The Right to Buy:
Jefferson spoke eloquently on the evils of the peculiar institution, especially in his Notes on the State of Virginia, his only book. Washington said less about slavery, and what he said was expressed privately.
There is no reason to think that either man thought that Africans, if free and given opportunities to advance, could have become the intellectual equals of whites.
At least a handful of American saw that as a possibility, including Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin.
Washington never claimed to be a spokesman for human rights; besides, it was Jefferson who principally wrote the Declaration of Independence. Washington did free his slaves, as provided in his will.
And there has never been, to date at least, creditable evidence that he fathered slave children at Mount Vernon. The year brought DNA testing to the subject. According to the results, Jefferson probably sired at least one of these offspring. In George Washington received a letter from Edward Rushton, a prominent English antislavery advocate.
It was hardly the polite, respectful missive that the president of the United States normally received. It will generally be admitted, Sir, and perhaps with justice, that the great family of mankind were nevermore benefited by the military abilities of any individual, than by those which you displayed during the American contest.
By the flame which you have kindled every oppressed nation will be enabled to perceive its fetters. But it is not to the commander in chief of the American forces, nor to the president of the United States, that I have ought to address.
My business is with George Washington of Mount Vernon in Virginia, a man who not withstanding his hatred of oppression and his ardent love of liberty holds at this moment hundreds of his fellow being in a state of abject bondage—Yes: That man should be deemed the property of man or that the name of Washington should be found among the list of such proprietors.
Ages to come will read with Astonishment that the man who was foremost to wrench the rights of America from the tyrannical grasp of Britain was among the last to relinquish his own oppressive hold of poor unoffending negroes.
In the name of justice what can induce you thus to tarnish your own well earned celebrity and to impair the fair features of American liberty with so foul and indelibile a blot. Why did he not from the platform of his enormous prestige and public veneration speak out publicly against a system that his private correspondence reveals he had gradually come to regard with distaste and apprehension?
On no occasion did he reveal publicly his own antipathy toward the institution or his privately expressed hopes that it would either wither naturally or be abolished by legislative action. His reticence in general on public matters was a matter of considerable discussion during his presidency.
In fact, en route to his role of American icon Washington had developed a quality rare among American politicians of any era. He had learned from painful experience as early as his service in command of the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War that it would not be necessary to retract or explain or apologize later for what he had not said in the first place.
By the time he reached the presidency, it had become habit. Washington remained throughout his career very conscious of the speed with which both public and private sectors could turn on their unsuccessful servants.
His slave inventories indicate the number of slaves employed at Mount Vernon at various times: Washington, like many Virginia planters, was deeply involved in their lives. It appears, however, from his correspondence with his managers that as a matter of plantation policy, Washington did not want slaves worked when they were ill and provided competent medical care for them when they were ailing.
Food, clothing, and housing seem to have been at least adequate; even though families often worked on separate plantations, they were not separated by sale or purchase.
Except for his long absences during the war and the presidency, Washington managed his own plantations and was well acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of individual slaves. He was not impressed with them as a labor force. There are frequent comments in his correspondence with his managers on their irresponsibility and indolence, although he believed their poor work habits to be a result of the system itself.
As early as his correspondence indicates his disillusion with the system.
Writing his manager Lund Washington from White Plains during the Revolution, he expressed his hope to exchange slaves for land.
His correspondence with his white managers contains stern instructions concerning the role slaves were to play in specific aspects of the farming of the estate and on the dire consequences of dereliction of duty.The Reformation was a 16th-century religious and political challenge to papal authority in Catholic Europe.
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