SOME Answers to Parcher

Gary Leff gleff
Sat Apr 15 07:44:12 CDT 2000


This is perhaps a minute point in the broader discussion, but this example
is so broadly used that it begs for correction and/or additional context.

Jeff Parcher wrote:

> jefferson held slaves but I do not doubt the logic of his
> argument that the
> oppressed have a right to rebel to achieve their freedom.  i
> chalk it up to
> the context of the times and hypocrisy.  neither of those things
> render the
> warrants in the declaration of independence suspect.  a document can be
> racist and sexist and truthful at the same time.  and a debater can quote
> warrants or opinion without embracing oppressive language.

There's less hypocrisy here than we might expect, also there certainly is
some.  Yes, Jefferson owned slaves.  But he could not simply free them.  The
practice known as "voluntary manumission" was illegal in Virginia.

The state in which Jefferson lived viewed a community of former slaves
living side by side with slaves as untenable.  How could you tell which was
which if color alone didn't answer the question?  Enforcement costs would
destroy the institution.  So Jefferson couldn't just free slaves.

Every single year that Jefferson served in the state legislature he put
forward legislation to allow manumission of slaves.

Should he have defied the law.  Absolutely.  Live (and even die) by the
implications of his principles.

But he doesn't bear quite the blame that is often placed on him.  Just as we
all are influenced by our contexts, Jefferson was limited by his.

> i live in america but i do not endorse it's history of slavery or
> the death
> penalty or a million other things.

No matter where you live will be unable to find a place that lacks a history
of oppression.  The funny thing is, what requires historical explanation as
unique or an anomoly is not oppression but the extent to which we have
overcome oppression.  It's a remarkable achievement that is singularly
unique in human history.

It's wrong to say that justice, freedom, and equality are the default state
of human affairs and that war, inequality, and intolerance need historical
explanation.  We have always understood our faults.  What should astonish is
our ability to change them.

Does oppression exist now and still?  Yes.  But find a civilization that has
been less oppressive.  It is our (the West's!) partial but breathtaking
ability to overcome tribalism and exclusion that demands explanation.

Injustice requires reflection so as not to lose sight of moral weakness or
our own malice, to be sure, but I guess I'd make the case for enlightened
optimism -- something that feels often lost.  Things are going our way.

Gary




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