Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Fanny Trollope and Jefferson

I woke up late, this morning, with a fuzzy brain so focused on reading more of Fanny Trollope's "Domestic Manners of the Americans"...and got jolted awake by one passage dealing with Thomas Jefferson.

"Few names are held in higher estimation in America, than that of Jefferson; it is the touchstone of the democratic party, and all seem to agree that he was one of the greatest of men; yet I have heard his name coupled with deeds which would make the sons of Europe shudder. The facts I allude to are spoken openly by all, not whispered in private by a few; and in a country where religion is the tea-table talk, and its strict observance a fashionable distinction, these facts are recorded, and listened to, without horror, nay, without emotion.

"Mr. Jefferson is said to be the father of children by almost all his numerous gang of female slaves. These wretched offspring were also the lawful slaves of their father, and worked in his house and plantations as such; in particular, it is recorded that it was his especial pleasure to be waited upon by them at table, and the hospitable orgies for which his Monticielo was so celebrated, were incomplete, unless the goblet he quaffed were tendered by the trembling hand of his own slavish offspring.

"I once heard it stated by a democratic adorer of this great man, that when, as it sometimes happened, his children by Quadroon slaves were white enough to escape suspicion of their origin, he did not pursue them if they attempted to escape, saying laughingly, 'Let the rogues get off, if they can; I will not hinder them.' This was stated in a large party, as a proof of his kind and noble nature, and was recorded by all with approving smiles.

"If I know anything of right or wrong, if virtue and vice be indeed something more than words, then was this great American an unprincipled tyrant, and most heartless libertine."

Uh...ouch. I knew of Jefferson's children by slave women...but the rest of it? Makes him look like a two-faced SOB. And this was taken down in 1828, in Cincinnati, only a couple years after his death.

Shows once again that our founding fathers were human beings with both good and bad in them, not saints as some would believe. Thing is, I think they were self aware enough to realize that no one is perfect and all men are capable of vile actions (I claim no innocence here), and that's why they made the Constitution so hard to change while allowing for that change. I think they knew parts of it would be used for bad (the 18th Amendment that started prohibition, for instance, and helped establish organized crime in the US) and good (the 14th and 15th Amendments, which ended slavery and gave voting rights to all men...and women with the 19th Amendment).

Amazing that a book that's nearly 200 years old is so full of educational and contemplative moments.

Plus you should hear how hysterically idiotic religious revivals appear to her...and how her description would be just as valid today.

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