Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Pursuit of Happiness first of two parts

Buy-electoral materialists, conservatives, like to say that Jefferson should have stuck with one of the out takes from the Declaration of Independence. "No, no," they say in high federalist tones, "Not 'happiness', 'property', the pursuit of property is the correct reading of the line,". It's not that they notice that something generally considered as frivolous as happiness is put on the same level as life and liberty, with them it's all about the property, their highest value.

Without the gall to second guess Jefferson, I doubt that he got the line wrong in the end. So the question is what the pursuit of happiness means and especially what one person's pursuit of it means in relation to that of other people. Thomas Jefferson's life shows that isn't a simple question, but it isn't the all-out invitation to piracy that today's conservatives intend.

Jefferson was a hypocrite, as anyone can see. The man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and kept slaves can't escape that judgment except by replacing him with a fiction. He, himself, said that his way of life couldn't be supported without slavery and there is the feel of shame in his words. Keeping slaves is not honorable. This is most true for someone who wrote the words of the Declaration and he knew it.

He didn't move to a small house he could support on his own work. History would call it unequalled greatness if he had and by doing that he had stopped keeping people as property. But he couldn't' do without his mansion, which was always being redone and always keeping him in debt. He designed a little house but his version of Walden was a garden ornament built by other hands, not a rocket to transcendence.

Freedom was inalienable and given to slaves by their creator, he alienated those rights from his slaves out of selfishness and at the cost of his sacred honor. He knew that was true, he was a genius not an idiot. Jefferson was a prisoner of property and of luxury. It would be obscene to compare his life to the brutality of slavery but could he have really been entirely free himself?

Excellent post on Jefferson. I get so sick of his place in the pantheon of American heroes, and by people who should know better.

Thanks again,

Catherine in Cleveland Heights
Thank you for the comment, Catherine.
Oh, that Jefferson. I don't know why we give him the time of day. Why, if you had been in his place and time you wouldn't have been a prisoner of property and luxury, would you? You would have been a much bigger person than Thomas Jefferson! Hey, could you have written the Declaration of Independence? (Maybe we should just throw it out, since the writer was a louse.)
Sam, there were people who could have been in his position and who didn't keep slaves during his lifetime. Have you ever read John Woolman's Journal and his essays on the subject of slavery?

I am not going to cut him any slack on the basis of his having been a genius while he was being a hypocrite about something as obvious as the brutal and evil system of slavery. The slaves, so many of them kept from having even the most rudimentary education didn't have much trouble coming to that conclusion.

I haven't read the book yet but there was one published earlier this year that said the British used the "founders" hypocrisy in their propaganda so there must have been more than a few raised eyebrows.

As to the Declaration, I don't claim to be a writer but that doesn't make Jefferson's living in luxury while keeping slaves any less bad. If I did the same thing I would hope someone would mock me for it until I stopped treating people as property.

Olvlzl, have you read the recent book about one of the founders who freed his slaves, and unlike some of other who did so, did it during his lifetime? His name was Robert Carter. The link above is from an NPR piece about him. The book is "The First Emancipator" by Andrew Levy. I'm trying to get it from the library. And gee, you never hear about him, I wonder why that is? Gee

Okay, I give up, how do you pronounce your email name?
You can call me Orville. olvlzl can't be pronounced and it doesn't mean anything. It's just a group of letters that came up in a random character generator that I liked the look of.

I have not read the book but it sounds interesting, Catherine. I will look into it.
Uh, that should be "unlike some others who did so."
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?