Make Excuses for Thomas Jefferson, but Some Did Free Their Slaves

I wrote about the troubling case of Thomas Jefferson, whose eloquent strivings for liberty are ruined by his ownership of 187 people who were legally enslaved to him, most of whom were auctioned off on Jefferson’s death to pay his debts.

The New York Times Book Review highlighted the little-known examples of American slave holders, like Robert Carter, who did what Jefferson insisted he couldn’t do — they emancipated the people they held in slavery. One author wonders why we have heard so little of these people, and why we still take Jefferson’s excuses so seriously:

Unlike Jefferson, Carter “does not soothe us, excuse us or help us explain ourselves,” [Andrew] Levy writes. “But what is most incriminating is that he does not even interest us, because that forces us to consider whether there now exist similar men and women, whose plain solutions to our national problems we find similarly boring, and whom we gladly ignore in exchange for the livelier fantasy of our heroic ambivalence.”