Jefferson Under The Microscope

History is like a microscope. One doesn’t see widely and the depth of field is limited. Evident of this, a web search reveals for example that some 15,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. A perfect understanding might be approachable but it is never fully achievable. History is incrementally refreshed by study and discussion and, even after hundreds of years, by material newly-discovered from archives, archaeology and other sources. And so it was for the cover article on Thomas Jefferson for this month’s Smithsonian Magazine.

As precis for a new book coming out next week historian Henry Wiencek combines archeological evidence recently unearthed at Montecello with fresh material from archives, some that had been hidden and repressed, to give us a fresh look at Jefferson and his world. I tell you in all candor that it changed my understanding not only of Jefferson but of the culture in which he lived. The Amazon.com book summary describes the message better than I could:

Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery? The answer is a resounding yes. Master of the Mountain, Henry Wiencek’s eloquent, persuasive book—based on new information coming from archaeological work at Monticello and on hitherto overlooked or disregarded evidence in Jefferson’s papers—opens up a huge, poorly understood dimension of Jefferson’s world. We must, Wiencek suggests, follow the money.

So far, historians have offered only easy irony or paradox to explain this extraordinary Founding Father who was an emancipationist in his youth and then recoiled from his own inspiring rhetoric and equivocated about slavery; who enjoyed his renown as a revolutionary leader yet kept some of his own children as slaves. But Wiencek’s Jefferson is a man of business and public affairs who makes a success of his debt-ridden plantation thanks to what he calls the “silent profits” gained from his slaves—and thanks to a skewed moral universe that he and thousands of others readily inhabited. We see Jefferson taking out a slave-equity line of credit with a Dutch bank to finance the building of Monticello and deftly creating smoke screens when visitors are dismayed by his apparent endorsement of a system they thought he’d vowed to overturn. It is not a pretty story. Slave boys are whipped to make them work in the nail factory at Monticello that pays Jefferson’s grocery bills. Parents are divided from children—in his ledgers they are recast as money—while he composes theories that obscure the dynamics of what some of his friends call “a vile commerce.”

Many people of Jefferson’s time saw a catastrophe coming and tried to stop it, but not Jefferson. The pursuit of happiness had been badly distorted, and an oligarchy was getting very rich. Is this the quintessential American story?

An analysis of Jefferson’s letters reveals that he had a financial epiphany about slavery. He had a nail factory on the premises of Monticello wherein slave boys aged 10 to 14 toiled 12 hours a day making nails. Going over his accounts he realized that the profits from a mere two months of this were so great as to pay for his plantation’s food for a full year!  And not only was this “peculiar institution” self-supporting, albeit with some management problems, but it contained the element of profitable growth through birthing more slaves. Slaves as a financial asset were second only to land itself in the economy of the Deep South.

Monticello, in Virginia, was the estate of Tho...

Monticello, in Virginia

Sadly, the truth is that cupidity derived from slavery was central in

corrupting a man who had been an historical paragon of individual freedom. To fully understand how this could happen to Jefferson you need to appreciate the ardor of this intellectual man for his lifestyle. He had a grand plantation house, one that incorporated his own inventions in its design. He had a great library, excellent gardens, art furnishings. He held marvelous dinner parties for guests that included the literati and power elite of his time. And it was all built and serviced by slavery.

This story is especially timely because it bears on three elements pertinent to the politics of the current election season: economics, as in the leverage by which the wealthy become more wealthy, political theory, as in how high principles can be compromised by the love of money, and racism, as in the gritty and cruel means by which that peculiar institution was necessarily enforced.

To the latter point, you may think, as I once did, that you understand the nature of slavery. You may think, as some Southerners I’ve known have thought, that slavery was not all bad, that for example some plantation owners like Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson were kindly and beneficent masters who made a better life for their slaves than they probably would have had in Africa.  Wiencek’s article challenges such notions by revealing that black people, contrary to stereotypes like Uncle Remus and the house servants at the Tara plantation in the movie, Gone with the Wind, yearned for freedom no less than did whites, and could be just as courageous and passionate in its pursuit. But it is the very methods of control that were used, such as the separation of families, which reveal by their nature the terrible truth that the masters knew the slaves were no less human than they themselves.

Another blogger sent me an email the other day, purporting to be a listing of articulate complaints expressed by the comedian Michael Richards when was hauled into court for a racial public outburst, complaints with which the sender generally agreed. The message was that blacks want special status and laws to offset the effects of things that happened many years ago, considerations that whites are not afforded.  The writer rationalizes that black people, now that they have all the rights and privileges of citizenship, ought to shut up and stop whining about pushing a racial agenda.  But slavery has trans-generational effects, both cultural and financial. White people were not the slaves of black people six generations ago, it was the other way around, and that is the difference. A check on Snopes.com showed, by the way, that the words were not Richards’ at all.  His actual words were much more crude and terse, but the circulation of the falsehood shows that racism is alive. I think we all know that it’s an important undercurrent in politics as the first black President seeks reelection.

The Smithsonian article, “The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson” is accessible online and eminently readable.

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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33 Responses to Jefferson Under The Microscope

  1. John Hester says:

    Wow! I have so much to say in response.

    First, I would note that a visitor to Colonial Williamsburg gets to meet Bill Barker who plays the role of Thomas Jefferson. Here is a man who has spent much of his life researching TJ. My experience in talking to this man leads me to say that we should treat with some level of suspicion new scholarly works that attempt to turn our impression of Jefferson on its head. Clearly such works profit the scholar, but I’m not sure they profit our understanding so much. That is not to say that this new view is wrong, but I would be cautious in embracing such too quickly.

    Second, I appreciate your words about the degree to which subtle racism still flows in our culture. I believe that one of the reasons that myths about our President’s “otherness” persist is because so many of us cannot yet see people without seeing their race. The sin of slavery still affects us today. Of course political opponents of our first black president have inoculated themselves against charges of racism by sowing this myth that anyone who talks about race is “playing the race card.” Very few are willing to raise the specter of racism with respect to the way many view Barack Obama. Bravo! for not being afraid to speak out.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I hope you read the whole Smithsonian article, John. If you did I have trouble imagining how you could doubt the evidence. Thomas Jefferson was a complex man, brilliant and a strong leader, brimming with energy and ideas, but he was clearly in love with a lifestyle that rivaled that of European royalty. The image of Monticello is indelibly consistent with the historical evidence, a virtual palace of ease and efficiency supported by a subterranean system of human slavery and a slum carefully hidden down the hill. There is more dark than light, I submit, in these shades of gray, but I also contend that this reality need not diminish Jefferson’s soaring idealism. As I tried to express in a previous post, “Naming”, no human being should be considered above criticism.

      I appreciate your comments, John. Thanks.

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      • John Hester says:

        I have not read the article. Do you have a link for it? Please understand I do not doubt the evidence. I may doubt the analysis of the evidence; I don’t know. I remain cautious about upending our notions about founding fathers. Not because they are sacred, but because their mythology is so powerful that there are lots of incentives to change them by those either trying to sell books or magazines, etc. or those trying to press for a particular political point of view.

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        • Jim Wheeler says:

          I didn’t think you had read it, John, because it is quite convincing. To find it you need to click on the highlighted words at the end of the post: “The Dark Side Of Thomas Jefferson”.

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  2. Great heads-up, Jim. Thanks!

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  3. Excellent post. As a side light, I get e-mail all the time, mostly of a right wing, nature that purported to from some well know person. Many were, in my opinion clearly fraudulent. One claimed to be from Bill Cosby in which he sounded like he’d joined the john birch society. Cosy’s website disavows the letter.

    http://billcosby.com/2011/09/if-you-got-the-bogus-email-its-time-to-hit-delete/

    The letter itself, as well as another debunking is here:

    http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/imtired.asp

    I think as these things circulate, each forwarder adds some new twist, like making it a message President Bush and the like.

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  4. ansonburlingame says:

    As I recall, slavery as understood by modern men and women was rampant in our first “civilization”, Egypt of long ago. Slavery as an institution of “civilized societies” came to an end, by and large AFTER our Civil War in America. Brazil for example abolished slavery around the 1890’s, a couple of decades AFTER we almost destroyed the United States to remove the stain of slavery from our landscape. Britain had done so almost a century before we did so,

    Today no one can make a good case to support slavery NOW anywhere in the world. Yet it still exists in isolated areas as well does it not and we do little or nothing about it today. Check out Somalia as an example.

    NO ONE with any sense tries to DEFEND slavery today. Yet a man as wise and “humane” as Jefferson obviously thought that slavery had an important role in his society back then, just like a ancient Pharoh, I suppose, or Cesear for that matter, a pretty good Roman politician!! Hell Cesear crucified slaves (and others) did he not. But Cesear made some important contributions to the world as we know it in the West, did he not?

    For sure I don’t need to read another book to know that Jefferson (and Washington and many other Founders) was a slave owner, brutal or not. Just being such an “owner” today is considered “brutal”, whips or no whips.

    But that is not Jim’s point, I hope, to critique the intergrity and “humanism” of Jefferson. Nope he is trying to equate GOP politics with racism and slavery, today or so it seems to me. He wants to try to make the case that the conditions of the “poor” in America today are similar to the conditions of slaves in Jefferson’s days.

    OMG what a leap!!!

    Just take Jim’s point of view to an ultimate conclusion, equality of income and working conditions in America for all Americans. Well good luck all you progressives. If one took all the treasure out of Egyptian tombs or the facilities of “rich” Egyptians way back when and spead all that wealth across the land of Egypt alone (forget the rest of the world) what would have been the result.

    A bunch of poor and angry Egyptians would be my guess with the whole “mob” still trying hard to get “more” wealth from other Egyptians, or Romans, or………

    Jim of course will deny that he wants such real equality, I suppose. He just wants to use government power to take a “little bit more” from the rich to give to the poor.

    The problem of course is defining “a little bit” along with the concept of “giving” such wealth to people that refuse to “earn it” on their own merit!!! That comes down to Freedom OR Equality. You can’t have both at the same time. You mjust give up one to get the other even just a “little bit”.

    So now we can argue when is a “little bit” ENOUGH to sustain the correct balance of BOTH. That is what makes the grand American experiment so “grand”, in my view and that does not make me a supporter of “slavery”!!!!

    Anson

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    • John Hester says:

      Anson,

      I believe you have constructed a straw horse argument here. No one is arguing for some communistic state that doesn’t allow personal property and that distributes “wealth” among citizens.

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  5. Jim,

    Thanks for calling attention to the Smithsonian article and the upcoming book and thanks for writing such an excellent piece about what they reveal.

    I have watched in dismay, particularly since the advent of the Tea Party, the deification of our Founding Fathers by people who don’t really know, or don’t want to admit, that some of the Founders were horribly immoral, even given the times. I have argued with people about this and most don’t think it is right to even breathe a word of criticism regarding their dissimulation about or even embrace of slavery.

    I hear folks say all the time that you have to evaluate historical figures in the context of their time, which, of course, is true. But as the information presented makes clear, Jefferson “rationalized an abomination to the point where an absolute moral reversal was reached and he made slavery fit into America’s national enterprise.” And you don’t rationalize something unless you feel the tug of contemporary moral outrage, which Henry Wiencek expressed this way:

    We can be forgiven if we interrogate Jefferson posthumously about slavery. It is not judging him by today’s standards to do so. Many people of his own time, taking Jefferson at his word and seeing him as the embodiment of the country’s highest ideals, appealed to him. When he evaded and rationalized, his admirers were frustrated and mystified; it felt like praying to a stone. The Virginia abolitionist Moncure Conway, noting Jefferson’s enduring reputation as a would-be emancipator, remarked scornfully, “Never did a man achieve more fame for what he did not do.”

    No doubt Jefferson was an asset at a time when America was in its infancy. But neither is there doubt that he was a grossly flawed human being, the following quote from Wiencek’s article sufficing to prove that:

    In another communication from the early 1790s, Jefferson takes the 4 percent formula further and quite bluntly advances the notion that slavery presented an investment strategy for the future. He writes that an acquaintance who had suffered financial reverses “should have been invested in negroes.” He advises that if the friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in this country by the increase in their value.”

    Finally, as the conservative Supreme Court takes up affirmative action, thanks for making the point I have tried to make to heard-headed conservatives for years. To wit, we, as white people, or even as people of color far removed from the plantations of the past, don’t have the slightest idea how cruel an institution American slavery was and how long-lasting its cultural and socioeconomic effects.

    Duane

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    • I wrote “heard-headed” instead of hard-headed, but come to think of it, herd-headed would have been a better choice!

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Your thoughtful clarifications and emphasis, with which I completely agree, are appreciated as always, Duane. For other readers who might think this case against Jefferson is hyperbole, I strongly urge you to read the Smithsonian article. This is not mere speculation based on the interpretation of writings but rather a comprehensive collection of circumstantial as well as corroborated historical evidence, both written and archeological, that would constitute an airtight case in any fair court, IMHO.

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  6. ansonburlingame says:

    What I ask does the morality of Jefferson have to do with anything today is the question, it seems to me. He had a pretty good grasp of GOVERNING it seems and our country benefited from such. I don’t know how many times I have seen progressives quote Jefferson to make their various points, particularly in religious matters today in terms of how government and religion should tnterface with one another.

    Now I would not really engage very much if this blog was written in isolation of a moral discussion. But to me that was not the point of the blog, one month before a big and critical national election. But of course my response from that perspective was termed, again, a “straw man” arguement.

    So I say again, OMG!!!

    The implication of this blog seemed to me at least to attempt to reinforce Biden’s “You’ll be put back in chains” remark of late. Well you have seen how that remark has resonated negatively with Biden. What I wrote above was a negative response to that positon taken by Jim!!

    Also of note in Graham’s use of this blog to make an Affirmative Action comment related to our “racist” SCOTUS as well I suppose. But that indeed is a whole, new discussion derserving a much lengthier response!

    Anson

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  7. donvphilly says:

    I can’t help but feel that Anson must have some kind of guilt complex, as I do not see anything in the Smithsonian article or in Jim’s Blog that should stimulate such a reaction.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Me either, donvphilly, but Anson is nothing if not consistent in reading into posts things that aren’t there. When others point out the straw man arguments he sets up, it seems he simply doesn’t get it. In his comment below for example, he seeks to defend Jefferson’s governing when it was not his governing that was being attacked. In fact, in my comment to John Hester I said,

      There is more dark than light, I submit, in these shades of gray, but I also contend that this reality need not diminish Jefferson’s soaring idealism. As I tried to express in a previous post, “Naming”, no human being should be considered above criticism.

      He also seems to resent even the mention of racism as an element in current politics, but anyone with an internet connection has to know that it is very much in play. It has been only six generations since the abolition of slavery and only a couple since desegregation, a little early I would say to declare racism dead as a factor in politics.

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  8. ansonburlingame says:

    For sure I do not deny or try to diminish the existence of racism in American society OR American politics. Our government however has worked hard since 1965 to ban “legal” racism. The obvious intent of Civil Rights legislation was to equalize the treatment of everyone under the law. Call it a “do not discriminate” set of laws.

    But in many areas of our society and politics racism is rampant for sure. I was for example struck by Obama’s accent and style in his 2007 speech recently excoriated by the GOP. I disdain such excoriation but also do not like a presidnet (in this case a campaigning candidate for president) faking an accent or style to appeal to a crowd. Be who you are, not what you think a crowd want’s you to be is my call.

    As well I believe racism has taken a very different turn or twist at least in American politics today. I only point out the extraordinary reaction of the Congressional Black Caucus to the Martin event immediately after it occurred as well as the New Black Panther reaction as well. Can you imagine the situation had an Hispanic group risen in a “racial” defense of the “shooter” in that case or God Forebide the Klan!!!

    We NEVER see nor hear of the Klan today. But look at what we do see and hear from time to time when black on white events occur. Someday we may as well see and hear such reactions if brown on black events happen as well. Check out Hollywood “thrillers” as just an example if you will.

    We are still far from a color blind society. And lecturers on Jefferson don’t do much in my mind to make it so as well.

    Anson

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  9. Juan Don says:

    Jim,

    Colonial American History was my original emphasis as an undergrad, later to be replaced by an enduring fascination with Medieval Europe. It seems that watching the movie El Cid made quite an impression as a kid.

    Whatever veneration felt for the Founders was quickly replaced by the realization that even brilliant men suffer the same flaws as every other human being; Jefferson being the most striking example from an era that produced its fair share of remarkable, ambitious personalities. He was both romantic revolutionary and aloof aristocrat, enjoying a patrician lifestyle while lauding the virtues of the yeoman farmer. Although adopting a poise of aloof indifference to politics, he was every inch a politician, often employing anonymous surrogates to launch vicious attacks against rivals. And he was a slave master.

    Although it seems incongruous to our modern sensibilities that the principle author of the Declaration of Independence owned fellow human beings, Jefferson’s seemingly contradictory participation in an evil institution was conventional behavior in a time when championing the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were only unalienable for Caucasians. Unlike Washington, who expressed anxiety and moral doubt about his financial dependence on slave labor, Jefferson never expressed any indication that he experienced the same pangs of conscious.

    Eight of the first twelve presidents owned slaves, Taylor being the last sitting president to own people while sitting in office. Ironically, the last president-as-slave master was U.S. Grant, freeing the man in 1859 before the onset of the Civil War. The “peculiar institution” is inexorably intertwined in our nation’s history. The hypocrisy of slavery in a country founded on individual freedom was a malignant tumor that took a bloody war to remove, and then another century to finally end pernicious state laws legalizing racial segregation.

    Colonial American slave masters, like Jefferson, were motivated by greed to ignore or reason away the glaring paradox inherent in sustaining a barbaric system of forced labor. Some used the Bible as their defense. Who could question the word of God when the Bible says, “Slaves obey your masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5) or “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9). It seems that religion was interchangeable with patriotism as “the last refuge of the scoundrel” for those trying to defend the indefensible.

    Twenty First century racists have found the internet to be if not the last, certainly a convenient, refuge for expressing just plain stupidity.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Thanks for adding this good look at attitudes during America’s early slavery days, Juan. You remind me of the most common excuse I hear from the right for the founders’ use of slavery, i.e., that “everybody did it”. And so they did. The temptation of free human labor was too great to overcome without, as you note, that awful bloody catharsis that was the Civil War.

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  10. Juan Don says:

    Anson,

    Let me see if I understand you correctly: you think Jim writing a post about Jefferson’s participation in slavery and linking to the Smithsonian article fanned the flames of racism. Do I read you correctly?

    If so, you have serious reading comprehension problems. However, if you just wanted to start a meaningless argument just to start a meaningless argument, it appears this endeavor ended rather abruptly.

    But on the dark side, you did manage to drag in the Congressional Black Caucus and the New Black Panthers (all of whom could fit comfortably in a 1966 Lincoln Continental) into the Trevor Martin shooting, critique the President’s speaking style when addressing a largely black audience (something you found off-putting) and offered a pleasant reminder that “we NEVER see nor hear of the Klan today.” From your perspective the only overt racism in 21st century America is coming from the blacks and browns. So, I gather the disgusting ‘birther’ movement stems from concerned citizens who have no idea what a birth certificate looks like and Tea Party generated racial slurs aimed at the President and First Lady are misconstrued attempts at political satire. If racism in America is purely a one-sided affair, then maybe you can write a blog post and encourage blacks and browns to stop all this nonsense. As you said, “we are far from a color blind society.”

    I have to say that interjecting the Black Congressional Caucus and the Trevor Martin shooting into a post about Jefferson’s connection to African slavery is quite a stretch, even for you.

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    • ansonburlingame says:

      Juan,

      I posted the below comment before reading the crap above. Reverse discrimination IS a problem but not the only problem in our society today and I never hear any progressives acknowledging that point. I don’t know how big a 1966 Lincoln might be as well but I do know that racism prevails today on BOTH sides and to suggest the ONE side is in no way racist while the other one is such, is just pure crap in the real world and you know it, but won’t acknowledge it!!!

      Anson

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  11. ansonburlingame says:

    Juan writes with some clarity on the condition of slavery in America at the time of and for some time after our Founding. In that sense America was not all that different from other “civilized” societies. And yes it required a bloody catharsis to ultimately eliminate slavery from the United States just as it did in other areas of the world over time. The economics of slavery dominated the world for several millenia and overcame any moral impulses to promote freedom from that condition of life for many.

    But all of that is history in my view. No one in America is promoting a return to slavery unless you believe political rhetoric today, the “return you to chains” kind of rhetoric. Politics uses such rhetoric to try to convince people that resistance to achieving equality economically and with the use of government power to do so is akin to returning to slavery. To me that is just ridiculous.

    I oppose government power to achieve the kind of economic equality, not pure equality but a “better” equality through the two forms of government that have tried to do so, socialism and communism. Both were and are failures except MAYBE for very small countries such as Sweden, etc. They seem to like it and do quite well in Scandinavia which is fine with me. But as well I note the racial “purity” in such countries which diminishes “class warfare” with racial tones imbedded therein as well.

    We went through such turmoil to achieve “better” equality in America in the post WWI aftermath. Some of it was fueled by Bolsheviks espousing the same doctrine used in Russia to overthrow a monarchy, a dysfunctional monarchy. As I read the history of many of our larger eastern cities in that time, Boston being a big example, our streets were filled with such mobs calling for……… The term used then as I recall was bolshevism was it not and brutal police power was used to “put it down”.

    While not nearly of the same magnitude as some Boston riots of long ago, I am struck by the similarity of tone and substance in today’s OWS mobs calling for things very similar to what I have read were called for by mobs in Boston and other places about 100 years ago.

    I would hate to see us go through that turmoil again in America but some seem to be calling for it. No not this blog or even the EC blog make such specific calls and I don’t accuse you of doing so.

    But as the continuing, in fact never ending American quest for equality procedes I firmly believe we need to keep our eye on the history of such efforts that lead to turmoil instead of eutophia in the past. And in the end I remain convinced that Freedom trumps equality in any society within reasonable limits of freedom to prevent anarchy.

    Of course Jim and Juan will disagree with me on that last point but I think we are all simply debating the “limits” of both freedom and equality. I want a lot of the first and only “some” of the second. They instead what more of the second than I am willing to give up in the freedom realm. That’s pure politics and not a social or moral critique of either side, in my view.

    Anson

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Just as a matter of interest and since Anson mentioned Sweden as an exception to the success of socialistic policies, I looked up their Wiki page and found the below interesting facts. They are a bigger exception than I thought. And while it’s true that Sweden is much less ethnically diverse than the U.S., they are a net immigration country (as opposed to “emigration”).

      The World Economic Forum 2009–2010 competitiveness index ranks Sweden the 4th most competitive economy in the world.[112] In the World Economic Forum 2010–2011 Global Competitiveness Report, Sweden climbed two positions, and is now ranked 2nd in the world.

      And,

      In 2010, Sweden also had one of the lowest Gini coefficients of all developed countries (0.25),[12] making Sweden one of the world’s most equal countries in terms of income.

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  12. Juan Don says:

    Anson,

    The only “crap” contained in this comment thread is coming from a single source. You were wrong to accuse Jim of…whatever the hell goes through your mind when making spurious comments. My suspicion is that the subject of racial discrimination, whether it be in historical context (such as Jim’s post) or in discussions about racially-motivated attacks against the first black president, attacks guised as transparent un-American slurs, prompts you to deflect attention elsewhere.

    Racial discrimination against minorities of color obviously touches a sensitive nerve. No, I don’t believe that white Americans have endured slavery and a century of institutionalized segregation at the hands of the black minority. Yes, I do believe that racial prejuidice is a cultural/environmental afflicition, an affliction that can scar any human being. But the notion of “reverse racism” is as obnoxious as it is asinine. If you really feel that you’re the victim of black oppression or that pointing out the obvious, ugly racism peddled by ignorant white Tea Party jackasses requires a rebuttal that the Black Congressional Caucus is equally to blame for impeding a “color blind society”, then nothing I can say will make any difference. Some people just don’t get it, and never will.

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  13. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    First I will comment on the part of your post I agree with . Your explanation of the moral equivocation or as you put it the corrupting of Jefferson is interesting . The goals of living well, building Monticello, and pursuing his intellectual hobbies were so important to the man that he could rationalize slavery .

    Now for the part I disagree with. The moral equivocation of using Jefferson’s sins to say that this applies today is false . You also imply that the obvious class differences between Jefferson and his slaves are equivalent to the gaps between today’s rich and both the middle class and the poor .

    I do not deny that racism exists today . What I see are charges of racism being used as tactics in the ideological wars between capitalism-individualism and collectivist-corporatism .

    Like

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ Alan,

      Jefferson’s sin was of hubris and greed. If you deny that those do not apply today, I disagree. While the entire country is balanced on a knife edge between recovery and falling back into the Great Recession, the GOP presidential campaign is doubling down on its message that if elected it will not restore the same tax structure which was economically successful in the Clinton era, but keep it at the same unrealistically low level that helped create the Great Recession. It calls Obama’s reasonable proposal a “tax increase”. Our local newspaper editorial today, interestingly, said about that:

      It’s true that the nation’s wealthiest 2 percent — individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000 — can pay more, but why should they?

      Get that? Why should they? What do they owe the little people? Apparently not a damn thing.

      As for class differences, I see nowhere in my post where I asserted that today’s differences are equivalent to those of masters and slaves, but I do see the gap widening and if you don’t, you are in denial.

      Like

  14. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    Hubris and greed ? No his sin was owning human beings . His sin was not being a rich guy who liked to live well .

    I agree that the country is at a crossroads and could easily go down again economically . You have a heads I win, tails you lose way of putting things . If Barak Obama’s policies had actually turned the economy around, you and yours would be rightfully patting him on the back . You would not be giving George W. Bush any credit at all . You would not be saying ” You know things were not as bad as we thought when we took over, so Bush should get the lion’s share of the credit that things have turned around “. Yet as President Obama’s policies have produced 4 years of high unemployment and record deficits, Bush gets most of the blame while the Tea Party gets the rest . You allow no objective yardstick for measuring Obama’s performance .

    Lets assume that Romney wins . If the economy does poorly you will say that Romney is to blame . If I try to give Romney a 4 year pass like you did Obama, I expect you will call me on it . If the economy begins to grow faster I expect you will give Obama the credit .

    You are stating a simplistic fallacy that low tax rates caused the great recession . Just as you made the false argument that the higher tax structure during the Clinton years was the reason for the economic growth of that period . Your point seems to be that the tax rate was the significant difference between the Clinton and Bush years .

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ Alan,

      Jefferson’s hubris was that as an important person he thought he was entitled to a plantation life of luxury and intellectual indulgence, even if it meant the sacrifice of a hundred enslaved human beings. His greed was that he placed no limits on the enslavement which enabled his dream, but rather rhapsodized in his personal correspondence about the potential for expanding it as a business philosophy.

      I never said that low tax rates were the only cause of the GR. In fact, in numerous blogs I have named numerous causes. The Bush tax cuts were one all right, but I also named two unpaid-for wars, out-of-control Homeland Security spending, and the ridiculous healthcare system that Conservatives will not allow to be fixed. You are resorting to straw man arguments by putting words in my mouth about the future. And no, I do not think Clinton was solely responsible for the economic success of his terms in office – I think he was both effective and lucky.

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    • Moe says:

      Alan, I hope Jim will correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall that Jefferson always lived well beyond his means and died in debt. He lived like a rich man indeed – but his ‘wealth’ was in property only which he held onto in his lifetime, regularly ‘stiffing’ those to whom he owed actual money.

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  15. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    What would have been acceptable limits on the enslavement of people ? I think his business success bothers you as much a his slave owning .

    Exactly how did the Bush tax cuts contribute to the recession ? I say they contributed to the boom of the Bush years . You forget the economic effects of the 911 attacks and the white powder scares and all of the other terror scares of the first 4 years of the Bush Presidency . I say the Bush tax cuts kept the economy from totally crashing from the capital freeze ups of those events . You must have capital moving and working in the economy . Your guy President Obama has caused those freeze ups for the last 4 years with Obama-Care and his over regulation of business .

    You act as if the two wars and Homeland Security were totally unnecessary . I suppose if we had done nothing or far less you would have been happy ? Well exactly what should Bush have done about 911 and the other security threats ? You were in the military, what would have worked better against the Islamic terrorists ?

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Alan,

      Moe is correct. This is from Jefferson’s Wikipedia page (emphasis is mine):

      Jefferson was a farmer, with a lifelong interest in mechanical innovations, new crops, soil conditions, his gardens, and scientific agricultural techniques. His main cash crop was tobacco, but its price was usually low and it was rarely profitable. He tried to achieve self-sufficiency with wheat, vegetables, flax, corn, hogs, sheep, poultry and cattle to feed and clothe his family, slaves and white employees, but he had cash flow problems and was always in debt.

      Jefferson’s wealth, like that of other plantation owners, was solidly based on the institution of slavery. He had about a hundred of them, and he still stayed in debt. Acceptable limits on the enslavement of people? What the hell are you talking about? Reminds me of Todd Aiken talking about “legitimate rape”.

      The Bush tax cuts contributed to the recession by denying the federal government the funds it needed. And there were no “capital freeze-ups” as a result of 9/11 because George W. Bush completely abandoned all efforts to restrain federal spending in the building of “Top Secret America”, a wild fiscal orgy that was virtually unrestrained. Included in this was a new philosophy of using massive amounts of private contractors like Blackwater in the insane nation-building exercises he undertook in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you are not too partisan I recommend Rachel Maddow’s brilliant book, “Drift” on the subject. Also, in my opinion the creation of DHS and the DNI were both not only completely unnecessary but actually deleterious to national security – extra layers of bureaucracy usually are, and that’s all those are.

      No, I wouldn’t have been happy to do nothing, Alan. What Bush should have done, instead of two unnecessary wars and nation-building, is what President Obama is doing now – steadily exterminating al Qaeda leadership with covert ops by JSOC and the CIA, including drones.

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  16. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    You said Jefferson’s greed placed no limits on his slave holding . I merely questioned why you made a limit distinction .. Any slave holding for any reason is the same . Legitimate rape was a similar misstatement . When one is trying to make a point the language can get away from you .

    I said I was not currently up on my Jefferson studies . Everything I remember agrees with Ms. Holland, in that besides being an unrepentant slave holder he was a lousy businessman and spendthrift . I just do not condemn him for his wealth . We agree on the basics . We both condemn him for the lengths he went to maintain and enjoy his money .

    To get back to Bush, I again disagree with every single thing you say . Do not forget President Bush was in for 8 years . The financial meltdown at the end of those 8 years could have easily happened at the beginning instead . Fear after 911 and during the white powder scares and the various terror attempts would have frozen investment if not for Bush’s tax cuts . A similar fear caused by Obama’s class warfare has frozen $ Trillions for 4 years . The results speak for themselves .

    The money spent in Iraq and Afghanistan was not what caused all of the debt or the meltdown in 2007 . I know you fully believe that but, I do not . The real estate bubble was not a result of Bush’s policies . You continue to discount the role of Messrs Dodd, Frank, etc, etc .

    Believe it or not I am familiar with Ms Maddow, though not with her book . I listen to the woman all of the time, just to keep track of her particular group think . That does not mean I believe one word she speaks or writes . She pushes her ideology like any partisan . She has never made an argument or stated facts that I could accept as even remotely true . And I have tried .

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    • John Hester says:

      Alan, clearly you live in a parallel universe from mine.

      I cannot speak to whether some businessmen have frozen trillions because they foolishly listen to entertainers like Rush Limbaugh who tell them that our current President is waging class warfare, but I cannot help but wonder what facts you rely on to characterize Obama as a class warrior. Please tell me your argument goes deeper than “the results speak for themselves.”

      I am surprised to learn that you listen to Rachel Maddow regularly and have NEVER heard a single statement from her that you think is true. A cursory glance at her blog (http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/) shows well documented stories. Perhaps you don’t like her analysis, but that is different from challenging her facts.

      Like

  17. Alan Scott says:

    John ,
    Facts can be presented inh a dishonest way . I can give you a fact based story, legally tell you the truth and still be lying . Leave out a fact, willfully misinterpret others and I have mislead you . Our President has raised that to an art form .

    We have argued about the financial crisis here . The facts are that with out it Barak Obama might not be our President . The events broke perfectly for him just before the election . The opportunity was wonderful . All he had to do was follow through on saving the big banks, which Bush had already started . After that with his majorities in both Houses of Congress he could use that crisis to get every dream Liberals have thought of the last 50 years . As has been said a crisis is a terrible thing to waste .

    For his whole Presidency Obama has pushed for taxing the rich at a much higher rate than the rest of us . He dismisses the effect this will have on economic growth . He has demonized evil corporations . He has put the blame for the financial crisis on every wealthy person in America . He has dismissed his role and every other Democrat’s role in protecting the GSEs prior to the crisis . It sure walks and quacks like class warfare to me .

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    • John Hester says:

      Alan,

      Here are facts you state that I think are true:

      We have argued about the financial crisis here . The facts are that with out it Barak Obama might not be our President . The events broke perfectly for him just before the election . The opportunity was wonderful . All he had to do was follow through on saving the big banks, which Bush had already started .

      Here is where I think you facts get wobbly:

      After that with his majorities in both Houses of Congress he could use that crisis to get every dream Liberals have thought of the last 50 years .

      As you know politicians have made it so a majority in the Senate is meaningless: it does not represent control. So your implication that having a majority in both Houses allowed Democrats to have their way is not really true. It is certainly not true that they used that to get every dream Liberals have thought of the last 50 years. As you know Obama ran on a public option for healthcare, but he had to settle for the Republican idea of the individual mandate instead. There have been all sorts of liberal dreams in the past 50 years that aren’t even up for discussion any more. I’m not going to list them all, but please admit that you are exaggerating here.

      Here is something you said that I find misleading:

      For his whole Presidency Obama has pushed for taxing the rich at a much higher rate than the rest of us .

      Previously you claimed Obama got everything he wanted, so this implies that the “rich” are being taxed at a much higher rate than the rest of us. Yes, Alan, Mitt Romney is still paying a lower rate today under Obama than many of the rest of us. Obama has not raised Mitt Romney’s taxes. Obama has lowered taxes in many areas. Obama has very much considered the impact to the economy. Economists agree that lowering taxes for the middle-class is more stimulative than lowering them for the rich, yet it is the Republicans who have refused to lower taxes for the middle unless those whose money they use to win elections get a much larger (dollar-wise) benefit. Lowering taxes lowers revenue thus increasing debt, and high government debt it also not good for the economy, so that is yet another way in which Obama’s more modest proposal is better for the economy.

      The following statement of yours is not a fact, and I defy you to present a compelling argument supporting it:

      He has demonized evil corporations

      This statement is not accurate:

      He has put the blame for the financial crisis on every wealthy person in America .

      In no way has Obama blamed “every wealthy person in America” for the financial crisis. Obama himself is wealthy. What sort of twisted logic do you have that makes you think that?

      I don’t know enough about GSE’s to have an opinion about you statement concerning them.

      At the end of your post, you conclude that all this constitutes class warfare. Facts suggest that during the past generation it is the poor not the rich who have been under siege. Those of us who are concerned about that and try to speak out are accused of waging class warfare. You can call us whatever names you want, but I stand with Jesus as someone who is concerned about the poor and who criticizes a society that allows the rich and mighty to exploit the poor.

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