Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Books and Slavery

About a week ago, I finished a book and started another one.  The one I finished was "No Life For A Lady," written by Agnus Morley Cleaveland about her experiences growing up on a New Mexico cattle ranch.  It was very humorous but included a lot of good information about what life was like at the end of the 19th century on a remote ranch in the rugged mountains of the southwest. 

I started "Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West."  I'm reading about Lewis' early life as a plantation owner (his father died when he was pretty young and his mother married again, only to lose another husband to the Revolutionary War so Lewis was saddled with the responsibility of managing the extensive Lewis holdings).  He was a wanderer at heart, though, and dearly wanted to put off his responsibilities and head west.  His mother, a strong woman who had already endured much hardship, was fairly capable of running the plantation and as his brothers got older, Lewis turned more and more toward the west.  Right now, he's an officer in the small standing army that America has, stationed in Ohio to help protect settlers from the Indians. 

As I was reading, I was struck again by how much the men of the Revolutionary War period were a mass of contradictions.  These two sentences from the book sum it up:
"No man did more for human liberty than Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and of Virginia's Statute of Religious Freedom, among other gifts to mankind. Few men profited more from human slavery than Jefferson."
"How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negroes?"

The book contends, and is corroborated by Jefferson's own writings, that he hated slavery.  He considered it a curse on the states and wished to see it abolished... but not in his lifetime.  Is this not highly hypocritical?  He hated it... but he profited from it.  He wanted it abolished... but expected a future generation to do it.  Ahh, and a future generation would abolish slavery and it would end up tearing the country apart.  One wonders if it would not have been better to abolish slavery while the country was still young and resilient, not set in its ways and so dependent on the backs of slaves that a whole economy would collapse when it was finally done away with. 

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