Jefferson the Slave-Raping Hero

How could Thomas Jefferson have both written the Declaration of Independence and been a slave owner?


That line of questioning comes from an earlier era, when it was commonly believed that each person had (or “was”) an immortal soul, and that it was the will of this soul that moved the body. It’s easy to imagine a wicked soul doing evil, or a holy soul doing good, but how could a single soul, empowered by God with free will, reason, intellect, etc., how could that soul sometimes liberate and other times tryannize? It’s a mystery. St. Paul muses on the topic. The Catholics have a name for this paradox, the mystery of sin. The Pope resorted to that handy term when pretending to explain why so many priests could rape so many boys for so long.


But these days, we’re much less surprised to see hypocrisy. We understand that instead of a soul with free will, there’s a collection of neural routines that run competing algorithms. It’s not only understandable when a hero is a moral traitor to his fans, but you sort of expect it. King had affairs. Kennedy, too. Jefferson slept with (raped) his slave Sally Hemings. More recently, there's the Ted Haggard affair. Why? Because these choices get made not according to some neutral, objective, God-given capacity for reason, but by neural algorithms. In fact, that’s why so many moral failings involve men having sex, because that behavior operates according to ancient and primal neural pathways. They are not amenable to control by the self-proclaimed “higher functions.”


PS: Hemings herself was the daughter of a slave owner. Her father was the also the father of Jefferson's late wife, making her his late wife's half sister. She was 13 when he first got her pregnant.


June 2006, Jan 07, Mar 08



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Thomas Jefferson in the News

January 2007: Jefferson's Qu'ran
Dead almost 200 years, and Jefferson is still putting the smack down on conservative Christians. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in Congress,
took his oath of office on Jefferson's Qu'ran, to the dismay of "one nation under (my and only my) God" types.