No, Jefferson Didn’t Want to End Slavery in the Declaration of Independence

XXXPaul FinkelmanIn his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson condemned the Crown in more forceful language, asserting that the king had “waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty” by perpetuating the African slave trade. Calling it “piratical warfare,” Jefferson asserted that “a CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain” was so “Determined to keep open a market where MEN” were bought and sold that he used his “negative” to suppress “every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.”

The Continental Congress removed Jefferson’s tirade from the Declaration, in part because it simply did not ring true. The colonists, for the most part, had been willing and eager purchasers of slaves. Nor is there any evidence that either Jefferson or any of the other leaders of Virginia had any interest in actually ending slavery. Virginia’s attempt to ban the trade was purely economic, and not based on any moral opposition to slavery. Similarly, the Crown’s refusal to allow them to limit or end the trade was economic.

—Paul Finkelman
The Abolition of the Slave Trade

5 thoughts on “No, Jefferson Didn’t Want to End Slavery in the Declaration of Independence

  1. Off topic, but I really want to offer this. I really enjoy the archive article feature at the top of the page. But it is often the case that I want to read more than one in the set. I pick one, read it, and then back arrow to the front page, and it’s a new assortment. I could, I suppose, remember what the other one I wanted to read and search for it. Anybody else mentioned this?

    • I’ve been frustrated by the same thing, but I don’t know enough about computers to say if it’s an easy fix. Clearly the random archive feature is terrific! There used to be a similar feature on the sidebar, but titles only, and having the first few sentences available makes clicking over much more enticing.

      I just always open the archive articles in a new tab/window.

    • Right-click on it and select “Open in New Tab.” That should work in pretty much all browsers on all operating systems.

      • “Open in New Tab” is also the default behavior in (most) browsers on Windows if you click the link with the middle button of your mouse. (There are some exceptions – both mice and browsers – and, of course, if you’re an Apple user all bets are off… but this feature has saved me hours of wasted time and frustration over the years.)

        • I haven’t seen a 3-button mouse in a while. But I don’t use a mouse anyway. They drive me crazy. But there are other buttons on my trackball. I don’t know what they do. It’s amazing that someone as internally curious really incurious when it comes to the practical matters of my life.

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