Tag Archives: slavery

What do you do with your freed slaves? (3)

I suppose that the major problem with abolishing slavery is knowing what exactly to do with this newly created army of probably uneducated people, who may well be quite ill fitted to deal with an independent life. Jefferson, the man who coined the expression “all men are created equal” seems to have supported a gradual process, with slaves being first educated and then freed as they reached adulthood:

Thomas_Jefferson_Regular_Issue_1968-1c

Apparently he later realised that this would created an inadequate return on the slave owner’s investment, if that’s the word, and altered the age of freedom to 45. After that, they would be taken back to Africa:

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Overall though, mainly for various personal reasons, Jefferson did not have a lot to say about slavery.
He did recognise one dilemna though.

The difficulties of freeing the slaves and the difficulties of not freeing the slaves:

“There is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from (slavery).
We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other”

Jefferson was not the only one to have worries about “safely letting go” the country’s slaves.. In 1806, the Virginia General Assembly grew so concerned about the number of free black people living in the state that they changed the law to make freeing slaves more difficult.  From 1790-1810 the population of black people there had risen from virtually nothing to more than seven percent. In Delaware, they too were worried about freeing their slaves. By 1810, 75% of the state’s slaves had been given their liberty.

Many of these politicians were equally worried about the influence Haiti might have on the thinking of black people in the USA. Around this time, of course, Haiti was a revolutionary state on an island in the Caribbean to the south of the USA. A little like a black Cuba rather than a red one:

revolution in haiti

And presumably, the Americans did not want similar scenes of bloody revolution in their own southern states:

haiti

In 1801 President Jefferson was delighted to see the French intention to take back the island and thereby stop it becoming a base which might foment black revolution in the United States. He loaned the French $300,000 “for the relief of whites on the island.”

The southern slave owners in the US, of course, were just as scared of similar rebellions in their own states as President Jefferson. He said of this dilemma:

“If something is not done and soon, we shall be the murderers of our own children.”

But, in practical terms, what could be done?  Another article to follow in the near future.

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