Friday, January 11, 2013
Girl acted like she'd never seen a ten befo'
Slaveholding states wondered how their human property would be counted for congressional-apportionment purposes. Northern states ﬁnally agreed that ﬁve slaves would be counted as equivalent to three free whites, the infamous “federal ratio” that survived for another eighty years. The formula richly rewarded the southern states, artiﬁcially inﬂating their House seats and electoral votes and helping to explain why four of the ﬁrst ﬁve presidents hailed from Virginia.
This gross inequity was to play no small part in the eventual triumph of leﬁersonian Republicans over Hamiltonian Federalists. In exchange, southern states agreed that the importation of slaves might cease after 1808, feeding an illusory hope that slavery might some- day just fade away. Without the federal ratio, Hamilton glumly concluded. “no union could possibly have been formed." lndeed, the whole superstructure erected in Philadelphia rested on that unstable. undemocratic foundation.
Hamilton's upset over this tolerance of slavery may have been deeper than we know. There has always been some mystery as to his whereabouts after his August 13 statement on immigration. In fact. he had returned to New York for a meeting of the Manumission Society. Hamilton may have apprised members of the impending decision on slavery in Philadelphia. because they delivered a petition to the convention to “promote the attainment of the objects of this society?“
After the slavery compromise in Philadelphia, Hamilton stepped up his involvement in the Manumission Society. The following year, even while pouring out ﬁfty-one Federalist essays, serving in Congress. and campaigning to ratify the Constitution, he attended a meeting of the society that again protested the export of slaves from New York State and the “outrages committed in digging up and taking away the dead bodies of Negroes buried in the city." Later in the year. Hamilton was appointed one of four counselors of the Manumission Society.
He may have been a quasi-monarchist, but at least his flaw wasn't a Jeffersonian blindspot regarding slavery. And people who fetishize America's wealth and power really ought to thank the dude on their sawbucks.
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I recently read an article by a Jefferson scholar who has shown that in the early 1790s Jefferson did a financial calculation that showed him how much each slave born to the people he held increased his wealth and how after that he increasingly industrialized his slave enterprises, particularly concentrating on his nail factory in which young boys were constantly pressed to increase production to make The Father of Liberty richer. It was as bad as anything described by Dickens in one of his more evil characters. He also gave an account of the lengths to which he went to re-enslave a man who escaped.
Of course, that Jefferson, based in documentary evidence, is entirely rejected by other historian's Jeffersons, based in how they want him to be imagined. It all brings up the interesting fact that any historical figure exists among us as a reconstruction based in the evidence left often mixed with large amounts of wishful thinking, if not professional interest. But the fact is that Jefferson was a major holder of black people in bondage and he did not follow even the dubious example of Washington in eventually freeing some of them.
In relation to that you might want to Oney Judge Staines, who escaped from Martha Washington while they were in Philadelphia. Seems those Quakers had made slaves held for six consecutive months in the state free. The Washingtons used to move the slaves they held back and forth to avoid that. She and her children born in New Hampshire were still susceptible to being kidnapped back into slavery by Martha Washington's descendants until their deaths.
I have no use for the "Founding Fathers". I asked my mother if people ever talked about them as if their word was holy writ, she agrees with my memory that all of that started in opposition to the civil rights agitation of the 1950s and 60s.
Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | Jan 12, 2013 9:43:31 AM
Yeah, I've read the same Jefferson stuff. Even sanitized, he's a dick, but if any of those new accounts are even partially true, the balance in his Conflicted Soul Book tips much more heavily toward evil.
I like understanding the Founders/Framers. The shit we're dealing with today comes from their thinking, plus I enjoy bashing the myths people use to justify themselves.
Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Jan 12, 2013 1:07:45 PM
Anthony- Do you have a reference for the "article by a Jefferson scholar" about Jefferson's slave-worth calculations? Thanks.
Posted by: lea-p | Jan 13, 2013 1:04:53 PM
I'll assume it's this one:
Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Jan 13, 2013 8:45:59 PM
Read somewhere, perhaps mentioned in a bio of Franklin, that Jefferson was chronically short of cash, particularly with is big plans for stuff like Monticello.
It wouldn't be the first time that professed high principles were sacrificed for economic expediency.
Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki | Jan 13, 2013 10:31:14 PM
A lot of the wealthy Virginians were short of coin back then. Washington is another example. The problem is they were land rich, but cash poor, as Ron Chernow noted:
"Of four million pounds borrowed by colonists...half was owed by the prodigal farmers of Tidewater Virginia. As they gorged on credit, their luxurious lives rested on a precarious foundation of debt. Virginia borrowers regularly blamed their London factors for this indebtedness rather than examining their own extravagant consumption."
Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Jan 13, 2013 10:54:02 PM
That's from Washington: A Life.
Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Jan 13, 2013 10:54:31 PM
Wow, that Smithsonian article on the "Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson..." What a sad, sad recounting and eye-opener to (intentionally) hidden histories. Thanks for supplying that link. I've always been leery of Jefferson, because of the lop-sided reverence for him. Hagiography is what it is.
I liked this:
It is curious that we accept Jefferson as the moral standard of the founders’ era, not Washington. Perhaps it is because the Father of his Country left a somewhat troubling legacy: His emancipation of his slaves stands as not a tribute but a rebuke to his era, and to the prevaricators and profiteers of the future, and declares that if you claim to have principles, you must live by them.
Posted by: lea-p | Jan 14, 2013 12:19:05 AM
Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | Jan 14, 2013 7:27:40 AM
Oh, you've already got it.
Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | Jan 14, 2013 7:28:30 AM
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Posted by: Burçlarin Uyumu | Jan 14, 2013 10:38:37 AM