Jefferson Was 'Creepy'
Law professor says new biographies cut him too much slack on slavery
By John Johnson, Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2012 7:32 AM CST
In this file photo, a National Park Service worker uses a pressurized sprayer to wash down the five-ton bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson at the Jefferson Memorial.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(Newser) – Two new high-profile biographies of Thomas Jefferson are out, and both go way too easy on him over slavery, writes Albany Law School professor Paul Finkelman in the New York Times. They're guilty of the sin committed by many Jefferson biographies—they either gloss over his slave-owning ways or use the old he-was-a-complicated-man-in-complicated-times defense. Please, writes Finkelman. The "ugly truth" is that Jefferson "was a creepy, brutal hypocrite."

Jefferson's personal writings make clear he viewed black people as inferior to whites, nearly sub-human, writes Finkelman. He sold individual slaves away from their families as punishment or to pay for his wine and art collections. His will freed only five, and they were relatives of mistress Sally Hemings. We have to face it: The man was OK with slavery. He may have written the Declaration of Independence, but in the subsequent 50 years, even as George Washington and others freed their slaves, Jefferson remained "a buyer and seller of human beings." Read the full column here.

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Showing 3 of 115 comments
Dec 3, 2012 10:10 PM CST
Slavery is despicable, pure and simple. It should be banned in all societies and countries, and in theory it is. But in reality, it is alive and well. To find out how many millions are slaves today, go to Anti-Slavery International. It's in the millions. We should work on real world problems instead of bemoaning Jefferson and his slaves. He's been dead for 200 years. Americans should stop getting stuck on American history, and focus on helping real flesh and blood people outside the U.S.
Dec 2, 2012 3:33 PM CST
A strange dichotomy that the person who wrote the Declaration Of Independence owned 175 slaves freeing just 5 who where half his own.
Dec 2, 2012 11:49 AM CST
Teddy Roosevelt held the same feelings, as he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 and gave Korea to Japan to rape. By 1906, "Japan" was on the map- Korea had disappeared. Five years later, the future Vietnamese, Ho Chi Minh was a GM worker in Brooklyn and met displaced Koreans (who radicalized him to go to Paris and become a communist, opposing colonial and imperialist abuse of his nation and others). Today, the USA is GIVING P-3 Orion anti-sub aircraft to Viet Nam, so they can join America as an "ally" against the Chinese.