Friday, January 30, 2015

Super Bowl in Arizona

First, random thoughts on Phoenix, Ariz.


I've been there twice. Both times in the Summer. I think the first time was in '96 or '97 and once I think in 2011. First point is this. IT'S HOT!!!!!  It's really, really hot!!!


The first time I was there it reached 115 or so degrees during the daytime. It is true it is a dry heat. Especially in the shade it feels much cooler than slightly lesser temperatures I've experienced in New Orleans and Houston. Of course, you are crazy to go into the sun in Phoenix without being dressed and even your face protected for more than a few minutes.


Here's how hot it is. When you jump in the pool and then come out, you are dry, including your suit, within minutes -- even standing in the shade. No kidding.


Sedona is a beautiful red rock area about less than 2 hours away.  I once drove from Sedona, where it was 45 degrees on leaving and arrived in Phoenix at 109 degrees.  Hot! Hot! Hot!


The first time I was in Phoenix I decided to do a little hiking. The first day I went hiking among the giant cacti in Apache something or other park. I went there early in the morning so that I would not crumple up and float away like thin bark that suddenly float up out of a fire.  Other than the sudden curiosity I had as to how big you had to be before a hungry puma doesn't think of you as food, it was really beautiful. So, the next day I decided to climb Camelback Mountain. I forget why they call it that:

Camelback Mountain

In any event, I headed off even earlier in the morning, afraid that by the time I got to the top it would be sizzling. I started my climb of a little more than 2700 feet about 6 a.m. I figured two hours up, and somewhat less down (gravity, you know). I can't say as I remember how long it took me to get up there, but it was longer than I thought.  By the time I was half way up it was too hot to hold onto the railing they had to help you get up. Something else happened half way up. I started walking really, really slow.


I wasn't going to make it. I didn't feel that was any shame. Lots of mountains I can't climb. Then something terrible happened. I was sitting on a rock resting, deciding if I should turn around there or in a hundred feet. Even resting was a dilemma because you were still getting hotter. I had brought a lot of water with me, was wearing sun screen and a hat. Didn't matter much. Then I started talking to this woman, who seemed roughly my age, and who was also ready to pass out. Her son was ahead of her on the trail to the top. She had no choice, she felt, as he was going all the way up and would wait for her. I didn't see the logic as eventually he'd get bored and come down, but she was determined in the way only a frightened parent can be. But, if she could make it up there, why couldn't I (aside from being overweight, out of shape and a little crippled)?  So, we walked together. One step at a time. And I mean one at a time. With frequent stops. Actually, almost every step. And some time later, we made it.


I came down alone. It was much faster, but, it had to be. Even still drinking regularly, I was heating up and feeling not so good. I did make it down. But, at the bottom, even with marked signs, I went the wrong way. I think it was about 5 minutes to my car from where I reached level ground, but I walked 20 minutes pretty much in the opposite direction before I realized I was all alone and nowhere near a car lot. Feeling kind of tired and light headed too. Like maybe I should lie down. Oh, and I was out of water.


I'm writing this now, some 17 years or so later, so you might guess I didn't lie down or pass out. I slowly made my way back and it was tough. I had more water in my car. And, I put on the A/C and sat there for at least a half hour before I made the drive back to the house. I don't really think I learned much of a lesson or anything. I thought I was being careful about hiking in the heat. But, I overshot my limits, that's for sure. I'm still learning that lesson over and over again.  And, honestly, overall, it was a fun experience.  I just don't recommend it to anyone who isn't young, in good shape and can carry a lot of water.


The Super Bowl is actually not in Phoenix but in Glendale, which is right next to Phoenix.  I read an article about how we should say Glendale rather than Phoenix. Ridiculous. Next to Phoenix there are a few residential communities, maybe about ten of them, but it's seamless. You can't really tell the difference between Phoenix, outside of downtown, and these communities except for the name on the sign. Well, I guess Glendale does have this stadium off the highway, so, maybe it is a little different, but I always thought it was in Phoenix when I passed it.  And surrounding all of it is a whole lot of desert. As Phoenix proper dominates it all, I'm fine with calling it Phoenix, the same way you think of Yonkers as part of New York City (it's not; it's actually its own city and one of the biggest in state) unless you live there. I have no idea when I'm entering or leaving Yonkers either.


My evalovin' gf's sister lives in Glendale (or one of those communities), which is why I've been there on trips to Arizona.  AZ is an amazingly beautiful state with all kinds of unbelievable attractions, foremost being the Grand Canyon. There's also the Canyon de Chelly and Sedona, the prettiest place I never heard of until I was there.  

I have no interest in going to a Super Bowl, but, had we gone (just today my gf tells me her sister had free tickets for us), it would have given us a place to stay, saving a lot of money. 


I suppose if I got free tickets to the Super Bowl (and knew it) I would go. How do you not? But, I'm not sure I would like it.  I haven't been to a professional football game in probably 25 years or so, and, frankly, it was ridiculous. Even though we arrived at the Meadowlands Stadium where the Jets were playing before the game started, we did not get to our seats until the second half kickoff. And there was the giant who tried to smash my face because I told his girlfriend she was cute (I was young and she was cute). I remember my friends looking at me after I avoided the huge meaty hands reaching down for me from the level above. "What's going on?" "Oh, I'll tell you later." Anyway, even then, aside from missing half the game, it was cold and you couldn't really see that well. Much rather sit at home with friends munching on Ritz crackers with buffalo chicken dip, pepperoni and cheese. Whatever it costs, it has to be cheaper than a hot dog and coke at the game. And I don't have to wait on line.


Of course, the SB is a different experience, probably once in a lifetime for most people.  Still, I don't like crowds, using stadium bathrooms and walking up a lot of steps, just for starters. And, I'd miss the commercials (even though they weren't so good last year). Half time show? Eh. The performers are usually pretty good. I even enjoyed Beyonce (last year?) Still.


So, let's get to the Super Bowl this year. Early in the year I predicted NE  v. San Francisco. Half right. Hard to be more wrong about SF, of course.  They were pretty mediocre this year.  Last year I think I also predicted the same two teams and they both made it to the conference championship. At this rate, within two years I should be right.


I'm a NE fan and Tom Brady fan most of all, so why wouldn't I be happy? I'm a little bit disappointed by the DeflateGate scandal because it does seem like someone cheated (so far not buying the natural reasons line) but I really don't believe it was Belicheck or Brady. I know it could be anyone. Our heroes are not immune from all the foibles of humanities. But I need evidence, anyway, and SpyGate (2007) is not enough to convict Belichick. 


I went back and looked at my predictions last year just before the game. My best prediction was that it would be a close game.  I predicted that whomever had the better game, Marchawn Lynch of Knowshon Moreno, would give their team victory - neither was a major factor (Lynch had 39 years rushing; Moreno 17).


My predictions this year are this:  7 point or less score differential. No blow out this year. One team blew NE out this year by 27 points, but NE was a different team after that game and they ended up with the best game differential in the league in their favor. They lost one game after that by 8 and another by 5. The rest they won. In 14 years they turned over the ball the least of any team and were second in the league this year (no DeflateGate jokes).  But Seattle had no blowouts against them this year - the most they lost by was 9 - and they were next after NE in score differential. Seattle also is good with ball control, 4th best in the league in turnover ration (and we all know Houston was only 3rd because of one man).


My other prediction - if NE's defense comes up big, or their special teams, they win. Otherwise, honestly, I don't think they can.


I'm ending with regular season MVP. The absolutely right man this year is J. J. Watt. Leave aside his 20+ sacks in which he came in second, but he was first in yards lost on sacks, third in forced fumbles but first in fumbles recovered and second in defensive touchdowns. It wasn't a fluke. There is a reason he is the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.  In tackles he was ranked 84th in the league, but that's meaningless because he's a defensive end and they penetrate and don't rack up tackles. How did he do among DEs? He was no. 1 and for solo tackles as well. And by the way, he was also no. 1 among all defensive players for tackles for loss.  Tied for first for fumble recoveries for tds, 2d in safeties (although many are tied for both of those). How about something like passes defensed.  The whole ranking through the first 100 are cornerbacks, safeties and occasional linebacker or other back - except for one defensive end (and one nose tackle slightly below him) - want to guess who?  He had 10 passes defensed. Since 1991 only one other player has had 10 passes defensed and ten sacks - and remember - Watt had more than double that number of sacks - no one has done that before.  By the way, he had more passes defensed than great defenders like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Earl Thomas and Charles Woodson.  


There's also a statistic called defeats, which I left for last. It includes all tackles for a loss, including sacks, any tackle or pass defensed to prevent a conversion on third or fourth down and any turnover or a batted pass that leads to an interception. Another words, game changers. Watt is the record holder with 56 in his second year (2012).  He won this year too with only one other player close.


And of course he had 3 offensive touchdowns.  If he played tight end, he'd be another Gronkowski.


No. 2 is Odell Beckham, Jr. who transformed the Giants and Eli Manning into a decent team and quarterback again all by himself, leave aside the catch many if not most football fans call the greatest catch they ever saw.  He started 12 games this year and only one other receiver, Antonio Gates, has his kind of numbers in them. And, he's a rookie.


No. 3. Almost any other year, Aaron Rodgers would be the easy choice. The NFL prefers offensive backs (with very few exceptions) so he will likely win. He had a 7.6 to 1 TD to interception ratio. Just to show you how good that is - Romo was next with a 3.8 to one ratio and then Brady with 3.7. What Rodgers did is astonishing. And, if his defense and special teams did not lose the game in a few minutes, he'd be in the Super Bowl.

Going to end with a couple of 2009 interviews with Marshawn Lynch I found on, including a swim race with another Buffalo Bill in the second one. Hard to believe this is the same guy.


So, New England won.  As I wrote recently in some newspaper comment, Brady is probably the only sports hero I have. I am amazed by his mental toughness and refusal to give up, his ability to focus so hard on scoring under pressure. Ten points down in the fourth quarter against one of the best defenses in history, a lot of guys give up., tying a SB record for come backs.  It's why I rate Brady ahead of Manning and always say, one game, one possession, one play, I want Brady (or Rodgers, who is probably the best QB right now).  But, 4 Super Bowls wins, three Super Bowl MVPs, two close SBs he lost through no fault of his own and three other NFC championship appearances. Of course, he has records galore - his fans have a reason to say he's no. 1. I really don't believe much in comparing players between eras, particularly with the significant rule changes that favor more modern quarterbacks, and he's had at least a few years of that. But, his achievements speak for themselves. I would even say what I didn't want to say last year, because it sounded like sour grapes. Brady's 50 TDs in the 2007 season back was as good as Manning's 55 now under modern rules. You can disagree, but, right now, Brady fans have a right to say he's the best ever - particularly in post season, but arguably ever, whatever Manning's own claim to it.

I have to be honest though. When I heard his interview with Bob Costas, I wasn't happy. He said people who knew him knew what he was about. But, when Costas asked him a last question - so, you were definitely not involved - he didn't answer the question. I can't say that makes me happy. It reminded me of the Michael Jackson interview when he was asked if he had ever touched a child (or something like that) and he answered - I'd never harm a child. Uh oh. On the other hand, I expect some attorney or other has said to him to answer that way.  I'm not going to rush to judgment with him anymore than I would win anyone else (do my best anyway). But, I would have preferred "Absolutely not."

Mostly though, more than elated, I feel relieved. I felt before the game that Seattle was the better team, almost a team of destiny, and I still feel that way, and not least when Kearse made that catch lying on the ground on his back. As Pete Carroll said, that last pass play was called to make sure they had time to call three plays so that they could run the last two if the first pass didn't work (it would stop the clock). It did work except Butler made a great play and you have to give it to the kid, who said he studied that play and was ready. When you watch it from the end zone, you believe it. He went for it from the beginning of the play.

My predictions before the game turned out better this year than last (though I really think predictions about one game are just for fun - who knows what will happen). I thought it be less than 7 points and I wrote that if NE defense or special teams comes up big, they win. And, obviously, it did.

As for the Sea Hawks, I had even more respect for them this year than last year as they had to play through at least a little adversity. The blow out in the Super Bowl last year was impressive enough, but after the Green Bay game, and this one, I was really impressed.

I can sleep well tonight. Thanks Tom. Thanks Bill.  Sorry Sea Hawk fans. I know how crummy I'd feel if it went the other way.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The character of Jefferson (slavery)

I am not much of a fan of Thomas Jefferson.  He is, pretty much by definition, an American icon, having his face not only on our money, but also looming high on Mount Rushmore along with three other presidents.  Actually, Jefferson's face was selected, as were the other three, by the sculptor, not the government.  But it was hardly controversial, as, other than by his political opponents and a few historians here and there, possibly only Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and sometimes Benjamin Franklin have been so  revered as politicians throughout our history right up today.  And even if David McCullough did make John Adams a shining star for a few brief years, it was a bump on a long log, compared to the hero worship directed towards the Sage of Monticello.

Despite my personal dislike of Jefferson as a person, it would be foolish to suggest TJ was not one of the most important figures in the founding of the country, though I am not sure it would not have been significantly different, and perhaps better, had he not been.  I cannot think of any role he played which was critical in the revolution (please say what would have been different, if you disagree). In fact, what he was best known for after the declaration was failing to defend Virginia as governor and riding away from the British while his slaves remained behind, something that a number of other of his own peers were deeply angry at, and which, though found not at fault after investigation (and I agree), injured his reputation for a while.  Of course, it is the Declaration of Independence that he is most famous for. And I've treated this before on March 7, 2009, explaining why I think he should get some credit, but nowhere near as much as he is afforded for most famous piece of political writing in our history. Besides, someone else on the committee, like Adams or Franklin would have written the Declaration had he not.

But, undoubtedly, more so than any of these things, he was the leader of one of the two factions that became one of two great political ideologies that has existed throughout our history in one form or another (though I maintain the current popular consensus that he was the spiritual founder of the modern Democrat Party is overstated and he cannot be properly seen as the originator of either present party, however much it is believed). He was also  a major proponent if not always an applicator of enlightenment values, particularly the promotion of religious freedom and education. And, of course, he was the third president for two terms and in some senses the selector of his successors for the next four terms (so, 24 in all). He was also a formidable writer who left tons of correspondence and memoir material (albeit, most deliberately self-serving).  Of course, he can be called a "great" man in the sense of his impact on the world. However, so can his contemporary, Napoleon, and he sure had his faults. So can Cromwell.   So can others with far worse reputations.

Though he was incredibly well educated for his time, some of his achievements, as I have written about before, were  exaggerated (e.g., the Declaration) and many if not most or all of his important ideas were clearly derivative from others he read (though, that is true of most famous "thinkers").  But, it is not his achievements or failures I aim at here, but his character.  In my view, he has enjoyed a somewhat false sanctification.  In fact, his efforts at self-sanctification is one of his worst features. Rather than Sage, he should be known as the Shame of Monticello.  

It is not that his faults are not recognized by others - I personally rely on the scholarship of a number of authors over the last 100+ years in forming my opinion, but - his faults are too often smoothed over, as if they were mere foibles or minor character flaws, by his biographers. They shouldn't be. He does not deserve accolades but reproaches for many reasons.  I suspect that some of the resistance to seeing Jefferson clearly is the custom of treating reprehensible characters as being without any merit, and that would be extraordinarily difficult to do with any of the founders (though Jefferson and Hamilton did a pretty good job in tarring Burr, a far more honorable man than either of them in my opinion). Tarnishing founders can be a problem for many, but it's not necessary on their part. We can recognize a flawed character and contributions at the same time. We do it with many if not most historical persons.  

And, though a minority, there are professionals who find Jefferson as loathsome a character as I do, including those who have studied it much harder than I have.  Just as an example, as put by Paul Finkleman, a Professor at Albany University who wrote a book commenting in part on the evasions of Jefferson scholars,  “I think Thomas Jefferson is one of the most deeply creepy people in American history.”

2013 was a Jefferson year and a number of books came out which treat upon him, most notably John Meacham's The Art of Power.  Though Meacham, not a professional historian by training, wrote what I think is the best biography of Andrew Jackson that I have come across, I do not feel the same about his Jefferson, which has far greater competition.  I myself have probably read well over a dozen books on Jefferson alone (not including books on the revolution or time period). Whether we like a subject or not should have anything to do with our appreciation of a writer's work.  For example, I did not think much of Andrew Jackson as a person or president either, but still think Meacham wrote an excellent book about him.  I do find Meacham's effort on Jefferson interesting -- the phrase "a good read" comes to mind, but I have to say it was a typical Jefferson hagiography.  No doubt, hagiography is hard to avoid when dealing with celebrated  subjects like Franklin, Lincoln and Jefferson, but it is not inevitable for a good historian and not necessary at all for a great one.

 It is not that Meacham ignores any of Jefferson's most glaring faults, but, like so many other authors, he takes an understanding and sympathetic view of what in a less admired person would likely be seen as obnoxious or even terrible behavior (e.g., trying to seduce his friend's wife, whom he was asked to keep an eye on by her absent husband) or even horrific, like his keeping during his life hundreds of slaves he could have freed or treated much better, including his mistress and own children.  

For example, take Meacham's soft-pedaling of Jefferson's politics, which were probably more backstabbing and heavy handed than anyone else at the time could manage other than his arch-rival, Alexander Hamilton.  Meacham writes of Jefferson - "He was both an unflinching political warrior and an easily wounded soul. He always would be."  Awww.  In other words, maybe he was naughty sometimes, but a soft and vulnerable naughty boy, so we forgive him.  Imagine this phrase used of someone like Hitler - He was both an unflinching political warrior and an easily wounded soul. He always would be.  Hitler as examplye too rough for you? Fine, howabout someone like President Nixon.  Would that explanation justify forgetting about Watergate - that he was an easily wounded soul?  He was.

In another place Meacham writes of the Alien and Sedition acts in negative terms and details Jefferson's opposition, neglecting to mention that Jefferson as well as Adams signed the bill.  You can't, of course, put everything in a biography, and Meacham's  (or his editor's) selectivity is admirable for such a large subject.  But, how much space would that have taken?  one or two sentences? A footnote?  In just three consecutive pages he soft pedals Jefferson's typical hiding behind front men as being a "sign of good care,"  his stonewalling of his protégé, James Callendar, as not wanting to consort with a man skilled "in the dark arts of political warfare" (laughable when you consider Jefferson was virtually a Sith Lord when it comes to politics) and ignores his paying what was essentially blackmail to Callendar to save his own reputation  -- not even a  single critical comment!  

Meacham is hardly alone. Take this review of Joseph Ellis' American Sphinx,  "Though critical of Jefferson’s character, in the end Ellis decides it's his contradictions, in part, that made the third president great." Excusing Jefferson's  sins is a cottage industry.  Even one of my favorite historians, Garry Wills, who facilely writes the truth about Jefferson,  seems to almost as easily to forget or forgive the worst faults. At some point he stops to remind us how wonderful he was in the whole. The truth is, no forgiveness is necessary.  He's dead, he's legendary (the apocryphal quotations falsely attributed to him are epic) and he was, of course, a man of his times, like all of us. Being fair about a subject does not mean excusing things that cannot be excused. But, I discuss here how much an excuse there should be. 

Not all authors treat Jefferson so gently, of course. Some, like Finkelman, have been critical. But, they are certainly fewer and  almost always get ignored or treated shabbily by publishers and commentators on their work.  Henry Wiencek's Master of the Mountain, also published last year, looks at Jefferson's slave ownership with a far more penetrating light than Meacham throws on any of Jefferson's faults, in lieu of writing just another general biography.   And, not surprisingly, he quickly found himself being attacked by some as being unfair to Jefferson. Imagine -  they are defending someone we know owned hundreds of slaves, who made certain he kept them no matter what, who freed only his offspring and not even their mother during his life, and even upon his death did not follow the example of others who freed their own, like Washington, but perpetrated slavery every chance he could.  Instead, they castigate the messenger, Wiencek, who also, actually, treads very carefully himself. He probably had to in order to get published.

Think about it. With most topics, we celebrate and are excited by iconoclastic writing. But, when the subject is Jefferson (Lincoln too and some others), it is almost always the messenger who is shot and Wiencek, though quoted by others (including Meacham), has been handled roughly.  Some of Wiencek's critics, like Finkleman, seem upset that he might be getting credit for things he readily admits he did not discover.  Others say he is exaggerating a certain Jefferson notation because there is no proof Jefferson was talking about himself and not Virginian slavery in general  (I don't know why that would even matter), and  ignores all the other evidence raised by Wiencek.  

So, why another post here bashing TJ, you ask? It's because I want to cover a certain topic often used as a Jefferson defense.  This is excusing someone by calling him a "man of his times" also known as "presentism."   Naturally, I agree that we should not blame long dead people for holding  beliefs that were commonly or almost exclusively held true at their time, at least by those in their community or culture.  

In other words, I don't want to be myself or want others to be guilty of presentism either.  For example, it is in my opinion mostly unfair to attack Columbus for the horrific treatment of native Americans.  To do so would be to charge him with knowledge and attitudes that were extremely rare in his own time - mostly the 15th century.  Similarly, it is not surprising that Lincoln held as poor an opinion of the talents of blacks as he did, despite being opposed to slavery.  Jefferson was convinced of the inferiority of blacks as Lincoln was, probably more so.  But, presentism is sometimes insufficient as an excuse and too often reached for when it is not applicable.  In Jefferson's case with respect to slavery it is wholly false or, at best, deeply exaggerated. The reason for this is that Jefferson himself, and many of his peers, held the belief that slavery was an abomination, that blacks deserved freedom, that "all men were created equal." He was also aware that he could have freed his slaves, the same way a number of his peers whom he knew well did.  Instead, he chose to live the good life, even well above his means and saddled with debts, in an opulent palace, thanks almost entirely to the efforts and suffering of his slaves.     

The moral-free businessman and aristocrat in him simply won over the enlightenment writer.  Sure, he was, of course, a man of his time, but he, highly educated, was also ahead of his time, and he wrote about the horrors of slavery himself (while at the same time describing blacks as subhuman) and let himself be portrayed as slavery's enemy.  Hardly so, of course. He was slavery's friend and protector.  I will suggest here that the "presentism" argument (using present values to criticize an historical figure) shields an undeserving ghost. His slave owning, sometimes portrayed as being unavoidable or for the benefit of the slaves, was in fact, purely selfish, exceedingly cruel and despicable.

Jefferson, who bathed in the enlightenment authors from both England, Scotland and France -- was well aware of what he was doing, he simply wanted to live as a philosopher king.  No less is the fact that he engaged in what he thought was despicable miscegenation with Sally Hemmings.  I will not even consider here any of the unlikely arguments that it was not him, but his brother, who fathered the children (dna evidence tells us it was one of the two).  Circumstances tell us that it was him. Perhaps worse, he enslaved his and her own children, even if eventually freeing them.  Not even every slave owner kept their own children as slaves (though you do not get a gold star from me for freeing only your own). And he deplored the mixing of masters and slaves as much as any aspect of it. For Jefferson, it was not a matter of indifference to say one thing and do another. It was one of the main themes of his life. The enlightenment writers upon whom Jefferson so heavily relied for his ideas, were for the most part, very much opposed to slavery, whatever they thought of blacks, and it his peculiar devotion to it despite that, which rankles.

Of course, Jefferson's views and actions have been long debated and I can only give a snapshot here. First, let me address what Jefferson did with respect for slavery which he should get credit for, being careful also to state its limits:

1. He sought to place language on slavery in the Declaration of Independence so critical of it (blaming it on King George too, though it was no longer legal in Britain itself since even before the Revolution) which, if kept in the document, he said he believed would have made it most difficult for the new nation to maintain the institution for very long. However, that does fit a pattern of his of proposing things short of ending slavery or short of freeing slaves himself.

2. However, using a relative as a cut out, he early on sought to abolish slavery in Virginia through legislation. That he failed was no fault of his own and he may have genuinely desired that result at the time.  But, he saw the demonization inflicted on his own relative by their peers, and instead of stepping up himself and lending it his support, he stepped back into the shadows from which he best operated. And, that was the last time he tried to end slavery.

3. He is though largely responsible for legislation which permitted owners to free their slaves by deed, though there was a great deal of pressure from certain groups to permit this when he was rewriting Virginia's laws.  Note, he no longer sought to free the slaves but only to allow owners to do so (and almost never acted on the opportunity himself). His proposals were also draconic. He called, for example, for outlawing white women who bore mixed raced children and who would not leave the state (which usually means they are outside of the law's protection and can even be killed with impunity). So, this was something,  but not earthshaking.  It was not in any sense abolition. Virginia had repeatedly changed its slave laws over the centuries, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

4. He apparently (questionable, but likely to me) drafted the Northwest Ordinance of 1784, passed by the pre-Constitution congress, but which never went into effect.  It had called for the abandonment of slavery in the territories, but not immediately - only after 16 years.  Many have commented that this would merely have given slavery a foothold from which with the best of intentions, there could have been no withdrawal and virtually anyone at the time would have recognized that. There are some elements of the later Northwest Ordinance of 1787, an Act which he did not author, which was ratified by the United States Congress under the new Constitution. Perhaps Jefferson can be given some credit for having pre-figured it, but in most regards it is a summary of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and authored by Massachusetts' men. The new ordinance actually barred slavery -- not yet established, in the new territory.  Thus, we can only say that in the early 1780s Jefferson proposed allowing slavery in the new territories for a number of years and eventually eradicating it a generation later, which provision was almost certain to fail, and later, without his help, it was banned there completely.

5.  While president, he signed into law a bill making it illegal for U.S. citizens to participate in the international slave trade. But this itself had been contemplated in the Constitution, which he himself acknowledged, and the slave trade had already been abolished in almost every state at that point.

Now, the negative, most of which I collected from Wiencek, who documents it thoroughly, but much of which is well established:

1. He kept hundreds of slave, inherited by him or his wife, sold by him, raised by him. His son, Madison, who wrote long after TJ was dead, stated that Jefferson freed his children eventually, but did not do so for some 600 others (it's a collective number). He also noted Jefferson's affection for his white children and grandchildren but lack of any affection for his own half black children.
2. Forget your image of him as a kindly slave owner. He worked most of them at hard labor, doing things like farming or making nails even in bitter cold. Many got sick, many died. Here's an example from Wiencek: " Jefferson moved onto Monticello Mountain as a twenty-seven-year-old bachelor in November 1770. During a snowstorm on a bitterly cold day he went to observe the digging of a cellar. Wrapped in a coat, the young master watched a sixteen-year-old girl dig into frozen clay. The crew consisted of four men, two sixteen-year-old girls, and "a lad"--all slaves hired by his contractor. He wrote a description of the work, taking note of the crew's output for the day, which lasted about eight and a half hours in the frigid weather.  Half-frozen, the slaves took frequent breaks to warm up on a fire. An instinctive engineer and calculator, Jefferson measured their output, a hole about 3 feet deep and 132 feet square. He was not commenting on slavery but making engineering and labor notes, setting down for future reference how much digging could be accomplished by youthful laborers on a terrible day."   
3. He claimed he did not want slaves whipped, but, despite his complaints, never did much when overseers did so.  Some of his overseers were quite liberal with the lash and he was well aware of it when he hired them. One of his slaves who he long trusted to run his nail making business ceased being effective when he refused to whip the slaves anymore and he was taken off his job.  In fact, Jefferson was well aware of the cruelty of some of the overseers and even that children were being whipped. On occasion he would order it himself, for example, on a repeated runaway. Much of this facet about Jefferson has been deliberately hidden by some biographers and other famous biographers have relied upon fallacious accounts.
4. Not only were the children of slaves to remain slaves, but they were often born into indebtedness "contracted" with their parents, who of course, could not pay off their debts.  The reason for the debt - mostly buying slaves.
5.  At one time he wrote that blacks should be slaves all their life, but their children taken from them when adolescents and given training and when grown given material goods and sent to a place to be free and independent (the idea of a Liberia was a common one that even Lincoln championed).  That was about as good as it got. But, other than those who were almost certainly his children, he did not free any of his own slaves, or their children, even in his will. In fact, he believed the continuation of slavery was essential to American's survival.
6. Unlike Washington, he did not inoculate his slaves against small pox, but blamed the failure on the British to whom he was indebted. He wrote to a manager of Monticello :
"I cannot decide to sell my lands. I have sold too much of them already, and they are the only sure provision for my children, nor would I willingly sell the slaves as long as there remains any prospect of paying my debts with their labor." He adds that he is governed solely by their happiness, and would make their lot easier when they have paid the debts, most of which had been incurred through their purchase. Another time he wrote that   "I am miserable till I shall owe not a shilling: the moment that shall be the case I shall feel myself at liberty to do something for the comfort of my slaves."  A small minority were paid "gratuities," but the lowest workers received bare rations and clothes.
7. In writing to friends or those whose opinions he wanted to be favorable of him, Jefferson omitted mentioning that  Virginia permitted individual owners to free people at will. He would explain why Virginia would not emancipate slaves as other states had by claiming that it was because blacks were incompetent and it was like abandoning children.   
8. Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a revolutionary war hero from Poland, left Jefferson as executor of his will for the purposes of using the money to free slaves. Though TJ helped him draft the will, he never acted on it and used the money to free any slaves.
9. His idea of protecting the slaves he rented out was to do so for only a year at a time so that he could get them back if they were treated harshly.  A year!
10. Despite claiming it was impossible to free them, he had many peers he knew well who did so and he was  acquainted with many who supported themselves, including a very few who worked for him.   Washington, D.C., where he resided for years, had a whole community of freed slaves who supported themselves.  One friend freed his slaves and worked beside them on the land. Another friend tried to show Jefferson how renting land would be more economical than having slaves. He ignored him.  Another brought all his slaves to Illinois and settled there with them.  Jefferson's peer, Robert Carter III, far wealthier than Jefferson, used the same provision in the law that Jefferson could have used, to free his over 450 slaves over time. Unlike Jefferson, he died living in a little house in a city, no longer living like a rich man on the sweat of others.
11. The U.S. acquired Louisiana, a huge territory, in 1803, under Jefferson's presidency.  Despite all his words claiming the evils of slavery and that he wished to end it, when the Senate debated the issue of slavery in the new territory,  Jefferson secretly instructed his floor manager through a note to insert in the bill that slaves would be admitted there.
12. He did whatever he did to prevent the equality of blacks, even, when a free black militia in Louisiana offered its services. He determined to keep them in their posts to "till a better settled state of things shall permit us to let them neglect themselves."   It was actually far harder for them than remaining in their barracks.
13. When slaves revolted in Haiti from our enemy France and begged for our help, he ignored them, despite his own supposed dedication to freedom and his role in our own revolution.

All of this is, of course, just a smattering from Wiencek's book and some other sources. Wiencek, published quite recently, is almost already forgotten, while you can easily find Meacham's book in stores. Wiencek reminds people of things they would rather not know and if they read it, to quickly forget.  It is not comfortable to have a heroic figure you were taught to treasure since childhood be brought so thoroughly down to earth. Admittedly, when I first started reading American history, I had trouble with it myself. It is easier to make excuses - such as, he was a man of his times.

Of course, it is also easy to fall back on the fact that so many of his peers were slave owners, including those who were abolitionists (even Franklin had occasionally had slaves) and so many others who did not own them, but accepted it as part of the law. But, this is used by some to pretend that Jefferson did not know any better. And, of course, he did. That's the easy part, because he repeatedly wrote so. Not only did many states end slavery during his lifetime, but Britain had freed its slaves at home even before the revolution (not throughout its empire until 1833). Not only did Jefferson write about how awful slavery was for everyone involved, but Quakers had long been shaking the tree trying to abolish it throughout America and there were many abolition societies. Many of his friends and correspondents freed their slaves, encouraged him to do so and were puzzled at his continuing it. They shouldn't have been that surprised. The horrors at Monticello were disguised but visible enough to those who wanted to see. As one visitor to Monticello who knew Jefferson commented - "[H]e considered them to be far inferior to the rest of mankind as the mule is to the horse, and as made to carry burthens."  

Of course, he hid it well, being a master of deceit like few others. He designed Monticello so much of the seemlier side of slavery was out of sight for visitors and his other lands had even worse conditions for the slaves.

Of course, here, I only examine his slave-holding, not his other character flaws. There are many other reasons to disapprove of Jefferson's character and I will get to these another day.  The Sage of Monticello was very much so the fraud and in my view a bad man, despite his many accomplishments. "Creepy" is a good word for him. But, when breaking icons, you have to take a break sometimes. So, finito.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .