at the democrat convention was a disbarred lawyer and a man who used a blue dress clad female intern as a humador ….you don’t have to be smart ….honest or moral to rise in the democrat party

Finkelman makes the cardinal mistake…or uses the intellectually bankrupt device…of trying to view historical people through the prism of our morays.

It is never right to do. What is odd is that these “thinkers” always insist the Westerners view issues from the POV of other cultural morays.

Jefferson was not a hypocrite, as I’ve written often. He was human. He struggled all his life, trying to reconcile his conduct with his best inclinations. Hypocrites do not struggle. They know they are adopting a pose for external consumption, and are sanguine in doing it.

    iconotastic in reply to Ragspierre. | December 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    It is so cute when commenters assume intellectual honesty from anyone on the Left. Of course Finkelman knows all of that. It is why progressive “heroes” with extreme racism, like Woodrow Wilson or Magaret Sanger, never come in for this kind critical examination. Finkelman’s goal, the same goal as all those who seek to establish an intrusive (and basically lawless) fascist/socialistic state, is to discredit any and all other forms of government as contaminated with politically incorrect attitudes or actions. A great tactic for those who wish to establish the kind of capricious and chaotic rule by (select) men characterized by Obama and his mentor Ayres.

    RickCaird in reply to Ragspierre. | December 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Rags,

    I have argued that same point time and time again. You cannot use today’s morality to judge people in past times. If you do that, then you have to be ready to have your morality judged in future times.

    Of course, Finkelman, will have nothing to fear. People in future times will have never heard of him. Come to think of it, that is the counter to his idiocy. Finkelman vs Jefferson. Not hard to pick a winner there.

    Thomas Jefferson was not only a man of the 18th century, he was also broke. He lived a lifestyle appropriate to his station, but the revenues of Monticello were never really sufficient to support that. Our third President thought that slavery was a bad thing, but his own estate was based upon slavery, and he was unable to live without it; manumission would have meant bankruptcy and poverty for Mr Jefferson.

The reasoning is as simple as it is duplicitous. By denigrating our Founding Fathers the progressive fascists denigrate the Constitution, any originalist interpretation of the Constitution, and classical liberalism. The door is then opened for the progressive fascists belief in elitist, technocratic, and total government control over every aspect of private life.

Progressives like Finkelman should be treated as if they were followers of Mussolini, Hitler, or Lenin–as evil termites in the edifice of the USA.

And what has Paul Finkelman done for the world aside from not owning slaves, and taking up space?

Flawed achievement or flawed achievers are what make the world go. Carpers don’t.

15 years ago, George Will takes on Jefferson biographer making same arguments as Finkelman. A must read.

“It is bad enough to say, as has been said, a biographer should be his subject’s “conscientious enemy.” But O’Brien is conscienceless. For example, he quotes Jefferson’s early judgments of blacks’ inferiority, but ignores Jefferson’s conclusion, 20 years later, that blacks “are on a par with ourselves. My doubts were the result of personal observation on the limited sphere of my own State, where the opportunities for the development of their genius were not favorable.” Jefferson anticipated “their re-establishment on a equal footing with the other colors of the human family.”

George Will: Who was this man, Thomas Jefferson?

http://www.texnews.com/opinion97/will021697.html

Martin Luther King’s treatment of women might not meet future standards. Does this mean that the civil rights movement will become tainted as well?

Judging people out of time for their behavior in the time they lived in is hypocritical at best.

Judging their movement by their personal failings is flat-out dishonest.

    Voyager in reply to caseym54. | December 1, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Well, King was a republican, so clearly it is just another demonstration of the never-ending Republican War on Women(tm).

I am pretty sure that Jefferson, with a zeroth-class mind, viewed nearly everyone as dull and boring. Even many educated, upper-class whites.

The problem with using history these days is that it’s possible to “use” it to say whatever you want. People are ignorant of facts and incompetent to reason the nuances of historical context. That’s why you have generations who watch an Oliver Stone movie and think they’re experts on Kennedy.

Concerning Jefferson, like David Post said, so what? He’s imperfect, as we all are. We all have hypocrisies that we’d rather hide. The MSM would like us to believe that hypocrisy only matters when a Republican or conservative is exposed. Forget the hypocrisy of the left over the treatment of gays and women at the hands of the ever-peaceful Islamists. Or the celebration of KKK member Senator Robert Byrd and the derision of Trent Lott over his Strom Thurmond comments.

Incurious and ignorant generations are ill-equipped to believe anything other than what the MSM presents as factual. The “dog whistles” that Matthews and his ilk hear (and only they hear them) are “evidence” that conservatives and Republicans are evil racists, as were the Founding Fathers. Sickening? Yes. Surprising? Never.

Men of history can only be fairly judged within the context of their times. It is utterly ignorant and arrogant to assume that men of the 18th century can be judged by 21st century standards. Those who believe the latter recall a line from Shakespeare: they believe their personal prejudices to be the laws of nature.

I R A Darth Aggie | December 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I’ll note without comment that Islam allows for slavery.

SmokeVanThorn | December 1, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Does this mean that leftists will stop citing Jefferson in making their ridiculous arguments about the 1st Amendment’s protection of religious freedom?

The Left can be judged solely on their philosophy and the principles it engenders. They cannot denigrate individual dignity (i.e. progressivism), support the premeditated murder of innocent human life (i.e. liberalism), and generally sponsor corruption (i.e. justice), then claim a moral defense. Judgment can be legitimately made of individuals, but also of philosophies which engender dysfunctional behavior.

As for the founding fathers of this nation, they too will be judged by their individual conscience. However, the philosophy they sponsored stands separate and independent of their individual imperfections, and can only legitimately be judged on its own merits.

American conservatism is classical liberalism. It recognizes and respects individual dignity.

American conservatism is tempered by Judeo-Christian principles. It recognizes and respects an intrinsic value of human life from “creation”.

American conservatism is only suitable for individuals capable of self-moderating behavior. It is a dynamically stable system, which is maintained by moral individuals and competing interests. It is vulnerable to exploitation by democratic leverage; through corruption by individuals who dream of instant gratification; through involuntary or fraudulent exploitation; through redistributive and retributive change.

Sensible historians are getting harder to find. The ridiculous and pernicious ones, like Finkelman, highlight only those examples that support their prejudices and preconceived notions. Unfortunately, this is what is taught in our schools.

Remember these are the same turds who’ve defined slavery as having to work for a “non-living” wage and they actually have to , *gasp*, pay for college and food and housing and transportation and . . .

The commie pinko bastards have been bludgeoning the rest of us with “the founding fathers were slave owners” for years attempting to delegitimize the Constitution.

    Midwest Rhino in reply to jdkchem. | December 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Whoopi brought it up when McCain was on “The View”, asking whether she should be worried about slavery if he was a “strict constitutionalist”. Of course with Obama saying reparations would not go far enough, and his church’s black liberation theology, it is the “white devils” that might need to be concerned.

    That topic along with her stellar work on why the moon landings were fake are all the intellectual stimulation View viewers can handle.

I will note that is thread ties directly to the earlier thread titled “Stealth expansion of “disparate impact” claims attached to Defense Authorization bill”….

But, those on our side are either too naive, lazy, ignorant, or apathetic to see it.

I read the book “Master of the Mountain.” The author made no extrapolations about the constitution being invalid because Jefferson was totally dependent on his slaves for his wealth and well being. Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. So anyone trying to invalidate the constitution because Jefferson owned and was truly dependent on his slaves will have a tough row to hoe.

It is probably not a good idea to treat the Founding People as deities anyway.

    Browndog in reply to Margaret. | December 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    The actual point is, the Constitution is invalid because it was written by white males.

    They just assign what ever “-ism” happens to be the flavor of the day to validate their position.

what really kills me is the democrats constructed the very institutions they use to label Republican with or try to tie us to ….the KKK …. Jim Crow ….The black codes ….poll taxes all created by the democrats hell when a black man was lynched odds are it was a democrat holding the rope

[…] William Jacobson at Le*gal In*sur*rec*tion noted an op-ed in The New York Times by law professor Paul Finkelman, calling Thomas Jefferson The Monster of Monticello, because Mr Jefferson was a slaveowner: If there was “treason against the hopes of the world,” it was perpetrated by the founding generation, which failed to place the nation on the road to liberty for all. No one bore a greater responsibility for that failure than the master of Monticello. […]

Professor, the problem, as such, is one of context. Jefferson is but what is to be skewered solely for the instance he is an individual.
Jefferson is the basis for the Progressive/Marxist to insert their dogma. For the Progressive the aim is to develop the `New Man` for the ages. A faceless anamorphic amoral being molded by the State. But to bring that to fruition they must first destroy the old order of which Jefferson is a pillar.

It has nothing to do with slavery.

Here’s what we can learn:

Thomas Jefferson(whom Abe Lincoln quoted in the Emanc.Proclomation)was BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD.

Barry Hussein Obamster, Lil’Dicky Durbin, Feckless Harry Reid, Mam Boxer, Nancy PeePeeLousy, Chuckle Schumer, Pat Leaky Leahy, Tommy Harkin, Al Franken, Plugs Biden and So-Many-Many-More are… GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.

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