Showing posts with label Thomas Jefferson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Jefferson. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Heminges Of Monticello


From the New York Times on October 3, 2008,  "The Master and the Mistress," by Eric Foner, review of  Annette Gordon-Reed's book The Heminges Of Monticello: An American Family -- Sometime around 1800, an anonymous American artist produced an arresting painting entitled “Virginian Luxuries.” It depicts a slave owner exercising two kinds of power over his human property. On the right, a white man raises his arm to whip a black man’s bare back. On the left, he lasciviously caresses a black woman. The artist’s identification of these “luxuries” with the state that produced four of our first five presidents underscores the contradiction between ­ideals and reality in the early Republic.

No one embodied this contradiction more strikingly than Thomas Jefferson. In 1776, when he wrote of mankind’s inalienable right to liberty, Jefferson owned more than 100 slaves. He hated slavery but thought blacks inferior in “body and mind” to whites. If freed, he believed, they should be sent to Africa; otherwise, abolition would result in racial warfare or, even worse, racial “mixture.” Yet in his own lifetime, reports circulated that Jefferson practiced such mixture with his slave ­Sally Hemings.



In 1997, Annette Gordon-Reed, who teaches at New York Law School and in the history department of Rutgers University, published “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy.” Reviewing the evidence, she concluded it was likely that Jefferson had fathered Hemings’s children. But her main argument was that generations of Jefferson scholars had misused historical sources to defend the great man’s reputation. For example, they had dismissed as worthless the recollections of Madison Hemings, Sally Hemings’s son, who described his mother’s relationship with Jefferson to a journalist in 1873, while accepting at face value the denials of Jefferson’s white descendants that such a relationship existed. The book caused a sensation in the sedate world of Jefferson scholarship. Shortly after it appeared, DNA testing established a genetic link between a male Jefferson and Eston Hemings, Madison’s brother. Today, Monticello’s Web site discusses the controversy in a way that leaves the distinct impression of Thomas Jefferson’s paternity.

Gordon-Reed has now turned her attention to an even more ambitious pro­ject. In “The Hemingses of Monticello,” a work based on prodigious research in the voluminous Jefferson papers and other ­sources, she traces the experiences of this slave family over three generations. Engrossing and suggestive, it is also repetitive (we are frequently reminded that the law does not necessarily reflect social reality) and filled with unnecessary pronouncements about human nature (e.g., “Youth in females has attracted men in all eras across all cultures”). Readers will find it absorbing, but many will wish it had been a shorter, more focused book.


Gordon-Reed’s account begins with Elizabeth Hemings, born in 1735 as the daughter of an African woman and a white sea captain; she bore at least 12 children, half with an unknown black man, half (including Sally) with her owner, John Wayles, Jefferson’s father-in-law. (This made Sally Hemings the half sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles, who died in 1782, after which he never remarried.) The Hemings family went to Monticello as part of Martha’s inheritance. Individual members eventually found their way to Paris, New York, Philadelphia and Richmond, allowing Gordon-Reed to pre­sent a revealing portrait of the varieties of black life in Jefferson’s era.

When she died in 1807 at 72, Elizabeth Hemings left behind 8 living children, more than 30 grandchildren and at least 4 great-grandchildren. The most fascinating parts of Gordon-Reed’s book deal not with Sally Hemings herself but with other all but unknown members of her extended family. Initially because they were related to Jefferson’s wife and later because of his own connection with Sally Hemings, the family was treated quite differently from other slaves at Monticello. The women worked as house servants, never in the fields, the men as valets, cooks and skilled craftsmen. Jefferson paid some of them wages and allowed a few to live in Charlottesville or Richmond and keep their earnings. Because of their independent incomes, her sons were able to provide Elizabeth Hemings with goods unavailable to most slaves. As Gordon-Reed relates, archaeological excavations have revealed among her possessions pieces of Chinese porcelain, wineglasses and other products of the era’s consumer revolution.


Their status as a “caste apart” from the other slaves did not diminish the Hemingses’ desire for greater freedom. In 1792, at her own request, Jefferson sold Sally’s older sister Mary to Thomas Bell, a local merchant, who lived openly with her and treated their children as his legal family. Three years later, Jefferson allowed their brother Robert to work out an arrangement with a white resident of Richmond to purchase and free him.

Less happy was the fate of Sally’s brother James Hemings, who accompanied Jefferson to Paris, where he studied cuisine. During the 1790s, James asked for his freedom and Jefferson agreed, so long as he trained his successor as chef at Monticello. A few years later, James Hemings committed suicide. Gordon-Reed sensitively traces the career of this restless, solitary man, acknowledging that “we simply cannot retrieve” his inner world or why he took his own life. Unfortunately, when it comes to the core of the book, the ­relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, she is less circumspect.


In 1787, at the age of 14, Sally Hemings accompanied Jefferson’s daughter Polly from Virginia to Paris, where Jefferson was serving as American minister. According to Madison Hemings’s account, at some point she became Jefferson’s “concubine.” When Jefferson was about to return to America in 1789, according to Madison, Sally Hemings, pregnant and aware that slavery had no legal standing in France, announced that she was going to remain in Paris. To persuade her to accompany him home, Jefferson agreed to a “treaty” whereby he would free her children when they reached adulthood.

Most scholars are likely to agree with Gordon-Reed’s conclusion that Jefferson fathered Hemings’s seven children (of whom three died in infancy). But as to the precise nature of their relationship, the historical record is silent. Was it rape, psychological coercion, a sexual bargain or a long-term loving connection? ­Gordon-Reed acknowledges that it is almost impossible to probe the feelings of a man and a woman neither of whom left any historical evidence about their relationship. Madison Hemings’s use of the words “concubine” and “treaty” hardly suggests a romance. But Gordon-Reed is determined to prove that theirs was a consensual relationship based on love.


Sometimes even the most skilled researcher comes up empty. At that point, the better part of valor may be simply to state that a question is unanswerable. Gordon-Reed’s portrait of an enduring romance between Hemings and Jefferson is one possible reading of the limited evidence. Others are equally plausible. ­Gordon-Reed, however, refuses to acknowledge this possibility. She sets up a series of straw men and proceeds to demolish them — those who believe that in the context of slavery, love between black and white people was impossible; that black female sexuality was “inherently degraded” and thus Jefferson could not have had genuine feelings for Hemings; that any black woman who consented to sex with a white man during slavery was a “traitor” to her people. She cites no current historians who hold these views, but is adamant in criticizing anyone who, given the vast gap in age (30 years) and power between them, views the Jefferson-Hemings connection as sexual exploitation.

As a black female scholar, Gordon-Reed is undoubtedly more sensitive than many other academics to the subtleties of language regarding race. But to question the likelihood of a long-term romantic attachment between Jefferson and Hemings is hardly to collaborate in what she calls “the erasure of individual black lives” from history. Gordon-Reed even suggests that “opponents of racism” who emphasize the prevalence of rape in the Old South occupy “common ground” with racists who despise black women, because both see sex with female slaves as “degraded.” This, quite simply, is ­outrageous.


After this rather strident discussion, which occupies the best part of four chapters, Gordon-Reed returns to her narrative. She relates how in 1802 the Richmond journalist James Callender named Hemings as Jefferson’s paramour and how throughout his presidency news­papers carried exposés, cartoons and bawdy ­poems about his relationship with “Yellow Sally.” Gordon-Reed makes the telling point that while Callender called Hemings a “slut as common as the pavement,” she was hardly promiscuous. She gave birth only at times when Jefferson could have been the father.

Neither Jefferson nor Hemings responded to these attacks. But whatever his precise feelings about the relationship, Jefferson certainly took a special interest in their children. Gordon-Reed notes that while other Hemings offspring were named after relatives, Sally Hemings’s sons bore names significant for Jefferson — Thomas Eston Hemings (after his cousin) and James Madison and William Beverley Hemings (after important ­Virginians).


In the end, Jefferson fulfilled the “treaty” he had agreed to in Paris and freed Sally Hemings’s surviving children. He allowed their daughter Harriet and son Beverley (ages 21 and 24) to leave Monticello in 1822. Very light-skinned, they chose to live out their lives as white people. Jefferson’s will freed Madison and Eston Hemings as well as three of their relatives. The will did not mention Sally Hemings, but Jefferson’s daughter allowed her to move to Char­lottesville, where she lived with her sons as a free person until dying in 1835. For the other slaves at Monticello, Jefferson’s death in 1826 was a catastrophe. To settle his enormous debts, his estate, including well over 100 slaves, was auctioned, destroying the families he had long tried to keep intact.

“The Hemingses of Monticello” ends at this point. Only in an earlier aside do we learn that Madison Hemings’s sons fought in the Union Army during the Civil War. One was among the 13,000 soldiers who perished at the infamous Andersonville prison camp in Georgia. I am glad to hear that Gordon-Reed is at work on a second volume tracing the further history of this remarkable family.

Enjoying Monticello's West Lawn

[source: The New York Times, Eric Foner is the DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia University and the editor of “Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World,” which has just been published.]

Monday, March 5, 2012

Thomas Jefferson's Lost Cause: and the Louisiana Purchase

President Thomas Jefferson

Brian Schoen of the Department of History at the University of Virginia reviewed Roger G. Kennedy's book, Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase, for the Humanities and Social Science Online (October, 2003) in an article entitled, "Jefferson's Old South, A Betrayal of Men and Land". -- Using a series of fascinating anecdotes and bold propositions, Roger Kennedy's Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause weaves together a rich cast of characters to produce "a book about that descent--by no means inevitable--from light to dark," the transformation of Jefferson's hope for a republic of free-holding yeoman farmers into a slaveholding plantation aristocracy (p. 28). For Kennedy, who formerly directed both the National Park Service and the National American History Museum, this moral outrage has added saliency due to the terrible effects that plantation slavery had on the land and on the American Indians and yeoman farmers who inhabited it. Virginians'--and especially Jefferson's--role in key "political decisions, made by narrow majorities" ultimately, Kennedy argues, set the course for slavery's success, the South's economic backwardness and, he implies, the Civil War (p. 2).
The Louisiana Purchase Treaty signed in Paris

Those familiar with the work of William Freehling, David Brion Davis, and Paul Finkelman will not be surprised that Jefferson's commitment to the abolition of slavery was deeper in mind than in heart or action.[1] Kennedy himself seems less than convinced that Jefferson ever seriously considered emancipation to be a real alternative. He mentions Jefferson's racial prejudice and fear of free blacks, but to these traditional arguments Kennedy adds a psychological explanation central to his analysis. The loss of his father early in his life made Jefferson an "uninitiated man," perpetually seeking the "sympathy and love from a band of brothers," especially those who sought the continuation and extension of slavery (pp. 34-37). Such a hypothesis would be difficult for anyone to prove, though it does exemplify the depth with which Kennedy wants his reader to contemplate his characters. It is just as likely that the acknowledged fragility of union itself prevented not just Jefferson but most national figures, North and South, from directly or immediately challenging slavery's existence. It should also be noted that, for Jefferson and many of his contemporaries, the extension of slavery westward was not necessarily seen as inimical to the gradual emancipation of slavery. As Kennedy rightly points out, the continued profitability of cotton in the Lower South eventually ensured the long-term economic vitality of slavery. Yet even after Jefferson's death, political economists and supporters of African Colonization continued to sustain the belief that diffusion remained the best and most practical way to bring about a more "natural" and peaceful end to slavery. A deeper appreciation for the varying degrees of pro- and anti-slavery thought in the early national and antebellum period would have led to a more nuanced understanding of Jefferson's and the nation's own complicated (if still uncourageous) thinking on the issue. Ever a moralist, however, there is little room for gray in Kennedy's story.

Such contrasts also inform his depiction of the damaging effects of plantation slavery on the land and non-slaveholding people of the Southeast. The viability of cotton in climates below one thousand feet in altitude along with Britain's conscious efforts at so-called "textile colonial-imperialism" perpetuated a plantation economy that stripped the native peoples of their land and the land of its nutrients (pp. 55-59, 97). King Cotton, described as "an overmastering organism," indelibly shaped the political, economic, and environmental developments of the period (pp. 169-70). Kennedy's arguments bring a fresh Atlantic context to southern studies and rightly elevate cotton's importance for shaping political and economic commitments in the early national period.


His interpretation, however, frequently conflates unforeseen long-term consequences with intentionality in a way that misleads rather than clarifies the developments and decisions he examines. Kennedy asserts that Jefferson served Britain's "invisible" commercial empire more effectively than any other American statesmen (p. 166). Hamiltonian Federalists, in contrast, are portrayed as the true visionaries seeking a diversified economy and economic independence. (It should also be noted that Kennedy believes Hamilton rather than Jefferson served the true interests of yeoman farmers). Yet Jeffersonian-Republicans, as Drew McCoy, Jacob Crowley, Doron Ben-Atar, and John Nelson show us, sought to accomplish precisely the opposite.[2] Anglophobia constituted a central, or perhaps the central, plank of the Republican Party and shaped a political economy (albeit unsuccessful) that was aimed at weaning the new nation from commercial dependence on Britain. It is true that most cotton planters came under the Republican political tent largely because of the pro-expansionist policies Kennedy identifies. But Jeffersonian-Republicans, even more than Federalists, also proposed neo-mercantilist measures targeting Britain; supported small- and, after 1807, large-scale manufacturing (including cotton spinning); and ultimately, fought what many conceived of as "a second war of independence" against Britain. Kennedy almost completely ignores these issues and the rich historiography of early national political economy and foreign policy. Cutting against the interpretation of John C. A. Stagg, Richard Brown, and others, Kennedy interprets the War of 1812, the Louisiana Purchase, and the cession of the Floridas as emerging simply from an unquenchable thirst for more cotton lands (see especially pp. 66, 193-204).[3] Such an approach obscures what may be the more interesting question of how cotton planters themselves struggled to define and preserve their place within national party politics and international geopolitics.
If Jefferson is, at least partially, the villain in this "tragedy," the work is not without its "heroes." At the most general level they come in the form of those best positioned to resist the onward march of plantation slavery and King Cotton, namely Indians and hard-working yeoman farmers. Though recognizing their flaws, Kennedy's approach to both groups borders on romanticism. The reader is told that economically "yeomen and Indians had more in common than planters and Indians" (p. 9), and Kennedy implies that the yeoman and Indian had more in common than yeoman and planter. On a personal note, as the descendant of mid-western livestock farmers, I would like to think the best of the yeoman class. While Kennedy is probably right in suggesting that the family farms and Native American agriculture were considerably easier on the land than the slave plantation, historical reality is more complicated. Historians like Joyce Chaplin, Rachel Klein, and others have demonstrated that many yeoman farmers actively sought to acquire what their eastern slaveholding brethren had, more slaves, more land, and better access to international markets.[4] Whether in South Carolina in the 1790s or Alabama and Mississippi in the 1830s it was typically the yeoman areas that desired to keep the access to foreign and domestic slave trade open. Jefferson may rightly be blamed for betraying his own imagined Arcadia of free-holding farmers; he cannot, however, be easily condemned for betraying the yeoman himself.


The same may not be said of the failure of Jeffersonians to accommodate Kennedy's other victims, the southern tribes and those supposedly representing their interests. Particularly attractive to the author are Alexander McGillivray, described as a Creek leader of mixed European-Indian ancestry, and William Bowles, a Tory resister to American westward expansion. In contrast to Claudio Saunt, Kennedy portrays such individuals as visionaries willing to imagine a multi-racial nation and treat the land with more respect than the slaveholding cotton planters who replaced them.[5] Their removal from the scene, Kennedy argues, allowed agents of Virginia, in league with the multinational firm of Panton, Leslie, and Forbes, to implement Jefferson's desired strategy of Indian removal through indebtedness. Not all experts will agree with Kennedy's interpretation of what took place on the ground and behind the scenes, but the complex political drama that Kennedy evocatively describes is, in this reviewer's opinion, the most interesting part of this book.

It is probably unfair to criticize a book, particularly one of such a broad scope, for leaving out parts of the story--even this lengthy review cannot cover all of Kennedy's thought-provoking claims. Nevertheless, it is remarkable how small a role the primary seedbed for the Southwest--the Southeast and especially South Carolina--plays in Kennedy's narrative. Instead, Kennedy inflates the importance of cotton for Virginia's economy. A note in the appendix acknowledges the omission, identifying space as the culprit. Still, one wishes that Kennedy would have gone with his initial instinct and told a story "along two parallel lines, one proceeding southwestward from Virginia and the other emanating from Wade Hampton's South Carolina" (p. 245). The result would have been a more complicated and accurate portrait of the people and politics of the Cotton South.


In the final analysis Jefferson's Lost Cause does more to raise interesting questions than to provide convincing answers. Kennedy's emphasis on the environmental and political impact that the Anglo-southern cotton trade had--though oversimplified and disproportionately emphasizing Virginia--represents a rich area for further study. It will be difficult for academic historians to overlook the book's unsupported speculations, scarcity of documentation, general lack of chronology, and unabashed moralizing. These criticisms aside, the spirit of Kennedy's intervention, his appreciation of historical contingency, and his desire to bring the history of the land and the diverse people living on it to a wider audience are commendable. In this alone the public and the profession are indebted to the continued intellectual and literary contributions of a long-time public servant. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Benjamin Banneker's letter to Thomas Jefferson

Mural of Benjamin Banneker and his achievements as surveyor, inventor, and astronomer (Library of Congress)

Benjamin Banneker to Thomas Jefferson


SIR,

I AM fully sensible of the greatness of that freedom, which I take with you on the present occasion; a liberty which seemed to me scarcely allowable, when I reflected on that distinguished and dignified station in which you stand, and the almost general prejudice and prepossession, which is so prevalent in the world against those of my complexion.

I suppose it is a truth too well attested to you, to need a proof here, that we are a race of beings, who have long labored under the abuse and censure of the world; that we have long been looked upon with an eye of contempt; and that we have long been considered rather as brutish than human, and scarcely capable of mental endowments.


Sir, I hope I may safely admit, in consequence of that report which hath reached me, that you are a man far less inflexible in sentiments of this nature, than many others; that you are measurably friendly, and well disposed towards us; and that you are willing and ready to lend your aid and assistance to our relief, from those many distresses, and numerous calamities, to which we are reduced. Now Sir, if this is founded in truth, I apprehend you will embrace every opportunity, to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions, which so generally prevails with respect to us; and that your sentiments are concurrent with mine, which are, that one universal Father hath given being to us all; and that he hath not only made us all of one flesh, but that he hath also, without partiality, afforded us all the same sensations and endowed us all with the same faculties; and that however variable we may be in society or religion, however diversified in situation or color, we are all of the same family, and stand in the same relation to him.

Sir, if these are sentiments of which you are fully persuaded, I hope you cannot but acknowledge, that it is the indispensable duty of those, who maintain for themselves the rights of human nature, and who possess the obligations of Christianity, to extend their power and influence to the relief of every part of the human race, from whatever burden or oppression they may unjustly labor under; and this, I apprehend, a full conviction of the truth and obligation of these principles should lead all to. Sir, I have long been convinced, that if your love for yourselves, and for those inestimable laws, which preserved to you the rights of human nature, was founded on sincerity, you could not but be solicitous, that every individual, of whatever rank or distinction, might with you equally enjoy the blessings thereof; neither could you rest satisfied short of the most active effusion of your exertions, in order to their promotion from any state of degradation, to which the unjustifiable cruelty and barbarism of men may have reduced them.

Sir, I freely and cheerfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race, and in that color which is natural to them of the deepest dye; and it is under a sense of the most profound gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, that I now confess to you, that I am not under that state of tyrannical thraldom, and inhuman captivity, to which too many of my brethren are doomed, but that I have abundantly tasted of the fruition of those blessings, which proceed from that free and unequaled liberty with which you are favored; and which, I hope, you will willingly allow you have mercifully received, from the immediate hand of that Being, from whom proceedeth every good and perfect Gift.


Sir, suffer me to recall to your mind that time, in which the arms and tyranny of the British crown were exerted, with every powerful effort, in order to reduce you to a state of servitude : look back, I entreat you, on the variety of dangers to which you were exposed; reflect on that time, in which every human aid appeared unavailable, and in which even hope and fortitude wore the aspect of inability to the conflict, and you cannot but be led to a serious and grateful sense of your miraculous and providential preservation; you cannot but acknowledge, that the present freedom and tranquility which you enjoy you have mercifully received, and that it is the peculiar blessing of Heaven.

This, Sir, was a time when you clearly saw into the injustice of a state of slavery, and in which you had just apprehensions of the horrors of its condition. It was now that your abhorrence thereof was so excited, that you publicly held forth this true and invaluable doctrine, which is worthy to be recorded and remembered in all succeeding ages : ``We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'' Here was a time, in which your tender feelings for yourselves had engaged you thus to declare, you were then impressed with proper ideas of the great violation of liberty, and the free possession of those blessings, to which you were entitled by nature; but, Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.


I suppose that your knowledge of the situation of my brethren, is too extensive to need a recital here; neither shall I presume to prescribe methods by which they may be relieved, otherwise than by recommending to you and all others, to wean yourselves from those narrow prejudices which you have imbibed with respect to them, and as Job proposed to his friends, ``put your soul in their souls' stead;'' thus shall your hearts be enlarged with kindness and benevolence towards them; and thus shall you need neither the direction of myself or others, in what manner to proceed herein. And now, Sir, although my sympathy and affection for my brethren hath caused my enlargement thus far, I ardently hope, that your candor and generosity will plead with you in my behalf, when I make known to you, that it was not originally my design; but having taken up my pen in order to direct to you, as a present, a copy of an Almanac, which I have calculated for the succeeding year, I was unexpectedly and unavoidably led thereto.

This calculation is the production of my arduous study, in this my advanced stage of life; for having long had unbounded desires to become acquainted with the secrets of nature, I have had to gratify my curiosity herein, through my own assiduous application to Astronomical Study, in which I need not recount to you the many difficulties and disadvantages, which I have had to encounter.


And although I had almost declined to make my calculation for the ensuing year, in consequence of that time which I had allotted therefor, being taken up at the Federal Territory, by the request of Mr. Andrew Ellicott, yet finding myself under several engagements to Printers of this state, to whom I had communicated my design, on my return to my place of residence, I industriously applied myself thereto, which I hope I have accomplished with correctness and accuracy; a copy of which I have taken the liberty to direct to you, and which I humbly request you will favorably receive; and although you may have the opportunity of perusing it after its publication, yet I choose to send it to you in manuscript previous thereto, that thereby you might not only have an earlier inspection, but that you might also view it in my own hand writing.

And now, Sir, I shall conclude, and subscribe myself, with the most profound respect, Your most obedient humble servant,

BENJAMIN BANNEKER [1791]


********************************************************

Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Banneker

Philadelphia Aug. 30. 1791.


Sir,

I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th. instant and for the Almanac it contained. no body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colours of men, & that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America. I can add with truth that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body & mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecillity of their present existence, and other circumstance which cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic society because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them.

I am with great esteem, Sir,

Your most obedient. humble servant.

Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kosciuszko’s Will

Kosciuszko - Champion of Human Rights
Kosciuszko’s Will

“I, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, being just in my departure from America, do hereby declare and direct that should I make no other testamentary disposition of my property in the United States thereby authorize my friend Thomas Jefferson to employ the whole thereof in purchasing negroes from among his own as any others and giving them liberty in my name in giving them an education in trades and otherwise, and in having them instructed for their new condition in the duties of morality which may make them good neighbors, good fathers or mothers, husbands or wives and in their duties as citizens, teaching them to be defenders of their liberty and country and of the good order of society and in whatsoever may make them happy and useful, and I make the said Thomas Jefferson my executor of this.”

Thaddeus Kosciuszko
5th day of May, 1798

[Did Thomas Jefferson honor the will? Oh hell no!]


Thomas Jefferson's Broken Promise to Thaddeus Kosciuszko

History Network News article, "Why We Should All Regret Jefferson's Broken Promise to Thaddeus Kosciuszko," by Gary B. Nash and Graham Russell Gao Hodges .
Thomas Jefferson

In March 1798, Tadeuz Kościuszko, a hero of the American and Polish revolutions, and Thomas Jefferson, Vice President of the United States, huddled in a cramped second-story room in Philadelphia to make a pact of honor centered on the Pole’s sizable American estate. Kościuszko, who had returned to the United States to a hero’s welcome less than a year before, anxiously wanted to leave for Paris to avoid entrapment by the Alien and Sedition acts. (Jefferson, estranged from President John Adams and hoping to use Kosciuszko’s prestige on a secret mission to convince the French not to wage war with the United States, prepared a fake passport for Kosciusko.) Before the Pole departed, he and Jefferson constructed a will to dispose of $15,000 (Kosciuszko’s Revolutionary pay) after his death. The two men labored together to produce a document with the potential to alter American history.

Tadeuz Kościuszko

Kościuszko’s first version deserves quotation. Though the spelling and syntax are eye-straining, the crude yet eloquent prose convey how passionately the romantic Polish revolutionary had embraced abolitionism.

I beg Mr. Jefferson that in the case I should die without will or testament he should bye out of my money So many Negroes and free them, that the restante [remaining] sums should be Sufficient to give them aducation and provide for thier maintenance, that . . . each should know before, the duty of a Cytyzen in the free Government, that he must defend his country against foreign as well as internal Enemies who would wish to change the Constitution for the worst to inslave them by degree afterwards, to have good and human heart Sensible for the Sufferings of others, each must be married and have 100 Ackres of land, wyth instruments, Cattle for tillage and know how to manage and Gouvern it well as well to know [how to] behave to neyboughs [neighbors], always wyth Kindnes and ready to help them . . . . T. Kościuszko.

Thomas Jefferson

In this unconventional but emotion-packed will, Kościuszko expressed the convictions and commitments that made him such an admirable man for black Americans. Drawing on his long-standing belief that the downtrodden could prosper--peasants, as well as slaves--if given their freedom under favorable conditions, he tried to promote universal liberty and give Jefferson the opportunity to lead Southerners in a quest to remove the stain of slavery from the new nation.

Tadeuz Kościuszko

A second revised will, entirely in Kościuszko’s hand like the first, included a change of immense significance. Rather than the vague reference in the original version to use Kościuszko’s legacy to free “so many Negroes,” the rewritten will specified that “I do hereby declare and direct that should I make no other testamentary disposition of my property in the United States I hereby authorize my friend Thomas Jefferson to employ the whole thereof in purchasing Negroes from among his own or any others.” Kościuszko surely made this crucial change with Jefferson’s consent, for Jefferson agreed to be the executor, as well as the beneficiary, of the will. Was Jefferson thinking of Sally Hemings, her daughter Harriet who was now not quite three, and the newborn Beverley, born just ten days before Jefferson witnessed Kościuszko’s signing of the will?



Jefferson endorsed Kościuszko’s scheme with a full heart, regarding the Pole as “the truest son of liberty I have even known.” For Jefferson, a promise at any time was a serious matter; but given freely under these conditions, it was to be held sacred. And for the next twenty years, Jefferson did not waver in his commitment to his Polish friend, maintaining a warm correspondence with Kosciuszko and, as they grew old together on opposite sides of the Atlantic, even invited him to live out his last years at Monticello and bury his bones alongside those of the Sage of Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson

Kosciuszko died on October 15, 1817. After several years of vacillation, Jefferson withdrew from his pact of honor with Kosciuszko by pleading in a Virginia court in Charlottesville that he could not serve as executor of his friend’s estate and would not use the money to free his slaves. As William Lloyd Garrison would say many years later, “What an all-conquering influence must have attended his illustrious example,” if he had taken the lead to abolish slavery. Merrill Peterson, for all his admiration for Jefferson, was anguished by this retreat: “The object of [Kosciuszko’s] will was lost. Had Jefferson felt stronger about the object, he would have ventured the experiment, despite statutory obstacles and the shortness of years, for the experiment [of freeing his slaves] was one he often commended to others and, indeed, one he may have himself suggested to Kosciuszko.”
Tadeuz Kościuszko
Thaddeus Kosciuszko was one of the first European volunteers to aid the American revolutionary cause in 1776. A brilliant Polish military engineer, Kosciuszko designed and constructed fortifications to help defeat the British, most notably at Saratoga and West Point in New York.

Why did Jefferson, while throwing himself energetically into the creation of the University of Virginia, plead that he was too old and tired to carry out Kosciuszko’s will and betray the trust of his Polish compatriot? One of the key reasons was Jefferson’s allegiance to the Old Dominion aristocracy and his devotion to sustaining the economic and cultural leverage of the white South in national politics. He also feared offending friends, especially slaveowners already shaken by the actions of others in Virginia who had released slaves from bondage. In a time when we are accustomed to seeing President George W. Bush reject scientific analysis on fearsome problems, stack regulatory commissions with those devoted to non-regulation, and stake out policy positions on the basis of insider friends and their deep-pocket interests, this earlier abandonment of an honor-bound pact with Kosciuszko has a peculiar odor.


As Kosciuszko’s will, abandoned by Jefferson, made its way through the courts, many complications arose. The estate was finally awarded by the Supreme Court in 1852, 26 years after most of Jefferson’s slaves had been auctioned on the rolling lawn at Monticello to extinguish his debts, to Kosciuszko’s descendants. For years in Poland, Kosciuszko’s countrymen held the view that the American Civil War could have been averted if the Polish hero’s philanthropic, abolitionist plan had been implemented. When the slaves at Monticello mounted the auction block to be sold off after the Founding Father died—the slaves that could have been freed if Kosciuszko’s will had been honored—a small-town editor in a Susquehanna River town asked how Jefferson, “surely the champion of civil liberty to the American people,” left “so many human beings in fetters to be indiscriminately sold to the highest bidder." In biting words, the editor wrote: “Heaven inspired Jefferson with the knowledge ‘that all men are created equal.’ He was not forgetful—in his last moments he ‘commended his soul to God, and his daughter to his country;’ but to whom did he commend his wretched slaves?"



Polish Son of Liberty: Thaddeus Kosciuszko

THADDEUS KOSCIUSZKO: A POLISH SON OF LIBERTY

Visitors to the battlements at Ticonderoga, the Saratoga Battlefield, and West Point soon become aware of the engineering genius of a young Polish officer who served with distinction in the Continental Army through, out the American Revolution. In addition, students of ethnic history can point to this same modest nobleman as an early benefactor of American blacks.

For Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko, the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence became a way of life. Thomas Jefferson, its author and Kosciuszko's close friend, called him "the purest son of liberty . . . that I have ever known, the kind of liberty which extends to all, not only to the rich." Throughout a long lifetime (1746-.1817) the idealistic Pole directed all his energies and substance to the cause of freedom in America and in his native Poland, and to humanitarian endeavors on two continents.

Born into a "land poor" family of the Polish gentry, Thaddeus Kosciuszko received a "gentleman's" education, with emphasis on the classics, mathematics, drawing, and French, followed by three years as student and instructor at the Royal School for cadets at Warsaw where he attained the rank of captain. A royal stipend then enabled the promising young officer to spend five years in France where he studied government and economics as well as engineering, military science, architecture, and art. (Called by his contemporaries "a beautiful limner," he executed likenesses of various leaders of the American Revolution, including a pastel portrait of Jefferson and a devastating caricature of the controversial General Charles Lee.)

On his return to Poland in 1774 he found no market for his talents and, following an unfortunate love affair. he borrowed money on his share of the family estate and went to Dresden. Reports of the American Revolution fired his imagination. Taking passage, he appeared in Philadelphia in August, 1776, and offered his credentials to the Continental Congress.
Thomas Jefferson

Military engineers were in short supply, and Congress gave him an appointment with the rank of colonel, in charge of fortifying the Delaware River at two points. In the spring of 1777 General Horatio Gates invited Kosciuszko to inspect the fortifications then underway at Fort Ticonderoga. Finding blockhouses "all erected in the most improper places," nevertheless, as a foreigner, he hesitated to impose his own plan. "I would choose rather to leave all, return home and plant Cabbages," he re ported.

He remained to assist in the construction of the log boom bridge that linked "Ti" with Mount Independence and supervised the fortification of that eminence as well as works on the Ticonderoga side. Kosciuszko's superiors disregarded his advice to mount guns on Sugar Loaf Hill. A few weeks later Burgoyne advanced on Ticonderoga, and on July 5 the Americans faced a British battery atop Sugar Loaf (renamed Mount Defiance) and were forced to evacuate the fort.

In the ensuing American retreat Kosciuszko ordered obstructions placed in the path of the British. demolished bridges, and rendered Wood Creek unnavigable. On him rested the responsibility of selecting and fortifying camps and posts. He constructed numerous fortifications at Van Schaick's Island and on Haver Island. north of Albany. But his great achievement was the selection and fortification of Bemis Heights, where Burgoyne was defeated in the decisive Battle of Saratoga in October, 1777.

The ability to get along well with people (in contrast to certain other foreign officers) as well as his reputation as a capable engineer won the soft-spoken, genial Pole an appointment in March, 1778 as "Chief Engineer of the Middle Department" in charge of the fortification …f West Point. In the twenty-eight months he remained at West Point he constructed a chain of redoubts and forts, the principal one being Fort Putnam, and transformed the highlands wilderness into a bastion which effectively deterred British invasion up the Hudson.

In a rocky valley the gentle aristocrat laid out a private retreat -- a garden [still to be seen at West Point) with a fountain and cascades -- carrying soil by hand to nurture the flowers he planted. Also at West Point there re mains a tradition that he shared his meager rations with British prisoners there. The Australian grandson of one of these prisoners some decades later repaid this kindness by taking care of a Polish traveler in Australia who would otherwise have died of yellow fever.

Kosciuszko left West Point in August, 1780 and served the remainder of the war under General Nathanael Greene in the South. Returning north in 1783, he was admitted to the Order of the Cincinnati and promoted to brigadier general. On November 25, 1 783 he took part in Washington's triumphal march into New York City and is believed to have been present at Fraunces Tavern when Washington bade farewell to his officers.


In 1784 he returned to Poland where he lived a simple life in his country home, leaving it to lead a Polish army in several attempts to free Poland from Russian control, thereby becoming a national hero. He returned to the United States in 1797-1798 and visited his Revolutionary War friends. Congress then granted him $15,000 due in back pay for his wartime service and gave him a land grant of 500 acres in Ohio. Kosciuszko had freed his own serfs or reduced their service. His years in the American South had aroused his compassion for American slaves. Before he returned to Europe in 1798 he drew up a will, appointing Jefferson executor and directing that the money from the sale of his Ohio land be used to purchase and free slaves and provide for their education. After his death this land became Ohio State University. The proceeds were to be used to found a school for blacks in Newark, New Jersey, but Thomas Jefferson just gave black people the middle finger.

from: THE CORRESPONDENT (1972), The New York State American Revolution Bicentennial

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Copy of a letter from Benjamin Banneker to the secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson



SIR,

I AM fully sensible of the greatness of that freedom, which I take with you on the present occasion ; a liberty which seemed to me scarcely allowable, when I reflected on that distinguished and dignified station in which you stand, and the almost general prejudice and prepossession, which is so prevalent in the world against those of my complexion. 1.

I suppose it is a truth too well attested to you, to need a proof here, that we are a race of beings, who have long labored under the abuse and censure of the world ; that we have long been looked upon with an eye of contempt ; and that we have long been considered rather as brutish than human, and scarcely capable of mental endowments.2.

Sir, I hope I may safely admit, in consequence of that report which hath reached me, that you are a man far less inflexible in sentiments of this nature, than many others ; that you are measurably friendly, and well disposed towards us ; and that you are willing and ready to lend your aid and assistance to our relief, from those many distresses, and numerous calamities, to which we are reduced. 3.

Now Sir, if this is founded in truth, I apprehend you will embrace every opportunity, to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions, which so generally prevails with respect to us ; and that your sentiments are concurrent with mine, which are, that one universal Father hath given being to us all ; and that he hath not only made us all of one flesh, but that he hath also, without partiality, afforded us all the same sensations and endowed us all with the same faculties ; and that however variable we may be in society or religion, however diversified in situation or color, we are all of the same family, and stand in the same relation to him..

Sir, if these are sentiments of which you are fully persuaded, I hope you cannot but acknowledge, that it is the indispensible duty of those, who maintain for themselves the rights of human nature, and who possess the obligations of Christianity, to extend their power and influence to the relief of every part of the human race, from whatever burden or oppression they may unjustly labor under ; and this, I apprehend, a full conviction of the truth and obligation of these principles should lead all to. 4.

Sir, I have long been convinced, that if your love for yourselves, and for those inestimable laws, which preserved to you the rights of human nature, was founded on sincerity, you could not but be solicitous, that every individual, of whatever rank or distinction, might with you equally enjoy the blessings thereof ; neither could you rest satisfied short of the most active effusion of your exertions, in order to their promotion from any state of degradation, to which the unjustifiable cruelty and barbarism of men may have reduced them..

Sir, I freely and cheerfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race, and in that color which is natural to them of the deepest dye ; and it is under a sense of the most profound gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, that I now confess to you, that I am not under that state of tyrannical thraldom, and inhuman captivity, to which too many of my brethren are doomed, but that I have abundantly tasted of the fruition of those blessings, which proceed from that free and unequalled liberty with which you are favored ; and which, I hope, you will willingly allow you have mercifully received, from the immediate hand of that Being, from whom proceedeth every good and perfect Gift. 5.

Sir, suffer me to recal to your mind that time, in which the arms and tyranny of the British crown were exerted, with every powerful effort, in order to reduce you to a state of servitude : look back, I entreat you, on the variety of dangers to which you were exposed ; reflect on that time, in which every human aid appeared unavailable, and in which even hope and fortitude wore the aspect of inability to the conflict, and you cannot but be led to a serious and grateful sense of your miraculous and providential preservation ; you cannot but acknowledge, that the present freedom and tranquility which you enjoy you have mercifully received, and that it is the peculiar blessing of Heaven.6.

This, Sir, was a time when you cleary saw into the injustice of a state of slavery, and in which you had just apprehensions of the horrors of its condition. It was now that your abhorrence thereof was so excited, that you publicly held forth this true and invaluable doctrine, which is worthy to be recorded and remembered in all succeeding ages : ``We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'' Here was a time, in which your tender feelings for yourselves had engaged you thus to declare, you were then impressed with proper ideas of the great violation of liberty, and the free possession of those blessings, to which you were entitled by nature ; but, Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.7.

I suppose that your knowledge of the situation of my brethren, is too extensive to need a recital here ; neither shall I presume to prescribe methods by which they may be relieved, otherwise than by recommending to you and all others, to wean yourselves from those narrow prejudices which you have imbibed with respect to them, and as Job proposed to his friends, ``put your soul in their souls' stead ;'' thus shall your hearts be enlarged with kindness and benevolence towards them; and thus shall you need neither the direction of myself or others, in what manner to proceed herein. And now, Sir, although my sympathy and affection for my brethren hath caused my enlargement thus far, I ardently hope, that your candor and generosity will plead with you in my behalf, when I make known to you, that it was not originally my design ; but having taken up my pen in order to direct to you, as a present, a copy of an Almanac, which I have calculated for the succeeding year, I was unexpectedly and unavoidably led thereto.8.

This calculation is the production of my arduous study, in this my advanced stage of life ; for having long had unbounded desires to become acquainted with the secrets of nature, I have had to gratify my curiosity herein, through my own assiduous application to Astronomical Study, in which I need not recount to you the many difficulties and disadvantages, which I have had to encounter. 9.

And although I had almost declined to make my calculation for the ensuing year, in consequence of that time which I had allotted therefor, being taken up at the Federal Territory, by the request of Mr. Andrew Ellicott, yet finding myself under several engagements to Printers of this state, to whom I had communicated my design, on my return to my place of residence, I industriously applied myself thereto, which I hope I have accomplished with correctness and accuracy ; a copy of which I have taken the liberty to direct to you, and which I humbly request you will favorably receive ; and although you may have the opportunity of perusing it after its publication, yet I choose to send it to you in manuscript previous thereto, that thereby you might not only have an earlier inspection, but that you might also view it in my own hand writing.10.

And now, Sir, I shall conclude, and subscribe myself, with the most profound respect, Your most obedient humble servant, 11.

BENJAMIN BANNEKER.

Thomas Jefferson's response to Banneker Philadelphia , Aug. 30. 1791.


SIR,

I THANK you, sincerely, for your letter of the 19th instant, and for the Almanac it contained. No body wishes more than I do, to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren talents equal to those of the other colors of men ; and that the appearance of the want of them, is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence, both in Africa and America. I can add with truth, that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced, for raising the condition, both of their body and mind, to what it ought to be, as far as the imbecility of their present existence, and other circumstances, which cannot be neglected, will admit.

I have taken the liberty of sending your Almanac to Monsieur de Condozett, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and Member of the Philanthropic Society, because I considered it as a document, to which your whole color had a right for their justification, against the doubts which have been entertained of them.

I am with great esteem, Sir,
Your most obedient Humble Servant,
THOMAS JEFFERSON

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