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Canceling Thomas Jefferson because of slavery is moral idiocy

You can always count on progressives willing to live up to the worst caricatures of their ideas. Democrats in the New York City Council approved the removal of a statue of Democratic Party founder Thomas Jefferson. The statue has been in City Hall since 1834 (eight years after Jefferson’s death) when it was erected to celebrate his defense of religious freedom. One sign of how proud the Democrats are of their decision is the fact that they have tried to stop the press from witnessing the removal.

This is crazy and gives reason to many on the right – especially Donald Trump – who argued about campaigns against Confederate statues, considering them dangerous precisely because the people pushing for removals would certainly move against the Founding Fathers next. When Trump presented this argument in 1865, it was met with derision. In an article titled “Washington Statues: Jefferson Not Next, But He’s Complicated, Historians Say,” NBC News’ Dartunorro Clark wrote:

“Historians who spoke to NBC News said that such fears are a little misplaced and that Trump is advocating an obscure interpretation of the story. ‘The president can go up the slippery slope, but it’s a false slippery slope,’ said Kevin Levin, a Boston-based historian specializing in American Civil War history.”

Now presenter John Oliver said: “I’ll tell you where this is going. Somewhere! Whenever someone asks, where is it going, the answer is always. . . somewhere. You can let your child try Twizzlers (black licorice candy), but not let him inject black tar heroin. You don’t just say, “Well, after the Twizzlers, where is this going to end?”

Actually, that asks yourself yes, and that’s the reason. No matter how much Trump understood history, he understood the madness of militancy better than Kevin Levin or John Oliver. it has been vigorously debated by the National Review, sometimes by myself – the strongest argument for removing some or all Confederate statues and monuments is that the Confederate cause was not just imperfect in the same way that many great Americans are imperfect; it was intensely wrong, and the people who supported it made the country worse, or at least tried to do so, and therefore should never have been honored.

The assumption underlying this argument is that it is possible to reasonably and rationally distinguish some historical figures from others. We can honor those who have done good things and also some bad things, but not those who are best known for the bad things they’ve done. On the other hand, a big argument against the demolition of statues and monuments in general is that we end up not only disfiguring public places and hiding our own history, but also fueling the iconoclasm of militants who, by nature, do not reason and never know when and how to stop. Few things draw people to trumpism more than the feeling that you are dealing with someone who can never reason, only oppose at every step.

For those of us who still care about The reason, however, the action of the New York City Council is not just an anti-intellectual attack on historical memory; it’s also moral idiocy. Jefferson is not to be canonized, but building statues does not mean acknowledging holiness. There’s a lot to dislike about his personality and his long and eventful career, including his service in New York City as our first secretary of state. He was a hypocrite, devious, and easily enamored of radical fads. He had slaves his entire life and did not even take the belated steps of George Washington to emancipate slaves in his will. Hence, he must respond to his Creator.

But he also made a monumental contribution to America’s beginnings – and specifically to many of the things that almost anyone would see as this country’s virtues. There are good reasons Jefferson has a memorial in the capital and his face on Mount Rushmore, on the coins and on the two dollar bill, his name in the Missouri capital and in many other American cities and streets. Until just a few years ago, he was still embraced by the Democratic Party as its founding inspiration.

It is a peculiar sign of the City Council’s stubborn ignorance that its pettiness against Jefferson is based entirely on the fact that he was slave owner and had a sexual relationship with one of them, the slave Sally Hemings, rather than anything Jefferson had done as a public man. Americans of earlier generations who built statues were under no illusions that they were honoring saints; they were celebrating great achievements in the public sphere. Unlike his namesake Jefferson Davis, we don’t have statues for Jefferson because of his vices, but because of the good he did for his nation.

On the specific issue of slavery, like the National Review editorial noted, Jefferson was more right than he was wrong, and not just because of the central role played by his “all men are created equal” rhetoric in inspiring women. later generations.

He was a long-standing opponent of the transatlantic slave trade, perhaps the nation’s most vocal, consistent, and ultimately successful opponent. In 13, Jefferson attempted to include a denunciation of this trade in the Declaration of Independence. In 1778, as governor of Virginia, he passed a state law that prohibited the importation of slaves (a bill that may have been his authorship). The Constitution prohibited the federal government from banning the slave trade before 1806. As president, Jefferson urged Congress in 1800, in its State of the Union address, to ban it at the earliest possible moment and “withdraw the citizens of the United States of all future participation in human rights violations, for they have long been so with the harmless inhabitants of Africa, and which our country’s morality, reputation, and best interests have long been eager to outlaw ”. He signed this prohibition into law in the year 1806.

It is true that the end of the foreign slave trade was in the financial interests of Jefferson and other Virginia planters, as they could sell their slaves domestically to the Far South – as in so many others, the issue involved exchanges and moral complexities – but the fight against the transatlantic slave trade was the field of central battle of the abolitionist movement during Jefferson’s political career, he was on the right side and managed to end America’s involvement in it.

Jefferson’s record in the domestic expansion of slavery was mixed, but it also had authentic and lasting positive influences. In 1778, Jefferson proposed to the Continental Congress the ban on slavery throughout the territory west of the Appalachians after 1800. His bill, the Territorial Governance Act, failed by a vote, but Jefferson’s text was included in the final and stricter Northwest decree passed in 1787, which outlawed slavery west of the Appalachians and north of the Ohio River. The Northwest Decree helped create the free states of the Midwest that proved decisive in the long-term balance between free and slave states. In addition, the text Jefferson used in 1778 was reused by Congress in 1834 to the th Amendment. Thus, Jefferson is literally the author of our constitutional ban on slavery.

Jefferson has always held that slavery was an evil, even when he was willing to justify it as something it practically could not be. easily eliminated. In 1814, during the controversy that led to the Missouri Compromise, he wrote: “We’ve got the wolf by the ear and we can’t hold it or let it go with safety. Justice is on one scale and self-preservation on the other.” In 1784, in his notes on the state of Virginia, he examined more closely the perverse and corrupting influence of slavery on the ruling class. (a prophetic sentiment in light of the decay in the quality of statesmen produced by Virginia in the generations that followed Jefferson):

ways of our people, produced by the existence of slavery among us. All trade between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most turbulent passions, the most incessant despotism on the one hand, and the most degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this and learn to imitate it. . . . This quality is the germ of all education in him. From cradle to grave, he is learning to do what he sees others doing. . . . The father torments, the child observes, captures the traces of anger, assumes the same appearance in the circle of minor slaves, gives freedom to their worst passions and, thus, nurtured, educated and daily exercised in tyranny, it cannot fail to be marked by he with hateful quirks. The man must be a prodigy who can keep his manners and morals undaunted by such circumstances.

With what curse must the statesman who it allows half of the citizens to trample on the rights of the other, turns them into despots, and these into enemies, destroys morals on the one hand, and love patriae on the other. For if a slave can have a country in this world, it must be any one in preference to that in which he is born to live and serve another man, in which he must shut down the faculties of his nature, contribute insofar as he depends on his efforts. individual to the disappearance of the human race, or to bring about its own miserable condition in the infinite generations proceeding from it. With the morale of the people, their industry is also destroyed. For in a hot climate no man will work for himself if he can make another work for him. This is so true that, among slave owners, a very small proportion is actually seen working.

And so can the freedoms of a nation be considered secure when we remove their only firm foundation, a conviction in the minds of the people that these freedoms are a gift from God? That they should not be violated, but with their wrath? In fact, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever, that considering only numbers, nature and natural means, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, a change of situation, are between the possible events, which can be made probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attributes that could side with us in such competition.”

Jefferson gradually lost the moral courage to do more about slavery in the country , in your home state or in your own home. But he continued, in old age, to encourage others to keep the anti-slavery cause alive. In 1814, he wrote to Edward Coles urging him to continue anti-slavery in Virginia for the next generation: “The love of justice and the love of country they defend the cause of these people equally, and it is a deadly reproach to us that they have so long begged in vain.”

Instead, Coles eventually moved to Illinois, where he played a crucial role as governor by repelling an effort in 1820 to introduce legal slavery. In 1826, receiving a letter asking him to make a public statement against slavery, Jefferson objected, but in a response written just six weeks before his death, he added: “My feelings are 13 years before the public. . . though I do not live to see them consummated, they will not die with me. But living or dying, they will always be in my most fervent prayers. ”

Of course there is more to Jefferson’s background on slavery and racial §The; there is even more in some of your letters. He shared many of the racist assumptions of his day. The treatment of Haiti during its presidency, as it struggled to free itself from French slavery, was deplorable. The Louisiana purchase, while a great boon to the nation, also did much to extend the institution of slavery to the west. But this, like so much else in Thomas Jefferson’s career, is worthy of study and criticism, rather than being purged from memory.

*Dan McLaughlin is a senior editor at National Review Online.

©1865 National Review. Published with permission. Original in English.
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