SAN JOSE, April 17, 2017 — Tuesday, April 18 is Tax Day, delayed from the historical April 15th, thanks to Thomas Jefferson, our third President, whose birthday was celebrated last week. Sadly, the birthday of one of our most important founders is not special to many Americans because it does not cause a Federal holiday.
Now is a time for reflection on Jefferson’s words even as Americans seem to be losing touch with his more revolutionary ideals. American’s today enjoy the fundamental freedoms that were established upon the foundation of the philosophical framework Jefferson embedded within the Declaration of Independence.
This is evident in that, this year, Americans are required to pay their taxes on Tuesday, April 18th instead of the April 15th because of “Emancipation Day,” a holiday which is only recognized in the District of Columbia. Consider that there may not have been an Emancipation Day if the United States of America had not been founded upon the ideals that are the core of the fundamental values in the Declaration of Independence.
The most contentious of those ideas for many was that “all men are created equal,” and it represented the division in America that needed to be changed before our country could be completed.
Our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln (March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865) continued the concept that “all men are created equal” as he developed his political theories. Essentially, the first great confrontation over equality of races in the United States took place during the Civil War (Apr 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865) an event that overshadowed Lincoln’s presidency. This struggle was centered upon the question of whether “all” men were created equal and the President’s desire to emancipate slaves and end slavery.
Those in the Deep South, who eventually attempted to destroy the U.S. Constitution and the nation due to their disdain for losing free labor to run large Southern plantations, believed that Jefferson had not meant “all” men as written in the Declaration of Independence, meaning instead “all free men.”
Long before his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Abraham Lincoln addressed this white, aristocratic concept in the heated exchanges of Lincoln-Douglas debates when the future president challenged Senator Stephen A. Douglass and the Democrat mythology. Lincoln was fighting to return to the original foundation established through the Declaration of Independence, namely, “all” men being equal under the law. In addressing the premise of the Dred Scott Decision, Lincoln argued:
“Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case, admits that the language of the Declaration of Independence is broad enough to include the whole human family, but he and Judge (Stephen) Douglas argue that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include negroes.”
I think the authors of that incredible instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare men equal in all respects.
“[but] … equal in certain ‘inalienable rights among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’” This they said, and this they meant.
Lincoln’s words defended the Founders, especially Thomas Jefferson. What seems needless to point out, but should be, is that Jefferson shone as a father of freedom in that he is inextricably linked to the Declaration of Independence. However, today most Progressive-revisionist writers and historians are often more interested in “re-examining” Jefferson, particularly his role as a slave owner, in a manner that is more akin to attorneys cross-examining someone on trial.
Many writers are more eager to delve into his relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings rather than examine or acknowledge his advocacy of the emancipation of slaves.
To view Thomas Jefferson as a hypocrite for failing to live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, or to diminish the reality that Jefferson was a consistent opponent of slavery would betray either an ignorance of Jefferson or a deliberate bias against his character. Jefferson believed in what he wrote, and he realized that slavery was contrary to natural law and antithetical to the values of freedom. He worked on the goal of abolishing slavery much more than the average American may realize.
John Adams had been deeply impressed by Jefferson’s initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, as he so testified in a letter to Timothy Pickering in 1822:
“I was delighted with [the draft’s] high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning Negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose… Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable if anything in it was.”
Jefferson’s initial draft of the Declaration of Independence included an attack against the British for admitting slavery into the colonies, yet it does not appear in the current surviving document. In fact, the draft was amended well over 80 times before it was deemed acceptable by the entire Continental Congress.
However, among other noble efforts addressed in the Declaration, Jefferson’s original draft stated:
“He (King George III) has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold.”
Jefferson was likely upset about the rejection of this part of his proposed declaration, but during the War for Independence, Jefferson actively attempted to write legislation that he hoped would end slavery. He understood that slavery represented the most powerful threat to the Land of the Free.
The Confederate States’ Vice President, Alexander Stephens acknowledged that Jefferson believed slavery to be the “rock upon which the old union would split.”
In 1778, Jefferson drafted a Virginia law that prohibited the importation of African slaves that was interrupted when his wife, Martha, died in 1782. Jefferson suffered a great deal from the loss and it only after a year was he able to emerge from his “stupor of mind which had rendered me dead to the world” and return to public life.
While mourning Martha’s death, Jefferson wrote a bill designed to organize the Northwest Territory, won by the United States from Great Britain after the War for Independence. That bill represented Thomas Jefferson’s intent to bar slavery from all new states applying for statehood in the Union.
However, his specific bill was defeated in Congress by one vote. As he was when he saw his original draft of the Declaration of Independence stripped of the parts condemning slavery, of the defeat of his Northwest Territory bill, he wrote:
“The voice of a single individual… would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country. Thus we see the fate of millions of unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and Heaven was silent in that awful moment! But it is to be hoped that it will not always be silent and that friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail.”Jefferson was governor of Virginia at the time Washington arranged to free his slaves, but it was an effort the two men both sought although the Virginia legislature was not entirely receptive to the idea of statewide emancipation, and after Washington got away with it, the laws became much more strict after the old general passed away. Jefferson’s situation was much different than Washington’s.
Jefferson was governor of Virginia at the time Washington arranged to free his slaves, but it was an effort the two men both sought although the Virginia legislature was not entirely receptive to the idea of statewide emancipation, and after Washington got away with it, the laws became much more strict after the old general passed away. Jefferson’s situation was much different than Washington’s.
Although Jefferson viewed slavery as antithetical to freedom and contrary to the principles being advanced in the efforts towards Independence, he continued to maintain that the decision to emancipate slaves would have to be part of the democratic process; that slaveowners would need to agree to free their slaves as Washington had, if emancipation were to be successful across the entire nation. This was consistent with Lincoln’s views on the threshold of the Civil War.
In reflecting on Thomas Jefferson’s incredible contribution to a nation “conceived in liberty,” a contemporary student of freedom would have to wade through the murky waters of the progressive revisionist attempts to diminish his value — akin to a modern smear campaign to discredit political candidates in this century. Americans are often confused today about the value of Jefferson in American history, but they should not be.
The words of The Declaration of Independence were a powerful explanation to the rest of the world of why freedom itself was so important. Without Jefferson’s philosophical framework of ideals in the Declaration of Independence, there may never have arisen a nation like the United States that valued the pursuit of freedom. In turn, without great value placed upon freedom, slavery would have still been an acceptable reality as it had been for the previous five thousand years.
Long live the fundamentals of Freedom!
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