Jefferson and Slavery

Following are two selections I shared with my students to help them develop a questioning attitude toward their textbooks. The first is from a fifth-grade textbook, the other from a historian. – Bob Peterson

Jefferson owned several slaves in his lifetime and lived in a slave-owning colony. Yet he often spoke out against slavery. “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.”

United States: Adventures in Time and Place
(New York: Macmillan/McGraw – Hill, 1998) p. 314

Textbooks stress that Jefferson was a humane master, privately tormented by slavery and opposed to its expansion, not the type to destroy families by selling slaves. In truth, by 1820 Jefferson had become an ardent advocate of the expansion of slavery to the western territories. And he never let his ambivalence about slavery affect his private life. Jefferson was an average master who had his slaves whipped and sold into the Deep South as examples to induce other slaves to obey. By 1822, Jefferson owned 267 slaves. During his long life, of hundreds of different slaves he owned, he freed only three and five more at his death – all blood relatives of his.

Lies My Teacher Told Me
James W. Loewen
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995) p. 140

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