How George Washington and Thomas Jefferson struggled with and against Slavery


A highly skewed, stunningly dishonest historical narrative of Slavery in the United States is being weaponized by Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and their collaborators in the corporate media.  Their highly racialized narrative centers on distorted, utterly inane caricatures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other early founders of the United States whom they condemn as nothing more than hypocritical, bigoted slave owning “White Supremacists.”

This fraudulent, ‘rewriting’ of U.S. history is being used to incite and justify violence.  As with all terrorism,  its purpose is to compel submission to their political demands.  In this respect,  it’s been highly effective, thanks in part to carefully situated sympathizers to this cause in local and state governments, public schools, and universities and the enormous funding Black Lives Matter and associated entities are receiving from powerful corporate interests, now in the many tens of millions of dollars (much of which, incidentally, is being diverted to the Democratic Party and Joe Biden’s political campaign). In a matter of a few short weeks, individuals and institutions have conceded to their demands which, by invoking a pretense of ‘Social Justice’ and ‘Equity,’ include a required revision of ‘acceptable’ language and vocabulary, mandated declarations of loyalty and public humiliations, ideological reeducation programs, adoptions of explicitly discriminatory policies on the basis of race,  racial segregation, and effectively prohibiting freedom of expression and the silencing of dissenting views.

Individuals who have failed to comply exactly have been met swift and severe punishment including public shaming and defamation, censorship on social media platforms, termination of employment, boycotts, expulsion from institutions of higher learning, doxing, vicious harassment, and violence.   In short, their toxic, falsehoods are being deployed to destabilize the United States, if not to ignite a race war, and ultimately render the nation and its laws illegitimate.

The success of this campaign can be attributed, in part, to a profound ignorance of history that can now be aptly be described as catastrophic.  Young adults and the youth of the United States, and the Liberal – Progressive – Left more broadly, have been rendered as intellectually defenseless against this cult-like conscription campaign: an American Intifada.

Author and scholar Thomas Sowell provides a penetrating, sober examination of the history of slavery in and outside the United States in his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals.  

Two short excerpts from his chapter “The Real History of Slavery” are provided below. They focus largely on Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  Reading, or listening to this entire chapter would be well worth the time invested as there is much more to be learned.


EXCERPTS from “The Real History of Slavery”

Today, slavery is too often discussed as an abstract question with an easy answer, leading to sweeping condemnations of those who did not reach that easy answer in their own time.  In nineteenth-century America, especially, there was no alternative that was not traumatic, including both the continuation of slavery and the ending of it in the manner in which it was in fact ended by the Civil War—at a cost of one life for every six slaves freed. 112 Many problems can be made simple, but only by leaving out the complications which those in the midst of these problems cannot so easily escape with a turn of a phrase, as those who look back on them in later centuries can.

Even at the individual level, it was not always legally possible for a slaveowner simply set a slave free, for authorities had to approve in many states. When a motion was introduced into the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769 to allow slaveowners to free their slaves unilaterally—a motion seconded by Thomas Jefferson—there was anger at such a suggestion and the motion was rounded defeated.113 An unlimited power to release slaves into the larger society was considered too dangerous to leave in private hands.

Many who have dismissed the anti-slavery words of the founders of the American republic as just rhetoric have not bothered to check the facts of history. Washington, Jefferson, and other founders did not just talk.  They acted. Even when they acted within the political and legal constraints of their times, they acted repeatedly, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  One of the early battles that was lost was Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence, which criticized King George III for having enslaved Africans and for over-riding colonial Virginia’s attempt to ban slavery.   The Continental Congress removed that phrase under pressure from representatives from the South.

When Jefferson drafted a state constitution for Virginia in 1776, his draft included a clause prohibiting any more importation of slaves and, in 1783, Jefferson included in a new draft of a Virginia constitution a proposal for gradual emancipation of slaves.  He was defeated in both these efforts. On the national scene, Jefferson returned to the battle once again in 1784, proposing a law declaring slavery illegal in all western territories of the country as it existed at that time. Such a ban would have kept slavery out of Alabama and Mississippi. The bill lost by one vote. Afterwards, Jefferson said that the fate “of millions unborn” was “hanging on the tongue of one man, and heaven was silent at that awful moment.”114

Three years later, however, Congress compromised by passing the Northwest Ordinance, making slavery illegal in the upper western territories, while allowing it in the lower western territories.  Congress was later authorized to ban the African slave trade and Jefferson, now President, urged that they use that authority to stop Americans “from all further participation in those violations of human rights which has been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa.”115 Congress followed his urging. As a historian summarized the actions of these early leaders:

If the Founding Fathers had done none of this—if slavery had continued in the North and expanded into the Northwest; if millions of Africans had been imported to strengthen slavery in the Deep South, to consolidate it in New York and Illinois, to spread to Kansas, and to keep it in the border South; if no free black population had developed in Delaware and Maryland; if no apology for slavery had left Southerners on shaky moral grounds; if, in short, Jefferson and his contemporaries had lifted nary a finger—everything would have been different.116

In short, the ideology of the American revolution was not just words.  Those ideas were not wholly without effect, even in the South, during the years immediately following the creation of the United States, for a number of Southern states eased legal restrictions on private manumissions during that era and many blacks were freed voluntarily.117  As a leading historian of slavery in the United States noted: “Manumissions were in fact so common in the deeds and wills of the men of ’76 that the number of colored freemen in the South exceeded thirty-five thousand in 1790 and was nearly doubled in each of the next two decades.”118  Despite growing apprehensions in the South following the bloodbaths in Santo Domingo even as late as 1832 the Virginia legislature considered a bill to abolish slavery, though it was defeated by a vote of just seventy-three to fifty-eight.119

Nevertheless, resistance to general emancipation was far stronger in the South than in the North.  Moreover, that resistance grew more intransigent after the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831 and the rise of militant abolitionism in the North, exemplified by the founding William Lloyd Garrison’s fiery newspaper, The Liberator; that same year.  […]  pages 144 – 146


George Washington was one of those who inherited slaves and dying childless, freed his slaves in his will, effective on the death of his wife.  His will also provided that slaves too old or too beset with “bodily infirmities” to take care of themselves should be taken care of by his estate, and that the children were to be “taught to read and write” and trained for “some useful occupation.” 130  His estate in fact continued to pay for the support of some freed slaves for decades after his death, in accordance with his will. 131

The part of Washington’s will dealing with slaves filled almost three pages, and the tone as well as the length of it showed his concerns:

The emancipation clause stands out from the rest of Washington’s will in the unique forcefulness of its language. Elsewhere in it Washington used the standard legal expressions— “I give and bequeath,” “it is my will and direction.” In one instance he politely wrote, “by way of advice, I recommend to my Executors…” But the emancipation clause rings with the voice of command; it has the iron firmness of a field order: “I do hereby expressly forbid the sale …of any Slave I may die possessed of, under any pretext whatsoever.”132

                Long before reaching this point in his personal life, George Washington has said of slavery as a national issue: “There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it”133 But, like Burke, he saw a need for a plan of some sort, rather than simply freeing millions of slaves in a newly emerging nation surrounded by threatening powers, just as the freed slaves themselves would be surrounded by a hostile population.  In short, the moral principle was easy but figuring out how to apply it in practice was not. Moreover, in a country with an elected government, how the white population at large felt could not be ignored. When Washington congratulated Lafayette for the latter’s purchase of a plantation where former slaves could live, he added: “Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country; but I despair of seeing it.” He saw legislation as the only way to end slavery and said that a legislator who did would get his vote.134

Slaves that Washington took north with him when he entered public life he quietly left behind when he returned to Virginia after completing his terms as President—in effect freeing them “on the sly, “ as one biographer put it, 135 at a time when to free them officially could have set off controversies that neither he nor the new nation needed. George Washington was, after all, trying to hold together a tiny coalition of states bearing little resemblance to the world power that the United States would become in later centuries.

As a slaveowner in Virginia, Washington thought of ways he might sublet much of his estate, in which his current slaves “might be hired by the year, as labourers” by tenant farmers.  He was clearly casting about for some way, as he put it in a letter, “to liberate a certain species of property which I possess very repugnantly to my own feelings.”136 But there were no takers.  Washington’s behavior as a slaveowner is also worth noting:

Beginning in the early 1770s, he rarely bought a slave and he would not sell one, unless the slave consented, which never happened.  Not selling slaves was an economic loss.  Slave labor on a plantation with soil as poor as Mount Vernon brought little to nothing….The only profit a man in his position would make was by selling slaves to states where agriculture was more flourishing. Washington would not.  “I am principled against selling negroes as you would do cattle at a market…” From 1775 until his death, the slave population at Mount Vernon more than doubled.137

As Southern states in the nineteenth century began to tighten restrictions on the right of slaveowners to free their slaves, in order to forestall the social problems that were widely feared, the laws made manumission increasingly difficult, legally complicated, and costly process.  Those slaveowners who were prepared to grant manumission found it less onerous to let those who were legally their slaves simply live as de facto free persons.  In antebellum Savannah, for example, two of the churches in the free black community there were headed by ministers who were among the most prosperous members of that community, even though they were, legally speaking, still slaves.138  Many blacks who had managed to gain freedom for themselves individually then legally owned members of their own families, because it was not financially or otherwise feasible to go through what it would take to free them all de jure.  Quakers also held legal titles to many slaves in their Southern churches, while it was an open secret that these “slaves” lived free and independent lives.  Pages 149-151

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