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As a final word on Alan Pell Crawford’s exploration of Thomas Jefferson, I want to cite one passage of the work that has haunted me ever since putting the book down.
Crawford details how Jefferson railed against slavery in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, stating that by introducing slavery the British Crown had, “waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery.” As part of a compromise with delegates from South Carolina and Georgia, Jefferson dropped the language from subsequent drafts.
We can only speculate as to whether Jefferson’s move was the only way to keep the American independence movement from derailing or whether he could have held his ground and prevailed, but I continue to be staggered by the implications.
Is is possible that one moment of pragmatism in June of 1776 condemned millions of people to a life of slavery for another hundred years? Is it possible that the burning of Richmond, the killings at Gettysburg, and countless lynching throughout the south all came about as the unanticipated after-effects of a moment of weakness?
I’m raising this question, not to suggest that Jefferson was a weak man, but to illustrate how even a strong man, with great intelligence can cast a dark shadow by putting practicality ahead of principle.