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Old 12-28-2015, 02:50 AM
 
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I realize that for the decent majority blacks were considered less than whites but do you think any of the founding fathers actually believed it was quite hypocritical to form a country based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and saying all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights yet still condone and accept slavery? Do you look at it as a black mark against them for not abolishing it?
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Old 12-28-2015, 04:10 AM
 
Location: Pennsylvania
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"he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."

This was part of a draft of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote. It is hard to get inside people's heads to know what they truly believe, so at best, we have to look at what they said and did. I read this passage and wonder about the moral and ethical gymnastics people like Jefferson had to perform to stake the positions they did and still maintain 'this execrable commerce', which wreaked havoc on the nation for generations.

Some will dismiss your post and admonish any attempt to look at past morality through a modern lens, but that does not seem like the point of your inquiry. Jefferson et al can and should be honored for many things, but are fair game for discussion about how individuals might have internally negotiated the issue of slavery.
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Old 12-28-2015, 05:16 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Proptop View Post
I realize that for the decent majority blacks were considered less than whites but do you think any of the founding fathers actually believed it was quite hypocritical to form a country based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and saying all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights yet still condone and accept slavery? Do you look at it as a black mark against them for not abolishing it?
I imagine that if you examine all these prominent revolutionists that you will find the usual mixed bag. As leaders they were certainly happy to simply take over from the English as a ruling elite.

After Washington left the presidency he developed increasingly strong negative feelings about slavery, and he also developed doubts about religion.

Jefferson, for all his high flown rhetoric, happily disdained black people and had little time for orthodox Christian belief. He was quite happy with slavery.

Franklin to my recollection was the only founder who spoke out publicly against accommodating slavery.

Washingtons change of heart is largely unmentioned in public school history, Franklin got put down and dismissed as an aging nutter for his views, but that was unmentioned when I went to school.

Thus, in the end it seems that the Jeffersonian pose won out in America. Speak nobly, and kick the same old asses as you always have until they poop a profit for you. Most of the Founders were well to do men, and slave labour contributed much to the U.S. economy, so as good businessmen they were not going to let grandiloquent language get in the way of profits. The grand prose was as much for foreign consumption as anything.

Consider that the constitution they devised provided for only one part of the government to be directly elected by popular vote--the House of Representatives. The Senate was not elected by popular vote until the early 20th century, and the presidency is still not filled by popular vote. As for the popularly elected House of Representatives, in most states in the early republic the electorate was composed of white males who in most states had to meet property or income requirement in order to be eligible to vote. It is estimated that eligible white male voters varied from 10 to 25% of the population of the states.

The Founding Fathers when it came down to real life trusted only the upper level of white males in the thirteen states. Money mattered, the noble mumbo jumbo was for speechifying and impressing foreigners. It was not until the 1820s that suffrage included almost all adult white males...and there were generations to go before much of the noble rhetoric was more than balloons of hot air.

Were they hypocrites. Probably not by their own lights. The hypocrisy is in pretending that these men were plaster saints, and editing history to suit that image. The real George Washington, particularly the snarky, cranky gent of his second term, and then the thoughtful reconsiderations of his post presidential years is far, far more interesting and admirable that the pap I got fed about him in school.
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Old 12-28-2015, 12:30 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Proptop View Post
Do you think any of the founding fathers actually believed it was quite hypocritical to form a country based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and saying all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights yet still condone and accept slavery?
I do not think, I know as the historical record bares evidence to the fact that they were fully self aware of the hypocrisy embedded in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There is copious written quotations from the abolitionist Founders, among them Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, John Jay and Gouverneur Morris and the slave holders, like Jefferson, and Madison who clearly recognized the contradictions between their conceptions of freedom and the existence of slavery. Here is a small sampling of those thoughts.

What the Founders Said About Slavery
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Old 12-28-2015, 12:55 PM
 
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Originally Posted by maf763 View Post
It is hard to get inside people's heads to know what they truly believe,
Not really since both Jefferson and Madison freely wrote about their own internal contradiction, and it is just as clear that the profit motive won out in the debate between what was right and what was expedient, although Jefferson never came clean about his sexual predilections that went far beyond the affairs with Sally Hennings.

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Originally Posted by kevxu View Post
Jefferson, for all his high flown rhetoric, happily disdained black people and had little time for orthodox Christian belief. He was quite happy with slavery.
On that point I would differ because having read many of Jeffersons commentaries on slavery I do believe that he was highly conflicted over the matter.

Quote:
Were they hypocrites. Probably not by their own lights. The hypocrisy is in pretending that these men were plaster saints, and editing history to suit that image.
Well many were not, as I pointed out in a previous post, Hamilton, John Jay and in particular and Gouverneur Morris were very clear about the contradiction. Hamilton and Jay, who along with Madison were the authors of the Federalist Papers, declined to write any justification of the 3/5ths provision in the proposed constitution. Gouverneur Morris rose during the debate to state:
"Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them Citizens & let them vote. Are they property? Why then is no other property included? The Houses in this city (Philada.) are worth more than all the wretched slaves which cover the rice swamps of South Carolina. The admission of slaves into the Representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and S. C. who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections & dam(n)s them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a Govt. instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pa. or N[ew] Jersey who views with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice. He would add that Domestic slavery is the most prominent feature m the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution.
See more at: (1787) Gouverner Morris
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Old 12-28-2015, 01:11 PM
 
Location: Type 0.7 Kardashev
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Originally Posted by kevxu View Post
After Washington left the presidency he developed increasingly strong negative feelings about slavery, and he also developed doubts about religion.
I don't think Washington's ideas changed much post-Presidency - remember, he was dead less than three years after leaving Philadelphia (the capital of the United States during most of his term).

Aside from that, Washington's qualms about slavery mostly revolved around the detriment that he perceived accrued to the United States for allowing the institution. He was less concerned about the enslaved individuals. His notions of liberty were largely race-based. I would not call this hypocrisy - it only would have been had he perceived non-whites (and, for example, women) to be possessed of the rights of liberty.

Which leads us to...

Quote:
Jefferson, for all his high flown rhetoric, happily disdained black people and had little time for orthodox Christian belief. He was quite happy with slavery.
There's a difference between Jefferson's racism, and his being 'quite happy with slavery'. The assertion of the latter is very clearly false. Jefferson made it abundantly clear in his writing that he understood slavery to be wrong. And yet he owned slaves. Why? The primary reason is financial. Jefferson was chronically outspending his resources, and he could not afford to maintain his lifestyle if he were to free his slaves.

And that really is the difference between Washington and Jefferson. Washington enslaved people, though he didn't think it was wrong (just bad policy). This made him wrong, but not hypocritical. But Jefferson believed slavery to be an abomination, yet engaged in it because to emancipate his slaves would have been personally inconvenient. This made him a hypocrite.

Note for those who get upset when the Founders are treated with less than the required hero-worship:
I happen to think Thomas Jefferson was a great man. I also happen to think he was a deeply flawed man. I know some people pitch a fit when the Founders are subjected to criticism, but I'm not playing that 'The Founders are above reproach!' game.
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Old 12-28-2015, 01:16 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Unsettomati View Post
Jefferson was chronically outspending his resources, and he could not afford to maintain his lifestyle if he were to free his slaves.
I hope when it comes to "lifestyle" you are including Jeffersons incurable case of Jungle Fever.
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Old 12-28-2015, 05:21 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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Being a slave holder in a nation with a declared creed of the equality of man, required sustaining a number of rationalizations.

I was recently reading about General Robert E. Lee's thoughts and actions with regard to the institution. Lee tends to get some vague pass on the issue in general histories of the war, the notation that he was against slavery is usually mentioned.

But Lee was against slavery only in theory. He made a legalistic interpretation of his father-in-law's will to refuse to emancipate the slaves he had owned who were supposed to be freed five years after his death. Lee claimed that the intent of the will was that in five years the plantation would have paid off its debts and it could afford to free the slaves. In that the place was not clear of debt after five years, Lee ruled that this canceled the clause freeing the slaves. In any event, he did not free them.

Lee also participated in the whipping of three runaways, hiring a man to deliver the blows, and encouraging him as he did.

Lee's rationalization which made these actions possible was that while slavery was an unjust institution, because the black race was incapable of caring for themselves without white help, it was crueler to free them than to continue keeping them bound. In short, Lee managed to talk himself into believing that his owning slaves was a moral duty of sorts.

To what degree Lee may have seen through this self serving pose, or genuinely believed he was on the higher moral ground, we shall never know.

And that is how it is done by all of us. When confronted in life with a conflicts between self interest and opposing morality, sometimes we rise above ourselves, and sometimes we employ rationalizations.
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Old 12-28-2015, 05:56 PM
 
Location: The Woods
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"I never mean ... to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery in this Country may be abolished by slow, sure and imperceptible degrees." -George Washington


Washington was by the 1780's and 90's very much opposed to slavery, but he was a gradual abolitionist. He seemingly feared the potential economic and political results of pushing the issue in the young nation. Financial issues and an unwillingness to break up families kept him from freeing his slaves until his death. By our standards he did too little against slavery, but history must be understood in the context of that time in which events took place. The union was fragile and young and, in the south, there was next to no support for abolition. Southern states likely would have broken away had the Constitution outlawed slavery. Leaving Americans highly vulnerable in a hostile world (our independence was rather precarious until after the War of 1812).
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Old 12-28-2015, 07:29 PM
 
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Originally Posted by arctichomesteader View Post
By our standards he did too little against slavery, but history must be understood in the context of that time in which events took place.
I always find this apologia disingenuous considering that even in the context of the time, slavery was considered by many of the nation's most respected and revered leaders as being contrary to the principles espoused by the nation. While I am willing to accept such arguments when it comes to the common man, when we speak of the Founders of the nation we much acknowledge that these were not common men. These were men who articulated and advocated the highest ideals of liberty and freedom but acquiesced to the lowest the lowest impulses of avarice. While it is understandable, because men are not perfect, the lack of perfection is not an excuse particularly when other men, of equal status, living at the same time, found it in themselves to not only live by these ideals but openly spoke out against these injustices that were inconsistent with the values of the nation. As a result, when we excuse these men in order to preserve their importance to the nation's history, we devalue the contribution of Framers like John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris who stood in opposition.
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