What is being argued, though, is that the late 18th century system of
Jeffersonian republicanism in the U.S. (though indeed marred by the imperfection of
Chattel slavery was not some minor “imperfection” marring a fundamentally humane system.
It was the central organizing principle of the law and daily life in Jefferson’s Virginia.
It was a crime against humanity that sustained a thoroughly hideous cannibal-empire filled
with self-satisfied thugs and posturing hypocrites, who lived on the blood and labor of
their fellow creatures, and who passed law after law to protect their neo-feudal economic
system and fortify their prison camp plantations at government expense. In Jefferson’s
Virginia, this legal cannibalism devoured the lives, property, and labor of three hundred
thousand souls, about 40% of the entire population of the state. A conversation about early
American politics that ignores such plain facts or marginalizes them as “imperfections” in
a basically worthwhile system (rather than what they were — the ghoulish essence of the
system itself) is bullshit. And bullshit conversations like that ought to be stopped.
You forgot to add an important qualifier. What you no doubt meant to say
was “the decentralized republicanism advocated for white people by
Of course such a qualifier was hardly “forgotten” as I had acknowledged
Jefferson’s fault on slavery from the outset and readily contextualized that grievous
fault aside his better characteristics long before you got here. So you return to the
slavery canard not to inform the discussion, that discussion already being informed of
it, but rather for its conversation-stopping shock value.
No, the reason that I return to chattel slavery is that to describe Jefferson’s slavocracy
as “decentralized republicanism” is to carelessly spread an absurd lie. What Jefferson
actually believed in, and actually practiced, was decentralized republicanism for white
men, patriarchal tyranny for white women and children, and a hereditary, invasive,
absolute tyranny accountable to none save God alone for all black people regardless of
age or gender. You may as well describe the Roman Catholic Church as a democracy, because,
after all, the Cardinals all get to vote on the Pope.
First, by means of comparison between Hamilton’s “views” and Jefferson’s
“practice” it appears that you intend to cast the latter as comparatively more offensive.
No, I don’t intend anything of the sort. As I’ve repeatedly said, I consider Hamilton
to have been perfectly loathsome, and to be directly responsible for all kinds of
political rot. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but I’ve never claimed that
Jefferson is “worse,” from a libertarian perspective, than Hamilton. I don’t even know
how that kind of global comparison would be made — each one was clearly much worse than
the other in some respects, and much better than the other in others, and I neither know,
nor much care, how you’d make those different respects commensurable with one another to
make the comparison.
The reason for linguistically leaning on Jefferson’s practice is that, in addition to
being a slaver, he was also a posturing hypocrite, especially on this issue, so the
preferences manifest in hisd eeds sometimes need to be stressed over his idle words,
when it comes to assessing his character or his legacy.
Second, why the need to constantly qualify Hamilton’s faults …
Why is it not sufficient to fault Hamilton as Hamilton for things he did in and of themselves?
However, Wilkinson’s original post was about Thomas Jefferson. It was not about Alexander
Hamilton at all. My post was about Thomas Jefferson. It mentioned Alexander Hamilton only to explain
what a dangerous creep I think he was. Wilkinson’s kind notice of my post was, again, about
“Thomas Jefferson’s loathsomely anti-libertarian credentials.” It is only the people trying
to apologize for Jefferson who keep insisting on dragging Alexander Hamilton into the
discussion, apparently in order to try to change the subject from Jefferson’s
anti-libertarian positions to something else — e.g., Hamilton’s Caesarianism, or European
monarchy, or the United States Constitution, or just about any damn thing other than
the original topic. I responded to some of these comparisons, initiated by you and not
by me, by pointing out that American chattel slavery is actually a salient issue in the
comparison you’re trying to make, not something that can be waved or set aside, and now,
for my trouble, I am told that I ought to be faulting Hamilton as Hamilton rather than
comparing him to somebody else. This is really too much. If you want to know my views about Alexander
Hamilton or George Washington or the U.S. Constitution or the Whiskey Rebellion or slavery
in New York or slavery in the Caribbean or central banking or the Civil War or the Ludlow
Massacre or any number of other things, I’ve written about them all, on their own,
elsewhere, and I’d be happy to discuss them with you, on their own, in a forum other than
this one, but for here and now you should not be surprised that my focus is on Jefferson,
not Hamilton, in discussing an article on Jefferson; and you also should not be surprised
that if you insist on inserting a comparison with Hamilton into the discussion, I’ll urge
that you consider the crime of slavery if that’s one of the salient issues in the comparison.
I certainly will not waste my time “faulting Hamilton as Hamilton” in a discussion that’s
about something other than Hamilton’s many follies, vices, and crimes.
And that is why I make the claim that decentralized republicanism is a
lesser evil than monarchy or other autocracies.
For what it’s worth, I agree with you about this. What I deny is that Jefferson advocated
decentralized republicanism, if either the term “decentralized” or the term “republican”
means anything at all. What he actually advocated, and practiced, was a form of brutal
autocracy for everyone other than his fellow white men.
If you doubt that ask yourself this: is a child inherently marked with evil
character if, by pure chance of his birth, he happens to inherit the plantation of his
No. However, if, as an adult, he continues to spend the rest of his life enslaving those
people, even though he had decades in which to legally emancipate them, or simply to
treat them as free men and women (by letting them come and go as they pleased,
work or not work on what they chose, distributing his unearned lands to the people his
father had forced to till, and generally treating them as his equals rather than his
servants), and did nothing of the sort for his long life, and continued to live his
life of idleness on the backs of his victims and their forced labor–well, then,
that certainly does indicate very deep and grave vice in that man-stealer’s
But he also advanced in goodness, even on slavery, …
Well gosh, William, that was mighty white of him. But the only way that a slaveholder
can “advance in goodness” that matters more than a tinker’s cuss is to stop holding
innocent people as slaves. Jefferson didn’t do that. And that’s important.
He called the agrarian trades morally superior to manufacturing based on
the fact that manufacturing interests at his time were using the government to subsidize
their own existence and tax their competitors abroad.
As opposed to Southern “farmers,” who never
sought favors or subsidies for their interests from the United States government.
I don’t know whether you actually intended to endorse this view of Jefferson’s, or merely
to explain it. But whether you do or not, it’s worth noting that this is just another
example of Jefferson’s posturing hypocrisy. And it’s certainly true that the Southern
slavocracy went on for the next three-quarters of a century demanding and getting more and
more privileges and protections from the state and federal governments (gag orders, fugitive
slave laws, etc. etc. etc.) through the same processes of political back-scratching and
log-rolling; something that Jefferson somehow failed to predict.
I’m no expert on Jefferson’s correspondences, but I do know of his influence on the most prominent follower of his agrarian model, John Taylor of Caroline.
Another Virginia slaver and “colonizationist,” who wrote that the abolition of slavery
without forced exile for the freed black people, would bring “miseries on both their owners
[sic] and themselves, by the perpetual excitements to insurrection,” and that “the blacks
will be more enslaved than they are at present; and the whites in pursuit of an ideal of
freedom for them, will create some vortex for engulphing the liberty left in the world and
obtain real slavery for themselves,” and who had the shamelessness, after a life of
man-stealing and useless slave-driving parasitism, to dare to assert that free black
farmers, when not forced into exile from their homes, are “driven into every species of
crime for subsistence; and destined to a life of idleness, anxiety, and guilt.” Perhaps
less of a posturing hypocrite than Jefferson, in the sense that he was rather more explicit
and consistent about his belief that the “evils” he condemned were to be remedied by
ethnic cleansing, not by emancipation, and, if that wasn’t available, the lesser-evil
alternative in his view was for “well managed” slaves who were “docile, useful, and happy,” and a slave-lord “restrained by his property in the slave, and
susceptible of humanity.” Taylor is widely considered to have been an important step in
the ideological transition from the older Jeffersonian “necessary evil” defenses of slavery
to the later Calhounian “positive good” arguments.
You’re making things harder on yourself by bringing up John Taylor of Caroline, not easier.