Roxanne, every year this is always a very interesting line of research for my students: the acknowledgement from the founding fathers and their contemporaries of the private concerns about slavery but the public necessity of maintaining the slave system. Your observations on the public versus private debate over slavery and the concerns of “danger” are a good framing of this concern for students to grasp some of the beginning complexities around the relationship of slavery to the founding of our nation. Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” is a great example of this debate and the hypocritical ‘reasoning’ that Jefferson employed to justify slavery. Understanding the political and economic necessity for slavery in the colonies, as according to the privileged white upper class at first, helps students to trace the shift to violent chattel slavery that Jefferson and others worked to justify through racism and the social changes that occurred with this.
I liked reading that you are more aware of creating insightful teaching lessons for students to understand the plight of the Natives and enslaved Africans in Early Jamestown. I too think it is essential to avoid placing the Europeans who first settled in Virginia on a pedestal. Using the primary sources you mentioned, can be of great value when teaching students about Jamestown. I use the DBQproject.com resources as well as many primary sources I've had the pleasure of being introduced to through the Gilder Lehrman Institute. It is truly essential, as you elude to, to focus on all the aspects of our past in relation to America's beginning rather than focusing only on the greatness of the few who first came to America. I guess, "The Good the Bad and the Ugly," must be addressed.
Resilience! Yes, resilience is the word I emphasize whether I am teaching slavery, segregation, or Civil Rights movement. I learned last summer during a workshop on slavery that it is not uncommon for African American students to feel uncomfortable discussing it, as if somehow the topic makes them feel something less than proud. When I heard this from the presenter, I immediately had a flashback of a student two years back. She was the one of two African American student in class. She was hunched over with eyes down on her desk. I did not even realize that image was stored in my mind all that time. I don't know what she was feeling but it made me reflect about my teaching and how I should approach the topics. I think it is absolutely necessary for teachers to emphasize the strength, perseverance, and the resilience of African Americans when we discuss these topics.
Your essay could be a great way to introduce the hypocrisy of slavery in terms of religion. The quote from the Bible opens up a great discussion about slaves as property and the fact that most owners gave no thought about breaking up families. With the use of Equiano's words of never seeing one's relations again in combination with the view that many in the South had that slaves were commodities, these contradictory beliefs of the time can be examined. Since most slave owners claimed to be Christians, their role as slave owners is even more heartbreaking.
Your analysis captured the avarice and hypocrisy of Virginia planters. Jefferson is so complex because some of his words are ahead of his time and some perfectly reflect his time. We want Jefferson to be like Robert Carter, but he falls short. Your “founding father’s approached the concepts of slavery and liberty” statement reminded me of what historian Philip Morgan said in a GLI Seminar at Johns Hopkins. I am paraphrasing him here, but he said that as white looks brighter against black, the founders' view of liberty looked brighter against the backdrop of the institute of slavery.
Again, I love your analysis…Great essay Ian!!!
I am with you 100%! I managed to pare down the number of words for the essay and got it uploaded and was lost about what to do for the blog thinking it's a response to the essays. Your blog made me feel a little better. Although I'm not even sure I'm blogging (is blogging even a word?)in the right place! I guess we'll all figure it out soon enough.
Jefferson has benefited form the Great Man Theory in the American history books. Just about any student can tell you how Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, his views on the yeoman farmer or how great a scientist he was. However, as pointed out in the article that appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine the “Darker Side of Jefferson” in October 2012 all men are more complex and flawed than history books often teach. He not only owned slaves and profited from their labor (his nail foundry was one of the most profitable aspects of his plantation), but he also profited from selling his slaves to other plantations and counseled others in the profitability of the slave trade. While there is no doubt he did great things he also maintained and benefited from the institution of slavery.
I read both Kupperman’s and Morgan’s accounts with interest. Morgan’s was the one I’m most familiar with, and I tend to give it some credence. Didn’t John Smith (who maybe wasn’t always as truthful and unbiased as he ought to have been) write about the trouble he had getting men to work? However, I can see Kupperman’s point, too: being the first, Jamestown was bound to have some failures before they had successes. I suspect the truth lies somewhere between them. Even with a blueprint, Plimoth struggled. There’s probably no way to get it right the first time. People bring their shortcomings, prejudices, and fears with them wherever they go. Stress and hardship bring out the worst in everyone regardless of their social status. Does time help? It’s been 407 years since Jamestown, and we still haven’t gotten race relations right. God help the Martians if we ever get there.
In your essay you identify a critical aspect of studying history, the untangling of myth from remembrance. You note that both Bartram and Jefferson engage in romantic interpretation of certain aspects of the southern region. I found, as you did, that Kupperman offers an excellent deconstruction of this type of remembrance by dispelling several myths in her introduction. I can see several commonly-held dichotomies emerge throughout these readings (such as the North-South dichotomy of Jefferson, and the Jamestown-Plymouth dichotomy in modern interpretations of the colonial era). I am looking forward to more readings similar to Kupperman that directly acknowledge and reexamine these myths.
I enjoyed your analysis on the science and morality of early Jamestown. Tobacco became a lucrative business for the early settlers of that region. The justification for the use of African slaves and your argument that slaves came to adjust to their surrounding, but had to give up their freedom in exchange for shelter is an interesting debate. These types of arguments would be valuable in a classroom discussion. One could also use this example when covering slavery and womens' rights along with the Declaration of Independence. Though women came to America with more freedoms than that of women in Europe, African slaves had to endure decades of racial discrimination. Thanks for your analysis.
Emily, I agree with you that the development of slavery in America is a challenging topic for students to grasp. I think one of your most important observations was that being torn from their homeland and away from their families resulted in many slaves giving up instead of fighting. The perceptions of a student living in the 21st century trying to comprehend the mindset of those who lived hundreds of years before is difficult. My students have so many labor saving devices and are so used to the ease with which we can acquire more food and sundries, the struggles and privations the Jamestown settlers endured is almost incomprehensible. Jefferson is one of the most morally complex American presidents to present. His soaring words promoting liberty stand in stark contrast to his casual racism and the profound inequity of his life and those of his slaves.
I enjoyed reading your response. I agree that in some writings racism is subtle, and in others it is overt. I had always known Jefferson as a figure who hoped slavery would end over time but was also himself racist. I had not, however, ever read the particular excerpt provided this week that portrays in such vivid detail his racial views. You accurately point out the irony in the fact that those who see themselves as superior are unable to provide for themselves without subjugating those who are able to do the manual labor. As Jefferson explains, he is one of God's chosen people, because he is an agrarian farmer. But indeed, he is not the one doing the farming at Monticello.
Michael, I like your phrase "authentic understanding of US history" in relation to the student's perception of the Founding Fathers. We have been guilty of mythologizing the men and women who helped start our country. As an elementary teacher, I have been occasionally guilty of that myself. I think your idea of presenting a more rounded perspective to students is valuable. People and events are more complex than our histories sometimes reveal. When I taught junior high school students, some of our best discussions revolved around the juxtaposition of America’s defenders of liberty who, nonetheless, also owned slaves. The justifications Jefferson offers as to why slavery exists and the purported differences in the intellectual capacities between whites and other races never ceases to amaze!
I appreciate your analysis that the South has a complex history. As I read from Beltram, I too felt captivated at the beauty, bounty, and serenity of the place. I also like how you point out that the story of Jamestown has usually been told from one point of view, mostly attending to the miseries of slavery. I appreciate that you noted that although slavery had a great deal to do with the success of the colony, there were other seeds planted there as well- those that became part of the roots of democracy. There certainly is a complex story to tell.
The relationships between all parties: colonists, Indian, and slaves are vital as are their differing relations with the land. I agree that the readings you cited are accessible and would encourage an inquiry into these dynamics – especially the economic ones. I always find it ironic that the colonists seem unable to grow corn to survive but settled on tobacco, a non-edible plant. One of the concepts that we have our 5th graders wrestle with is that of interdependence which hits some of your economic focus for our younger learners. Another concept that we explore is that of organization which I thought also popped out in these readings as well. Once those colonists figured out how to organize, everything just took off. It's one of those messages that seems to work for students in their own lives at that age and for colonists!
I was also struck by Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia and wonder how to better deal with the issue of the "real" founding fathers with my students. It seems like it's not enough to say "it's complicated" and yet it is. Yes, there was economic motivation and historical momentum. And there was also the notion of gradual emancipation when it came to ending slavery, so Jefferson in the context of his time may have been seen as an perceived himself as progressive for simply desiring an eventual end to slavery. There was "scientific" justification of racism that amounts today to what we consider at best a hypocritical and willful blindness. And yet...I think we can and should still appreciate Jefferson. We look at Kennedy both positively and negatively (Excellent work with the Cuban Missile Crisis but what about those extramarital affairs?) We look at Nixon positively and negatively (He opened up China and started the EPA, but had to resign due to corruption). Why not the Founding Fathers as well? But first, they have to be disentangled from the idealized, morally pure, deified characters we would prefer.
I like your pairing of Kupperman and Jefferson. In our 8th grade Social Studies course we contrast Jamestown and Plymouth- not favoring one over the other, but presenting each as a "creation story from hell" that was motivated by one or the other of two key American themes. Those themes are economic opportunity which drove the long term investment in and settlement of Jamestown and the desire for freedom which led the Pilgrims to head for the northern parts of Virginia. We also emphasize what Kupperman does, that America was built by trial and error through the interactions and conflicts between Europeans, Africans, and Natives that Jefferson seems to struggle to categorize fairly in his Notes on the State of Virginia. However, we challenge Kupperman's thesis that the Jamestown model became that for all future successful colonies. We see Jamestown being the model for the American South, and Plymouth being the model for New England and what becomes the American North. From our Connecticut Western Reserve vantage point here in Northeast Ohio I suppose that's biased, but it is consistent with the state curriculum that we are directed to teach as engagingly as we can.
I can appreciate you comments here. As a teacher of American Literature, Equiano's text is very significant. However, he begins this excerpt from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano with the words, "My father, besides many slaves, had a numerous family, of which seven lived to grow up. . . ." So in writing about American slavery, we learn that his own family in Africa were slave owners there. This also leaves students "astounded" as you said. Anyone have ideas on how to better approach Equiano's text?
Creation Story From Hell
I really agree with your questioning for student understanding. They need to grasp the true beginning of colonial America (Jamestown), not what we want it to be (Plymouth). I think students and many teachers fall into the trap of going with the general consensus when the truth is left out. Your other point about Jefferson being someone who we hold very high in esteem (all men created equal) is also a person who allowed the enslavement of others. Students are told so many times about how many great things these Founding Fathers did, when in reality they also allowed and did some very bad things. Seeing this hypocrisy for students would be a beneficial lesson that not everyone is perfect, including the Founding Fathers. Overall I thought your essay was very clear and the objective using these documents would really help foster student learning.
I very much enjoyed reading your post. I totally agree with the argument that historians have created myths regarding our nation’s founding. Kupperman and Jefferson’s writings really would work well together in the classroom in terms of highlighting the conflicting ideals that grew our country. Some of the writing in Jefferson’s piece was so very disturbing (i.e., when he compares and contrasts the qualities of whites and blacks (Ayers and Mittendorf, 15-16), and students would benefit from confronting these realities. When I teach about George Washington, my students are always shocked to learn that he owned slaves. Jefferson’s engagement in the less agreeable aspects of colonial society definitely poses some important ethical and social questions for students to ponder and discuss.
I remember many years ago reading an introduction to a book of folk tales. The idea that struck me was “…our stories become us and we become our stories…” Jefferson told his story of the founding and of his home state of Virginia in what he believed to be its best and true light. He explained the institution of slavery again as he believed it truly was.
Throughout history, individual and cultures have told their stories. In reading history, we need to hear these stories in terms of the perspective of the people and their times. We may disagree vehemently; we may point out all the chinks in the armor; but first we need to listen. This is a skill we need to teach our students and one we need to remember ourselves. It is necessary for the study of the past; it is necessary in our national life today. And like Jefferson’s Declaration, it is easier said than accomplished.
I have used parts of the Equiano piece in my high school classroom before because I think it gives a deep understanding and perspective of what it was like for a person being forced into slavery. I, too, find that it is difficult to find resources that really show the depth of despair and heartache slaves felt being captured and forced into slavery. I also find it interesting for students to use Equiano’s words to explore point of view, and to examine the impact slaves had on the economy of the south.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this important topic.
Kathleen, like you, I find Mr. Jefferson to be the most confounding of our founding fathers. The ideological contradictions of the 18th century in America are given a eloquent voice by Jefferson. In Notes on the State of Virginia it is apparent that Jefferson’s is conflicted, and we can point out many contradictions in the short excerpt we read for our class. It seems impossible that Jefferson looked at the world the way he did. Like you say, it seems ludicrous. But our reading complicated it even further for me. One of the most insightful passages we read from American Slavery, American Freedom showed the enlightenment idols of Jefferson like John Locke, James Burgh, and Andrew Fletcher advocated something close to slavery for poor people. After reading that section of American Slavery, American Freedom Jefferson and American Freedom during the founding era became even more complicated for me.
LOVE IT LOIS!
Please do send me the lesson. That will be perfect to use with students. I am sure the imagery invoked by the dog is powerful with students. My dog is Baxter by the way.
I appreciated your essay and I agree that many students lack the personal experience or rush to make a conclusion about the south. Many of my students, who live in Texas, tend to make some of the same conclusions about the south; racism is usually their first response. When I teach this unit, I approach it from the varied perspectives such as the economic reasons that allowed it to survive, as you highlighted. I blend in the personal perspectives such as the day in a life of a slave. We investigate and justify “how and why” the southern plantation system created the southern society; along with the long-term effects on the US politically, socially, and economically.
Roxie, first of all thank you for your kind comments on my blog, The Ironic Superiority. I really enjoyed reading your blog about Huckleberry Finn and Jim, as it gave me a whole new perspective on Jim. While I have often used the example of Jim’s place in his world as an analogy of other figures in their individual eras, I have never thought to place him in the Civil Rights Era. Mostly, I mention Huckleberry Finn as an example of why books were banned in Nazi Germany—Hitler (and his minions) saw Huck’s helping Jim the same as a German citizen’s helping save persecuted Jews.
I also explain to my students another reason for banning this book is the “danger” of teaching free thinking! After reading your blog, I like to think that Huck would be marching along with civil rights activist Jim in scenes such as the one where Huck comes to terms with his “demons.” In this scene, he decides to help Jim even though it goes against the accepted teachings of the day, and he decides he would rather send his own soul to hell in order to help his friend which is an example of the “danger” of free thinking in this book. It is hard to imagine churches would teach that a person was doomed for hell if he helped another human being escape the bonds of slavery.
In an undergrad course, I had a professor who was also a minister belittle the fact that I had read Huckleberry Finn in a high school literature course since he thought it was a juvenile book. His philosophy seemed to be that the word or opinion of one in authority is not to be questioned! I now look back on his ministerial as well as his teaching experiences and wonder if in reality he was one of those who considered it a “danger” to think for yourself and would have banned the book if he could. Logan Porter
I applaud you. I struggled with a way to successfully write about the intersection between the history of Native Americans and Europeans in the Tidewater. You made it work so well.
I was also intrigued by William Bartram's "Travels" that I tracked down an online version of his book. It was fascinating to read his descriptions of Native American villages, industry, and social behaviors. I appreciated what you noted about the comfortable entrenchment of slavery being evident in these early primary sources.
I also went and reread Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia" to see what he said about the aborigines of Virginia. Although Jefferson wrote less than a decade after Bartram, he seems bereft of any appreciation for the first people of Virginia.
All my best,
You are absolutely right that we should be “investigating slavery and equality through a legal lens” and demand our students to go “beyond simple recognition.” I never connected Somerset case to the Fugitive Slave Clause of the 3/5th compromise! Richard Beeman’s awesome book, "Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution," doesn’t mention it.
The Virginia Slave Laws from 1662 to 1752 are fun to analyze with kids because they are so draconian! The “child shall follow the condition of the mother” insight to what was really happening in some households, but some reason, a law from 1752 affects students most. It says that if “it shall not be lawful for any negroe, or other slave or slaves…going from one plantation to another, to carry with them any dog whatsoever…and if slave or slaves presume to carry about with him, her or them any dog, contrary to the intention of this act, it shall…kill and destroy every such dog.”
Now, I don't know if you have a dog (mine is Snoopy!), but all the kids can see is their little dog getting killed! We then categorize the laws into three areas: marginalize, objectify, and dehumanize. I use these three categories throughout the year up to Frederick Douglass’s first slave narrative.(I can send you the lessons.)
Absolutely awesome analysis, Rhonda!!!!
I so enjoyed reading your essay. My essay had a similar theme – the contrast between words and deeds as practiced by the founding fathers and how many acknowledged this, yet rationalized its existence. Slavery was a horrible institution that forced them to recognize their own contradictions, all the while enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labor. In his Narrative, Frederick Douglass explains how the institution corrupts the oppressor while it does infinite harm to the oppressed. Besides recognizing the evils of slavery, did the founders realize the corrupting influence it had on them? I’m not sure. As a teacher of both African-American and U.S History, I’m confronted with how to teach this period without succumbing to cynicism and despair. But as the story unfolds, I am able to convince my students that greatness comes out of the ashes; leading to emancipation, that eventually inspires others across the globe.
It is such an interesting and confusing idea for students to understand how these "enlightened" men like Jefferson could justify slavery within this "Virtuous Republic." The public image of the "Founding Fathers" if often that they are beyond reproach. The point that you raise about Jefferson’s “scientific” justification for slavery and the struggle that these thinkers had to face is a critical one for students to grapple with in understanding this dichotomy. We must deconstruct the thinking of the time and the impressions that we have of these founders in their historic context and against the greater construct of the notions of equality, land ownership, and their own struggles with liberty under King George.
This is one of my favorite things to explore with students!
This is a tough topic that is so commonly struggled with in the history classroom, specifically "scientific" racism and the idea of, why did they not just run away. You address some important themes in your essay using change over time to make the point that African slavery did not occur over night, but the idea of free or cheap labor began with the founding of the colonies and it was always based on race. It would be an interesting idea in a history classroom to present students with the preamble to the Declaration of Independence as well as the excerpt from his notes on the State of Virginia to draw distinctions between Jefferson and really start to make them think about Jefferson as a flawed human being, not just the founding father we tend to idealize. Nice essay. Thanks for making me think!
You have provided great food for thought in your analysis of Jefferson's words. I think you're correct in that it neatly ties together the relationship at Jamestown with the Natives and likewise the planter reformers ambition.
I think this would be a complex undertaking with students but with the interpretations you supplied from Kupperman, Morgan, and Taylor it is doable. Do you think there are other modern situations that could be used with a "germ of virtue, design of ambition" discussion? My 11th grade classes are currently studying imperialism of the late nineteenth century. I am thinking this quote from Jefferson might be a good discussion starter next week. hmmmm......
Great insight Lois!
I enjoyed reading your submission. I felt as if Kupperman whittled a new understanding of the settlement of the South in Jamestown. Her writing created a new appreciation for the hardships endured at the settlement. Not all are suitable to settle and lead. Jamestown was the poster child for who should not be chosen as initial settlers. But she saves the bad rap heaped on these pioneers, who in a span of less than ten years, discovered a means of self sufficiency.
..that getting started is extremely difficult, and they would need support for many years just to become established before any valuable products could be expected. Investors in the seventeenth century looked to the next quarterly report as much as those in the21st
Reading Kupperman and Morgan on the Jamestown topic was enlightening. Kupperman afforded more understanding of the task at hand. Morgan creates the image of an elitist group who waivered until profit was sniffed out in the guise of tobacco. Now, that's the South I know.
This information regarding the settlement of Jamestown will offer new insights to the conditions at Jamestown and makes the settlement less myth and more realistic for my students. I can see developing a PBL lesson on Morgan's and Kupperman's articles.
Thank you for your inciteful comments.
Kate, your essay addresses an idea that my students really struggle with – how could the Founding Fathers, particularly Jefferson, put forth beliefs in equality and justice, yet own slaves themselves. My students have a particularly difficult time understanding Jefferson in the context of his relationship with Sally Hemings (they ask, how can he claim blacks to be a “cultural, physical, and moral inferiority,” as you state, but have an affair with her). Your conclusion that we must acknowledge these men “chose comfort over integrity, profit over human rights, and power over justice” offers an interesting perspective from which to teach this era. I find as teachers we often try to provide the more optimistic version of events but it is possible in this situation that version simply does not exist.
I actually thought that our first assignment was the blog which was a little intimidating. I like that in reality, they are only for the eyes of the instructors, however it made the blog assignment a little confusing. I thought we were going to comment on each other's essays, which would have been a great deal of pressure to not sound ridiculous. So, I hope I am doing the correct thing in the blog entry. I'm curious what people wrote about. I thought my response to the assignment sounded a little too obvious.
Ann, I did what you did for the assignment.
Logan, if I hadn't have read your post, I would never have thought to question the authenticity of Equiano's narrative! I am going to immediately order Caretta's edition. Thanks so much for making me aware of the "fiction" aspects of his story. As an English teacher, this makes his narrative more interesting and essential to me - the inclusion of fiction now seems essential as a rhetorical device and reveals Equiano as someone who is documenting the collective experience of an entire people. It also reminds us to question writing especially when it seeks to tell "truth."
I really liked your essay's emphasis on the Constitution as a "living document" I have my students complete a DBQ where they analyze if the Constitution itself supported the institution of slavery. Many of them have trouble with the general concept of how a document centered around providing freedom and liberty to all could ignore such an obviously unequal system. One thing that your essay approaches well is that the Constitution was a product of its time period but was crafted in such a way that it evolved to meet future societal norms. Most of the documents that are including in the assignment I give are letters etc. from the authors of the Constitution, where they express their underlying ideals in regards to slavery. In fact, the George Mason quotation you gave is within one of the documents. This allows students to look at how even though there is brief mention of slavery within the text of the Constitution, it was truly the underlying motives of the founding fathers that shaped how slavery would be handled early in our nation's history. Your essay makes this point very apparent as well, particularly with the quote from Thurgood Marshall. Something my students find particularly challenging is that their is only brief mention of the morality of slavery in the documents. Most of the focus is on the benefits for the South in regards to representation and the economic issues in regards to the continued importation of slaves and the tax benefits for the North. One of my students commented how this treatment of slavery by the founders was "cold." Your essay does a great job of addressing how, by today's standards, its cold but in the context of the time it may have been quite liberal to even consider slaves at all. Your essay has inspired a great contextualization lesson. Thanks!
This is a nice essay that reminds us that nobility and cash does not equal common sense and hard work. Moving many people across an ocean for the purpose of plundering resources and sending "stuff" back home is not a noble endeavor. But sending men who are pampered and waited upon instead of hardworking artisans and craftspeople is almost unbelievable. Remember the old computer game, "The Oregon Trail"? Do you remember the first time you played? There were dead oxen, dysentery, broken axles, lack of drinking water... you learned quickly what was important in order to make a long successful journey. The class which made the journey to what became Jamestown were ill equipped to survive for the long term. Being almost completely helpless, their unfortunate experience sowed the seeds of indenture and slavery.
Thanks for your thoughtful commentary. I would agree with a good deal of what you have to say regarding our reluctance to really analyze Jefferson's language and reach a definitive conclusion regarding the character and motivation of this man. It seems that we are paralyzed in suggesting that Jefferson has a deeply egocentric, selfish, brand of racism. Are we afraid of being unpatriotic? Or do we just not want to undermine the beauty of the language of equity suggested in the Declaration? I have often heard the word "conflicted" used to describe Jefferson. It is a kind of standard response to charges that he is a bigot. This, along with the phrases such as " a product of his age" and "you can't judge a man from the eighteen century by modern standards" are frequently used to excuse his behaviors. I find these such convoluted and weak arguments. Moreover, they break down when one considers that all Jefferson's writings are not judged by the same historical standard. For example, we say that the "Notes" are dated and can be excused, but we have no problem seeing his Declaration as a living, timeless, document, which is as relevant now as it ever was. As history is not my primary discipline, I feel that I am certainly lacking the expertise necessary to make a judgement about this founding father. But, it seems to me that Jefferson only considered slaves as fully human when it was convenient for him to see them as such. For instance, in his relationship with his mistress (and I sincerely doubt there was any love on Sally's part given the awful power and gender dynamic in that union). The "Notes" clearly indicate that most of the time though, it was more convenient for him to see his slaves as subhuman and lacking basic human sensibilities. This philosophy allowed him to do despicable things. For example, breaking up slave families as a disciplinary measure was cruel and extreme, even by the standards of his day, but Jefferson did not hesitate to meter out this punishment when they disobeyed him. The words "all men are created equal" obviously refers only to white males of European decent.
I think we so often want to collapse the qualities of genius and goodness. We desperately want to see intelligent and articulate people, with the ability to think rationally, as merciful and kind. So, it disturbs us when they act in their own selfish interests.
Thanks Everyone! I admit this seems a bit vague at the moment, but this is natural in the beginning. Once again, I was plagued by technology issues, and am so thankful for my tablet saving the day. I am looking forward to sharing thoughts and ideas. All the best!
You identify a key challenge to all those who teach history whether in a classroom or as public historians. The “messiness” of the past illuminates the messiness that confronts us today, and this realization is essential to any sophisticated understanding of history. You've selected excellent quotes from Jefferson to support your idea. They powerfully reveal his internal conflict and his humanity. This type of lesson from the past is what makes the study of history so vital to maintaining a vibrant and open democracy. If we can grasp the complex humanity of Jefferson and other historical figures “great” and small, perhaps we can apply a humane perspective to our challenges in the present.
Hello Megan and Adrian,
I too thought of Ta-Nahesi Coates as I was reading this week's assignments. In an interview about his article THE CASE FOR REPARATIONS, he discusses how "the wretched treatment meted out to African Americans, and the wretched treatment meted out to Native Americans, in the minds of most white people is almost separate from the core idea of what America is. America is this place of democracy, freedom, all these other values, and these other things were sort of just mistakes that happened along the road—as opposed to thinking of those mistakes as things that actually made all those other good things possible." In essence, we, like Jefferson, continue to tell the story of America in a way that requires us to give up the least. Our challenge as educators is to help students see that the writing of history is and always has been political - that historical narratives matter, and that while what happened in the past cannot change, our understanding of it can and should in light of new discoveries and scholarship.
Alan Taylor and Olaudah Equiano are two writers I require my AP US history students to read as I hold both authors in high esteem. They read Taylor’s American Colonies and Equiano’s An Interesting Narrative. Taylor discusses slavery quite extensively in American Colonies, but obviously not in the detail as in The Internal Enemy. They do however read Equiano in its entirety.
I agree that both authors give meticulous examples of slavery with Equiano giving a first-hand account of the hardships faced by slaves. The dilemma I face with my students: Is Equiano true? The edition they read discusses that Vincent Carretta states (and can document) that Equiano was born in South Carolina rather than in Africa. This leaves my students astounded, and they have a hard time grasping that Equiano’s experiences are not his own even though he portrays them to be. While Equiano gives example after example of atrocities (with detailed accuracy) committed against captured Africans, my students have a difficult time accepting it. I have explained in detail the necessity of Equiano’s using personal perspective in his writing, but to no avail. By their questioning Equiano’s credibility, they end up discrediting the entire work.
I have debated whether or not to change Equiano for another book (perhaps Harriet Jacobs), but I keep it as part of my curriculum as it gives such an avid picture of the Middle Passage.
My favorite - Greens!
Working with middle school and elementary students, often the story becomes too simple. It was interesting to learn how reformers denounced the practice of entails spurred by the “younger sons” in the Piedmont. The inadvertent consequence (to slaves) of the termination of this practice impacted slavery and a slave’s chances for liberty. They became pawns in this new system of inheritance. Compounding this was the expansion westward where families could be separated forever. How agonizing this must have been. One can see why slaves, if they had heard the rumor of English freedom, might have sided with the British in the Revolution. The laws weren’t protecting them as they were considered property. The large percentage of farmers having slaves (80%) in VA (Morgan p. 47) and its proximity to the coast and presumably an active rumor mill, must have made this indeed a turbulent time especially for the Tidewater region.
What do you see as the evolutionary pattern of slavery. I saw it as an outcome of the feelings of superiority of the 'English' over every other nationality, as part of the heritage of classical civilizations, economic opportunism, patterns of indenture, and then the demographic growth of the slave population creating both a need for expansion and an economic opportunity to sell the excess slaves. This expansionism and economic value had to be justified with deeply held 'moral' convictions from the bible and other literary and pseudo-scientific sources, leading to political and then military force being used to protect the institution. What am I missing?
I thought it would be nice to return the favor since you commented on my paper, grownow22.
I like the guiding thesis that you chose for your response: the social, political, and economic impact of slavery. Clearly, as you say, the economic impact was huge on America, and especially directly upon the South. But what I find fascinating is the inverse relationship between the economic advantages OF slavery and the social disadvantages TO slaves. While the antebellum South was increasing its profits, it was simultaneously restricting the rights and growth of thousands of human beings, both adults and children, men and women, old and young. To me there is something quite heinous in that human beings can do such things to other human beings. Even more disturbing is that these acts of dehumanization were miscontrued as benevolent. Put that together with the sexual acts of master with slave, and there is another unthinkable layer. To me, it is important to acknowledge that as human beings we have the capacity to "go along" with what is a part of a culture and what seems to be best for our pocketbooks, even if it means demeaning or dehumanizing or oppressing others. I'd prefer a culture , community, and world that has different values and priorities. So, I'm grateful that the tide eventually turned and slavery was abolished. Now if we could only repair the broken race relations and prevent slavery world-wide, we'd really be getting somewhere.
Thank you for the thank you! Brenda