Personally Opposed--Part II

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As noted below I was looking for the life of George Wythe, a prominent Virginia Lawyer, teacher of Thomas Jefferson, Signer of the Declaration. In all of the noted biographies of the man we get a statement like the one that follows.

Reflecting a lifelong aversion to slavery, Wythe emancipated his slaves in his will. His grave is in the yard of St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond.

And every time I read something like this, I think--"If the aversion had been so lifelong, why did he endure it until he died?" Why not choose to put an end to what you have been so aversive toward? It lies within the power of the individual farmer/planter to do so.

This was part of the problem of slavery. I think it must have been rather like an addiction. People knew it was bad, but they just couldn't shake it. Most of the famous people who liberated their slaves, protesting how bad slavery was all the while, did so upon their deaths. In George Washington's case, I believe it was in waves, one set upon his death, the remainder upon Martha's death.

Or perhaps they devised ingenious arguments about why it would be harmful to the slaves themselves to liberate them. For example, Thomas Jefferson, despite the vaulted language of the Declaration with its famous excised clauses concerning slavery, not only kept his slaves until his death but did not manumit them upon death because "they did not have sufficient learning to care for themselves and must be cared for."

Like the addiction of slavery before, we are societal, and some individually, addicted to death. We call it choice, or "death with dignity" or any number of other euphemisms to disguise that what we really want is convenience. If someone is inconvenient to me and to my purposes, they should die and make things easy for me. Again, the attraction of such an addiction is understandable. And as with slavery, society has all sorts of clever reasons as to why it should be permissable. It boils down to the fact that we need death on demand to fulfill our own purposes. (I'm speaking societally.)

There is a cure for this addiction as for any number of addictions. His name is Jesus Christ. He died on the cross so that we would not have to bear the cross of our addictions. Nor should anyone else be faced with that terrible fate because He took it upon Himself.

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One problem was $$$$. Thomas Jefferson in particular loved la dolce vita, and was in perpetual debt, notwithstanding the free labor he got from his slaves -- whom he did NOT free upon his death.

If he had tried to liberate them on his death, I suspect his creditors would have been able to go to court and have the manumission set aside. In other words, Jefferson's profligacy made it legally impossible for him to do justice to his chattels.

Dear Seamus,

You have a good point; however, Jefferson spent a great deal of time justifying NOT manumitting his slaves. I'm not a big fan of Jefferson (at the present time--I'll probably go back to his biggest admirer--Dumas Malone and refresh my acquaintance with the Sage), but it isn't fair to single him out. There were a great many others who not only did not free their slaves, but never gave a thought to the issue of their humanity. Jefferson deserves at least that much credit.

A few years ago, I was touring Monticello and the tour guide was making a big deal about the juxtaposition of how Jefferson could have slaves and still write that "All men are created equal". And it occurred to me that this particular tour guide could stand to consider the juxtaposition of the book of Phileomon, in which St. Paul sends an escaped slave back and entreats his master to treat him with Christian dignity. Also, the practice of slavery was not only about property and legality, it was about economy.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 7, 2004 5:51 PM.

Biographical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress was the previous entry in this blog.

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