All Community Comments

Lois:

As usual, you have provided great insight into the conflict between clinging to the old inheritance laws and the desire of some, like Thomas Jefferson, to institute reform. The impact of the primogeniture inheritance laws on all aspects of society--the Tidewater planters at one end of the socio-economic spectrum and slaves who were now being sold with much more frequency--is particularly noteworthy because it allows an analysis of the causal connection between inheritance laws and the slave trading industry. I also think some of this material could be presented in connection with the story of Harriet Jacobs, since inheritance of slaves and their progeny profoundly affected her fate and the fate of other slaves.


Lois:

As usual, you have provided great insight into the conflict between clinging to the old inheritance laws and the desire of some, like Thomas Jefferson, to institute reform. The impact of the primogeniture inheritance laws on all aspects of society--the Tidewater planters at one end of the socio-economic spectrum and slaves who were now being sold with much more frequency--is particularly noteworthy because it allows an analysis of the causal connection between inheritance laws and the slave trading industry. I also think some of this material could be presented in connection with the story of Harriet Jacobs, since inheritance of slaves and their progeny profoundly affected her fate and the fate of other slaves.


Lois:

As usual, you have provided great insight into the conflict between clinging to the old inheritance laws and the desire of some, like Thomas Jefferson, to institute reform. The impact of the primogeniture inheritance laws on all aspects of society--the Tidewater planters at one end of the socio-economic spectrum and slaves who were now being sold with much more frequency--is particularly noteworthy because it allows an analysis of the causal connection between inheritance laws and the slave trading industry. I also think some of this material could be presented in connection with the story of Harriet Jacobs, since inheritance of slaves and their progeny profoundly affected her fate and the fate of other slaves.


Lois:

As usual, you have provided great insight into the conflict between clinging to the old inheritance laws and the desire of some, like Thomas Jefferson, to institute reform. The impact of the primogeniture inheritance laws on all aspects of society--the Tidewater planters at one end of the socio-economic spectrum and slaves who were now being sold with much more frequency--is particularly noteworthy because it allows an analysis of the causal connection between inheritance laws and the slave trading industry. I also think some of this material could be presented in connection with the story of Harriet Jacobs, since inheritance of slaves and their progeny profoundly affected her fate and the fate of other slaves.


I really enjoyed reading your essay and I agree with you that our students benefit by being able to make an emotional connection with historical characters. This helps students to understand why an issue such as slavery is so complex. While the narrative of Equiano is widely used by many of our colleagues as a vivid depiction of the horrors of the Middle Passage, I think your use of the Randolph piece as a juxtaposition of the cultural complexity for white society would give students an interesting way of exploring various attitudes toward slavery that were held by Southerners.


I enjoyed your use of idea of the virtuous yeoman farmer and your conclusion that the slave system extinguishes that virtue. I find it is difficult to present the economic and social factors that lead to slavery in the South without a student asking about the morality of the system. Jefferson is such a unique source to use with students: promoting small farming while at the same time having to rationalize slavery and large scale, plantation agriculture that is his ‘bread and butter.’ My students would quickly pick up on the irony of attacking wage ‘slavery,’ while, in the same selection, attempting to rationalize racial bondage.


Lois,
That sounds like really neat lessons, if you are willing to share I would love to see them. I enjoyed reading your response to Rhonda and her writing as well. Thanks to both of you!
Leslie


Well done! You give a concise and clear view of the inevitability of slavery in America, especially when you reference Jefferson's preference to keep the industrial sector in Europe, and maintain the United States as an agricultural sector. And you point out the salient facts that the men who initially arrived in Virginia were utterly unprepared for establishing a colony, having brought plenty of gentlemen, servants and craftsmen, but few husbandmen. There are many threads for further inquiry in your essay, and thus provides a great entry point for student researchers.


You are correct that we as Americans almost idolize individuals like Jefferson and Madison, and so easily over look that fact that they too had slaves. However, the idea that Jefferson uses to justify the differences in whites and blacks is flawed, as we all know. Further, it is also mostly his opinion, and not based on true scientific fact. The thought that we as a nation couldn't exist without slavery is true, as slavery was a necessity, but I believe due respect needs to be given to how they falsely justified it, distorted it from slavery into sheer abuse, and so much more. The slavery that existed and evolved within our country was drastically different that other nations, and we long continued it when other world powers stopped it.


The orderly emancipation designed by the elite or the horrific emancipation created by the enslaved themselves was highlighted really nicely in your essay. You highlight that Jefferson and Madison et al. were such complex people politically and of course just as humans in their insistence that African Americans (not even acknowledged as such) were not really human, but their emancipation was a necessity due to that fear of the "internal enemy". The mention of states rights, while connected to the societal separation of the slaves, also brings the concept of the differentiation between north and south in that era. The rationale for separation might have included the idea of economic "need" perhaps; but also the ability for the elite to keep the upper hand with regards to the enslaved population. Nice ideas and nicely developed (in 350 words or fewer!), thank you!


You are right when you speak of the ambivalence of the Patriots, including Jefferson, who tout the idea of inalienable rights; however, their shouts ring hollow. Jefferson believed that slavery was wrong. In fact in several letters he referred to epitomized slavery as wolf that the slaveholder had by the ears—you did not really like it, but you dared not let it go. You are also right about reasons why so many did not want to give up. The slave holder lived under an eternal cloud of “slave revolt,” real or imagined. As you talked about the evangelicals, did you also see how they toned down their rhetoric?

Jim Haferman 1/27/2015


The South in American History is the second course I've taken as part of the Gilder Lehrman Masters in American History program. The first course was called, "Amazing Grace: How Writers Helped End Slavery." While we read works from multiple authors across all genres of antislavery literature, the slave narrative was one particular facet that helped me gain better perspective upon the subject matter. Olaudah Equiano's narrative was particularly engaging, yet much like my essay on the inconsistency of the character of Thomas Jefferson, I was troubled by the falsehood of the former slave's telling of his capture in Africa and transport on a slave ship bound for the West Indies. Equiano was in fact born in South Carolina, not Africa, which makes the early portion of the narrative somewhat disingenuous. This is not to say his narrative does not strike a chord with me or the students I teach, but there are other such narratives in my mind that eliminate the rather cumbersome falsehood as in Equiano's circumstance. A comparable, albeit more "authentic" narrative would be that of Boston King's Memoirs of the Life of Boston King, a Black Preacher, or Lunsford Lane's The Narrative of Lunsford Lane, Formerly of Raleigh, N.C. In terms of the language arts department at my school, Equaino's narrative is chiefly taught as it is most often included in texts used by the department. However, for my own history teachings, I tend to steer away from Equiano and gear my students toward these lesser known, but equally powerful narratives.


I thought it was really interesting to learn that Jefferson himself thought that the only way that slaves could be freed was if they were exiled out of the United States, according to the Morgan reading. Because of their character described by Jefferson in the Notes on the State of Virginia source, their freedom and inevitable laziness and poor character, would be a threat to the prosperity of the white population. It’s a good point you make about the terror felt by whites over the potential of insurrection. The whole slave system was feed on terror. Whites were scared in losing control, but they used that same terror and fear to keep control. Just another contraction pointed of in these reading this week.


Thank you very much!


I'm glad I chose your essay to read. As my favorite president I also struggle on how to paint him for the sake of my students. Clearly, the heroism of fighting for a new nation is in the forefront of my instruction but the slavery issue is one my students struggle with as there are few issues with gradients of gray. It is just black and white for them. I struggle with showing the students the Thomas Jefferson piece because of the topics you mentioned such as odor being a result of skin tone. On the other hand, I loved his statement that "comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason and imaginations, it appears to me that in memory they are equal to the whites" which I think is progressive for his time, but then he finishes the sentence with "in reason much inferior..." I am nervous about showing this to students as I am concerned about how students would process that kind of statement by one of our most influential thinkers. What is your experience tackling this sensitive issue?


I really enjoyed reading your essay about the three cultural groups that had an impact on the South. It is interesting to point out that the South is a land of so many hierarchies, the Native Americans got by for so many years without help, the Europeans depended on the Native Americans, the Africans were forced to come to the South for work, becoming, as you said "a permanent fixture in the landscape." Even though the Native Americans were crucial to the European settlers' survival, the settlers in turn fought and killed Indians to stay "in control" of the land.

I would love to see, and hope we perhaps get the chance, for you to expand this topic in the future! The way the Europeans forced themselves to the top of the totem pole, I think, is a fascinating social study that you really started to get into here!


Please disregard. This is the incomplete draft


The title of your essay caught my attention; in addition to teaching AP US History, I also teach AP Psychology, so cognitive dissonance is a term with which I'm familiar, and a flaw of human reasoning I find fascinating. However, I'm not sure I agree with your assessment that Jefferson et. al., experienced it. I like to start my US students' analysis of the Declaration with the prompt: "Equality is not the same as equal," to which they must generate their own questions that will eventually fuel a discussion. I'm not sure Jefferson believed in "equality." He saw all men as equal only to the extent that they started off the same, with certain natural rights. But, their success in fulfilling those rights depended on individual traits and circumstance. It's my understanding that Jefferson was a true believer in a "natural aristocracy," a minority of individuals who were also endowed with special gifts and who were destined to lead (of course he considered himself among this elite group). He was also convinced that blacks and American Indians were racially inferior. I think more than dissonant with his beliefs and practice as a slave-holder, Jefferson's Lockean-based republican ideals were consistent. I wonder if Jefferson and his cohorts ever considered "equality" as an ideal, at least in the way we think of it today.
It's a nebulous distinction, and my students struggle with it, especially as we compare the first and final drafts of the Declaration. In the end, we're mostly still left scratching our heads. Even now, I'm just not sure what to make of it.
Thanks for giving me something to think about!


I enjoyed reading your post. I think that when we are thinking about high school students that it is often hard for them to understand why slavery was able to exist - especially once people knew that it was wrong. In my own writing, I discussed the economic drive of the south that was embedded in its foundation and I think that your thoughts about "ignoring" the moral dilemma are right on. It made me think about a possible lesson where students explore a variety of times in American history where morals are ignored for the sake of ___________.


I like how you chose to highlight the contradictions in the assigned readings. By contrasting different narratives of early american settlements, you bring out the complexity of the story.

Too often, we are exposed to a simplified version of history. For me it's like reading Jack London retold for children. Or even worse: Anna Karenina via cliff notes.

History is complicated, and that's why it's fun to study.

While reading for a class, I've stumbled upon a beautiful quote:
"Humans are inherently complicated, contradictory, and conflicted, untroubled by logical inconsistencies and amazingly capable of compartmentalization." (Memory and Reconciliation by Caroline Janney)


Jefferson is a confusing individual and it's gratifying to know I am not alone in thinking so. In reading the Declaration of Independence drafts, you catch glimpses of a very modern man who was restrained by his time period. Especially in the later drafts as whole sentences and chunks are cut out that would have given more rights to all people and not the lofty white citizen. The readings this week really took a step back for me in what he was like. It wasn't only his personal struggle that we saw, but his social struggle as well. The secondary readings helped place the Virginia landowners in a new context. Kathleen, thank you for helping me organize my thoughts on Jefferson and the readings we reviewed this week. -- M. Sara


Great post.

Relative to Jefferson, I'm fascinated by this man's contradictions. As you point out, he extolled the simple small farmer, but owned nearly 200 slaves. He railed against debt and dependence, but he was up to his neck in debt to his creditors. He drafted schemes for emancipation of slaves, but freed only a handful of his own by manumission during his life. He wrote of the inferiority of African-Americans, but was the likely father of six children by Sally Hemmings, slave and half-sister of his late wife.

I don't know what these contradictions say about Jefferson, other than that he was both brilliant and flawed. And, the real irony is that, if Jefferson had been a yeoman farmer toiling on his 160 acres, he probably wouldn't have been philosopher-statesmen he was.

I do wish that sources had included an important follow-up to Jefferson's Notes: African-American mathematician Benjamin Banneker's letter to Jefferson about his views on African-American's potential and Jefferson's response. It's worth reading if you haven't seen it. I think it shows that Jefferson--unlike many of the pro-slavery apologists who emerged in the 19th century--was no ideologue. And that's probably why he was so frustratingly inconsistent.


What kind of greens and how are they cooked?


Julie,

I really appreciate your point about the West Indies as a stopping off point for some slaves and a destination for others. It struck me as I read both selections, but didn’t pursue it. I really wonder what Equiano felt like to not be chosen at the first stop and amidst the horrific experiences he was enduring if there was a little element similar to when we used to number off in PE class and I was chosen last. I don’t think that anyone wants to be the first picked slave, but when one’s world is turned upside down, to not be purchased meant that he moved on to a place where he knew absolutely no one. I just wonder if not being chosen added to his feelings of isolation.

Aimee


The map works so much better in Chrome. On my old Mac using Safari, the map and legend are mushed together. I had two computers going to follow along which made the mapping and the live broadcast much easier to follow.


You are forgetting the rivers and waterways for shipping. One important factor is the lack of irrigation in much of the South so farming near a river may not be as important as in other parts of the world. The climate map can also show that necessity. Coming from California, I couldn't imagine enough rain to water crops.


Thomas Jefferson is a study in contrasts. A man who writes about these high ideals in the Declaration of Independence, like "all men are created equal" and also calling for the end to slavery in his original draft of the Declaration. On the other hand, owning slaves and being the typical Southern aristocrat even having children with one of his slaves. I also find it difficult to teach about Jefferson knowing all of his inherent contradictions. But like many other plantation owners he was not willing to suffer the economic consequences of emancipation even though some of his writings called for it. And I also agree he is not the only historical figure to have that dilemma.


Thanks, I will check it out!


I completely agree with your message of Jefferson's inconsistency. Author of the Constitution, owner of slaves. But given the era in which the Founding Fathers were forming this nation, it is a little more understandable, though no more palatable. The quotes that have drawn such admiration over the years - "all men are created equal", " give me liberty or give me death" - by Jefferson and Patrick Henry seem to be somewhat tarnished given the reality of pre and post Revolution in the South. The economic justification of slavery as spelled out by Jefferson would place him in a completely different light today as opposed to during his time. But the same can be said for many from our history books - Columbus comes to mind.


Keri,

I wanted to read your blog post after you made the comment of duality in the readings on mine. As it turns out, that was my original thought for the theme of my post as well! I think you bring up some really interesting points, my favorite of which is the perfumer. I read that and just glossed over it, but you are completely right. Why would anyone in a colony that is on a razor's edge in terms of survival think that a perfumer is necessary! I also much preferred Morgan's take on the Jamestown colony as opposed to Kupperman's.

Jefferson is always a fascinating subject, because he seems to embody the term "duality". If you study him on a number of topics, this becomes evident. He simply cannot stay within one viewpoint. It is like two people are sharing the same incredible brain. I don't know how the other Founders did not tear their hair out, (Or maybe their wigs apart?) when they were working with him. I do think you are right in that he seems to see the results of slavery "bearing a terrible fruit", but he doesn't have a real solution to the problem, hence his "Wolf by the ears" comment about slavery on multiple occasions.

-William Miller


Vivian, I like your approach to these texts. I think that I use too few maps in my sophomore history class, but I agree that cartography and geography are important to any history lesson. I also believe that field trips are a valuable tool. It sounds like you might take your classes to Jamestown. Might I recommend that you check out Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia? The home of the Bartram brothers is in great shape, and the docents do a great job of explaining the role of the Bartrams as scientists and businessmen!

Bill Conners


I agree with your assessment that students’ understanding is deepened by the connections they make with the feelings of historic characters. The personal narrative of Olaudah Equiano and the details of Richard Randolph’s story similarly display their points of views regarding slavery. Both detest slavery, but approach the topic from different stances: one from personal experience and the other moral conviction. If students can relate on some level to Equiano’s and Randolph’s stories, the information becomes personal knowledge. That knowledge is a structure for greater understanding of deeper thought and critical thinking.


I like the way you highlight the defense of slavery as a reason for the Revolution. The Stamp Act and tea tax get a lot of ink in textbooks, but rarely is slavery raised in this context. At the time of the Declaration, slavery is legal just about everywhere so the Patriots must rationalize. And the rationalization continues through the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia where slavery is enshrined in the Constitution.
And even while many in the North deplore slavery, there are few White people talking about equality. In 1838, Pennsylvania specifically banned Black men from voting, And if you’ve seen Eric Foner’s new book on the Underground Railroad, Gateway to Freedom, the political and economic elite of NY did little to oppose slavery in the decades leading up to the Civil War. And things did not improve much in the North until the New Deal and WW II.
Bill Conners


Jason,
I shared similar thoughts on the fear of economic dependence as part of Jefferson's philosophy in my post and found in your post clarity in the differentiation of thought processes. The contradictory nature of Jefferson’s personal and political life is something I find fascinating and you do an excellent job of analyzing the timeline from its economic roots. In conjunction with his views on slavery, I find Jefferson’s inconsistency in his trust of the people hard to justify. During his presidency and vice-presidency, he chastises men like Adams and Hamilton for not putting enough trust in the people. I find this ironic, as he never had to grow up in a Northern society such as Adams or Hamilton where they had exposure to a lower class of people who constantly threatened rebellion (at least in their eyes). It at least justifies Jefferson’s overextended idealism, but does not excuse his hypocrisy in my eyes.


I agree that the Bartram accounts seem too good to be true. The ease at which he travels through the mountain wilderness is doubtful, but it is true that the New World was rich in unspoiled resources as hinted by Morgan. Morgan states one of the reasons the Indians did not chase the English out of Jamestown, is because the English did not drain the vital resources of the Indians (Morgan p. 75). After some thoughts I concluded that Bartram's constant references to Greek mythology may be hinting at the fact that America was a new democracy (an idea that originated in Ancient Greece). Not only can one person thrive in this New World because of its resources; but a person’s ideas and beliefs can flourish in America as well.


I like Lindsay's response to your essay, Kate, and would like to add a couple things. Jefferson and Sally and the Enlightenment ideas of "life, liberty, ..." cause great confusion for my sophomores and for me. He is so good at recognizing the evils of slavery ("I tremble for my country ..."), yet he does nothing.
I use Howard Zinn's People's History as my text, so the choice of "comfort over integrity ..." is clear to my students. What I found particularly interesting, though, is Morgan's explanation of Virginia's, and ultimately the US's, "conversion" to slavery (297-315).


I agree with you that Jefferson is guilty of being a man born in his time. We often think he should have been better because of what he represented. But I think he was more progressive in that he was quoted as saying that his first memory was being carried on a pillow by his families slave, but think deep down he knew it was more wrong than most southerners. He represented children of slaves pro bono when they were attempting emancipation. He even tried to pass a bill that would eliminate slavery in any new state. Most of this is overlooked.
We tend to worship our American heroes without question. We overlook their flaws and accept pop culture poetic tales as reality, such as Paul Revere. With Jefferson his contributions to the nation were enormous. But his one glaring flaw is difficult for many to overlook. I feel we need to embrace all aspects of our historical figures. Their achievements and their flaws are both worth studying to aid us in historical analysis. I very much appreciated your take that Jefferson was very much a product of his time.


My post emphasized the same irony/disconnect/hypocrisy in the colonial South. One of the realizations that my students are always intrigued by are the Revolutionary cries of freedom and liberty in a country that practiced actual slavery, as opposed to the figurative slavery that many of the "Founding Fathers" espoused in the buildup toward war with Great Britain. Although Jefferson is far from alone in his attitudes toward slavery and liberty, the Equiano and Jefferson readings do offer a stark contrast of the colonial South.


I think that you make a good point that the society created was in many was a copy of English society at the time. While England did not have large plantations worked by slaves, they were not shy to use the labor of their tenants in a similar fashion. Especially those who held estates in Ireland and Scotland, where the enclosure movement during the 16th century had reduced the peasants to a dependent state, could easily adapt those practices to a new situation. Justifications of the system even echo one another, with some of the slave owners’ arguments of protection and care for “their people” echoing the rhetoric of noblesse oblige in England. The English measure of success was inherently unequal, so it is not surprising that their new system was as well.


Hi Melinda,
Thank you for your post about Thomas Jefferson. The same thoughts ran through my head as I was reading these documents. Teaching middle school students, we are often driven towards using the school wide text. These texts are at the students reading levels so we are encouraged to use them by administrators. I have been implementing more and more primary documents into my curriculum recently. This is to get the students to dig deeper in their thinking as well as learning about history through a different lens. The documents have not been easy and a lot of annotations need to be made. But it has been worth it. These primary documents have allowed students to raise questions instead of just reading facts from the text. I know that when I teach U.S. History next year, I will sure be using Notes on the State of Virginia.
-Diana


Dear Michael, Thank you for making the time and effort to read my post. I share your belief that the perpetual bondage and replacement labor from offspring hit a tipping point as the health of the colony improved, and from that point on there was no turning back. Again, thank you.


I too found the first assignment very intimidating! I spent days on it and still feel like I missed the mark. I would have liked to read everyone elses thoughts and ideas too...another opportunity to learn.

I wrote about the Thomas Jefferson we learn about in textbooks versus the man we discover in primary sources.


I too found the first assignment very intimidating! I spent days on it and still feel like I missed the mark. I would have liked to read everyone elses thoughts and ideas too...another opportunity to learn.

I wrote about the Thomas Jefferson we learn about in textbooks versus the man we discover in primary sources.


The issue of "doublethink" (your word) and ambiguity over slavery (in both Morgan and Taylor) is the key issue for colonial and revolutionary Virginia. As the colony depended on Natives at first for survival, they came to see slavery as a "necessary evil" that in fact produced a good, dealing the the problem of poverty. Taylor makes clear how republican ideals clashed when the Somerset case and then Dunmore pointed to a stark contrast between England and Virginia. This fear of central authority undercutting slavery described by Taylor, becomes a root of states' rights (as you point out). In his "Notes," Jefferson suggests that race was such a wedge that those freed ought to be removed from the country (hence the establishment later of the American Colonization Society and Liberia).


I think that your post is spot on. The reason for African enslavement was driven by economic pressures. As you say “mortality rates went down, however, and the colony turned to the production of tobacco, planters began to recognize the advantages of investing in African slave labor.” In addition to the decrease in mortality rates, one distinct advantage of slavery over indentured servants was that slavers were in perpetual bondage. Indentured servants would eventually earn their freedom while slaves could be owned forever. In addition, subsequent generations would supplement in the initial investment. Not only could you count on the labor of one generation of slaves but also future generations.


I agree with your analysis regarding the unfortunate and obvious hypocrisy of many of the Founding Fathers. I support the premise that, "the Founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry understood the contradictions of their actions, yet made no attempt to correct these moral wrongs because personal greed drove them more than any claimed morality." I came to a similar conclusion in my essay. Thomas Jefferson wrote about the evils of slavery throughout his life. However, he owned hundreds of slaves and only freed a hand full during his life and upon his death. This contradiction is the definition of hypocrisy. Thomas Jefferson once said that, "having slaves was like holding a wolf by the ears, you didn't like it but you couldn't let go." I guess that was Jefferson's way of rationalizing the practice of slavery. As horrific as slavery was it helped run the country and nobody in power had the courage to abolish it.


I am glad you brought in the additional push toward revolution in Somerset v. Stuart (1772.) I found a citation that explains it a little further from an abolitionist point of view and have added it to my materials to hand out about the revolutionary war next year in class. It adds a great deal to my thought process of why the deep south would have been ready to revolt, as they were generally more closely tied to old England. http://testaae.greenwood.com/doc_print.aspx?fileID=GR3144&chapterID=GR31...


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.
Cheers!