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Moyers writes: "Yes, Thomas Jefferson possessed 'a happy talent for composition,' but he employed it for cross purposes."

Portrait, Bill Moyers. (photo: Robin Holland)
Portrait, Bill Moyers. (photo: Robin Holland)

Remember Thomas Jefferson's Betrayal

By Bill Moyers, Reader Supported News

02 July 12


ere comes the Fourth of July, number 236 since the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence and riders on horseback rushed it to the far corners of the thirteen new United States - where it was read aloud to cheering crowds. These days our celebration of the Fourth brings a welcome round of barbecue, camaraderie with friends and family, fireworks, flags, and unbeatable prices at the mall.



But perhaps, too, we will remember the Declaration of Independence itself, the product of what John Adams called Thomas Jefferson's "happy talent for composition." Take some time this week to read it alone, to yourself, or aloud with others, and tell me the words aren't still capable of setting the mind ablaze. The founders surely knew that when they let these ideas loose in the world, they could never again be caged.

Yet from the beginning, these sentiments were also a thorn in our side, a reminder of the new nation's divided soul. Opponents, who still sided with Britain, greeted it with sarcasm. How can you declare "All men are created equal," without freeing your slaves?

Jefferson himself was an aristocrat whose inheritance of 5,000 acres, and the slaves to work it, mocked his eloquent notion of equality. He acknowledged that slavery degraded master and slave alike, but would not give his own slaves their freedom. Their labor kept him financially afloat. Hundreds of slaves, forced like beasts of burden to toil from sunrise to sunset under threat of the lash, enabled him to thrive as a privileged gentleman, to pursue his intellectual interests, and to rise in politics.

Even the children born to him by the slave Sally Hemings remained slaves, as did their mother. Only an obscure provision in his will released his children after his death. All the others - scores of slaves - were sold to pay off his debts.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson possessed "a happy talent for composition," but he employed it for cross purposes. Whatever he was thinking when he wrote "all men are created equal," he also believed black people were inferior to white people. Inferior, he wrote, "to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind." To read his argument today is to enter the pathology of white superiority that attended the birth of our nation.

So forcefully did he state the case, and so great was his standing among the slave-holding class, that after his death the black abolitionist David Walker would claim Jefferson's argument had "injured us more, and has been as great a barrier to our emancipation as any thing that has ever been advanced against us," for it had "... sunk deep into the hearts of millions of the whites, and never will be removed this side of eternity."

So, the ideal of equality Jefferson proclaimed, he also betrayed. He got it right when he wrote about "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" as the core of our human aspirations. But he lived it wrong, denying to others the rights he claimed for himself. And that's how Jefferson came to embody the oldest and longest war of all - the war between the self and the truth, between what we know and how we live.

So enjoy the fireworks and flags, the barbecues and bargain sales. But hold this thought as well: that behind this Fourth of July holiday are human beings who were as flawed and conflicted as they were inspired. If they were to look upon us today, they most likely would think as they did then, how much remains to be done. your social media marketing partner


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+117 # barkingcarpet 2012-07-02 11:28
"the oldest and longest war of all - the war between the self and the truth, between what we know and how we live."
Get out there and do our best. Live dabnabit, and lets take the whirled back from the brink of human stupidity, consumerism, Nuclear and environmental holocast, and political/corpo rate corruption. Yes, WE can. So lets!
+95 # PGreen 2012-07-02 11:38
Bill Moyers issues a good reminder of humanity at its best and worst, as exemplified by one man. It seems that there is something deeply ingrained in our nature that causes us to create divisions equivalent to "us" and "them" in almost everything we encounter. We divide (even) our our abstract human identifications by race, by nation, by class, by religion, by ideology-- even by sports teams-- in ways that may defy logic. Those who we fail to identify with are frequently relegated to the status of "unpeople." Though such discrimination is properly forbidden in our (USA) institutions, it nevertheless remains in the background of our national narrative, providing tacit justification for greed and inequality. This conflict of identification pits our ability to see the bigger picture against our more selfish interests, frequently feeding the former.
+4 # Bill Clements 2012-07-04 16:15
"It seems that there is something deeply ingrained in our nature that causes us to create divisions equivalent to "us" and "them" in almost everything we encounter."

If you're a Buddhist, you call it ignorance, which fails to see that nothing exists inherently, or from it's own side. Our use of language reflects this failure because we reify everything, including ourselves. But ultimately, these are just conceptual labels imputed upon a collection of parts. The problem is that we don't recognize them as such (labels only).
+5 # genierae 2012-07-05 07:47
PGreen: The "something deeply ingrained in our nature that causes us to create divisions" is the ego. We have identified with it instead of realizing that we are spiritual beings in a material body. We allow the ego to lead us around by the nose, causing us no end of trouble, because we think it is who we are. If we are fortunate, after much pain and grief we are shocked awake, and begin to see through the illusions that we have been subject to. This is called the "new birth". Thomas Jefferson's conscience wasn't strong enough to command his ego, and so he was a roaring hypocrite.
+3 # Bill Clements 2012-07-05 10:43
Not to put too fine a point on it, but, again, from my perspective, what we call the "ego" or the "self" is simply a conceptual label that is imputed upon a collection of parts. It's a fiction, essentially, and we're attached to the idea that it really exists, but the problem is that you can not find it if you look for it!

I agree with you that our notions of self or ego are terribly limiting. Even to define ourselves by our thoughts and feelings is a crippling limitation, apparent to anyone who has had the experience of stilling one's thoughts in meditation.
+72 # William LeGro 2012-07-02 12:03
What was Jefferson thinking when he had sex with an "inferior" human? That this was an easy way to make more slaves? How is it that a man who looked far into the future when composing the documents that formed the foundation for this nation was such a product of his time that he could not put aside his own self-interests in the service of liberty for ALL? For someone of such high intelligence, his cognitive dissonance was off the charts.
+37 # Huck Mucus 2012-07-02 13:28
Never underestimate the power of hormones. We like to think we are better than, or even not animals. Bullshit. We ARE animals. And if Sally Hemings was hot, Thomas let his little head do his thinking for him. It's good to be the king. Not everyone is Marcus Aurelius, not even Marcus Aurelius himself. I'm not making excuses for Thomas; Just stating facts. If we really rose above our basic instincts then we would not be as we are.
+7 # caniscandida 2012-07-04 14:09
Quite right about Marcus Aurelius: that enlightened monarch seemed to embrace the Stoic doctrine regarding universal human brotherhood and our obligations to care for one another, and yet never found his way to abolishing slavery in the Roman Empire.

Regarding one young black man's experiences of white hypocrisy during the US Revolution, highly recommended is the two-part young-adult novel (but good reading for adults too) "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation," by M.T. Anderson.
+52 # Pickwicky 2012-07-02 12:12
I have always thought Jefferson's reputation inflated, mostly based on his plagiarism of other people's work. Yet so many today hold him up as model of American ideals. We'll all be better off when we see the truth about Jefferson and other Founders. That truth may also release us from insisting the Constitution is so utterly sacred that it cannot be seen as malleable for today's world.
-6 # Smiley 2012-07-02 14:30
You mean like Bush and Obama see it as a piece of paper they can ignore? I hope not.
+61 # Barbara K 2012-07-02 12:20
In the words of Rodney King: "Can we all just get along, can we just get along?" I hope we can learn to just get along. Great article, Mr. Moyers. We still have some growing to do. Let's just learn to Erase the Hate.
+68 # HerbR 2012-07-02 12:35
Bill Moyers can be counted on to say the right things at the right time about right subject.
Bravo, Mr. M.
+68 # Rich Austin 2012-07-02 12:42
Part I

An important line from Moyer’s excellent piece…“Take some time this week to read it alone, to yourself, or aloud with others”, may [tragically] be overlooked.

Go ahead, read it. Point to the lines that reference God, or a Creator. Show us where the word “Christian” appears. If it isn’t there it cannot be presumed. Neither do we find a definition of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. We get to apply our own definitions to those words, providing we do not infringe on the rights of others.

Having said that, politicians oblige themselves to kiss the rings of whichever Christian prelates are currently in vogue. Other religions are acknowledged, but lo and behold, the righties tell us Christianity is the only way. Thereafter, and by God, politicos had better curtsey or run the risk of facing the wrath of religious - Christian – fanaticism.

Where in the Declaration of Independence does the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) appear? It doesn’t. So why do homophobic lawmakers, hiding behind their equally homophobic Baskin-Robbins preachers of the month, get off passing laws like DOMA that restrict the liberty and happiness of others?

End of Part I
+63 # Rich Austin 2012-07-02 12:42
Part II

There are other contradictions between what was written in 1776 and what is practiced today. Read the document. Find them. They are eating away at our democracy!

“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”

That’s what the U.S. does in other nations.

“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death...”

Academi, previously known as Xe Services LLC, Blackwater USA and Blackwater Worldwide—is a private, mercenary, military company founded in 1997 by religious fanatics Erik Prince and Al Clark, and is paid billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money.

End of Part II
+12 # indian weaver 2012-07-02 12:44
Another excellent reminder of where this nation originated is Walter Isaacson's "Biography of Benjamin Franklin", who was everywhere before, during and after this nation was founded. He was a totally ethical enlightened person compared to Jefferson. Franklin gained the French alliance which enabled the defeat of England. He helped write the Articles of Confederation as well as the Constitution, and so much more. I'd suggest reading it now to understand that massacres and "terrorists" like the colonists have always been here in Amerika, and now We The People are being labeled terrorists for almost no reason except incarceration by this fearful government, hence the rise of our police state. When we rise up against the present fascist terrorist regime ruling us, let's remember we had to do the same against England to gain freedom. We'll do it again, but now the enemy of freedom is our government, not England.
+21 # Gnome de Pluehm 2012-07-02 12:48
@LeGro: He had an acid pen but base instincts. I doubt he was trying to create more slaves. There is an old saying; "A phallos has no conscience."
+13 # hbheinze 2012-07-02 20:00
"Acid pen but base instincts...." Clever use of words! Love it!
+21 # asbpab1966 2012-07-02 12:50
Jefferson will have been dead 186 years on Wednesday. Times were different 236 years ago when the Declaration was signed or 223 years ago when the Constitution was written. The Founding Fathers had the difficult task of bringing together 13 states some of which had economies based on slavery.
+8 # CandH 2012-07-03 11:57
What you are essentially saying is, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." (Voltaire)

Well, I need far more evidence than that to make that point. I mean, we are talking about 8.2 MILLION people, PEOPLE, ( who were systematically tortured, brutalized, raped, enslaved, worked-to-death , starved, experimented on, etc etc etc, for hundreds of years, encompassing whole families and multiples of generations, all for profit and whose beneficiaries STILL TO THIS DAY reap the rewards of their family estates who benefited from this obscene system!

Seriously, I need WAY MORE evidence to suggest what you are suggesting!
+36 # dick 2012-07-02 12:51
On the one hand, TJ's relationship to the fate of African Americans, Africans, & people all over the world is complex. On the other hand, American slavery was so harsh, so brutal, so vicious, so cruel, so inhumane, such an atrocity, or series of atrocities, that he & we & Dixie cannot be let off the hook. But who would wish that Thomas Jefferson had never lived? Who would say that he is not one of the greatest contributors to freedom in human history? Lovers of freedom beware: do not love privilege, status, power, or racial & gender CONTROL even more.
+10 # Todd Williams 2012-07-02 12:51
At best, Jefferson was a hypocrite as evidenced by his "relationship" with slave Hemmings. At worst, he was a rapist. We tend to view Jefferson through the fogged glasses of our own 21st century perspective. I admire him for the great ideas he generated, and despise him for his dark side. Keep it in mind however, that he was merely aman of his times.
+28 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-02 17:06
@ Todd Williams

It's well to remember not all men consent to be men of their times: I think here of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, 1746 -1817, who never was a slave holder himself, yet:

"One of the more revealing insights into his character was his instruction to Thomas Jefferson to purchase the freedom of American slaves and to finance their education from the accumulated proceeds of [Kosciuszko's] Revolutionary War pay."

"Kosciuszko ...requested ... money from his estate be used to buy freedom ... help to educate ... and provide [slaves] with enough land to support themselves"

"Unfortunately, conflicting claims ... arose after his death ... Undergoing protracted litigation, the bequest to Jefferson remained legally blocked until 1852 when the U.S. Supreme Court awarded the American investments to relatives in Europe ... frustrating Kosciusko's original intent."

Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay freed their slaves, Hamilton an officer of the New York Manumission Society; Jay, as governor of New York, signed into law gradual abolition (1785), New York thus following Pennsylvania, which had enacted statewide emancipation in 1780

Geo. Wythe and Stephen Hopkins, two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, also early manumitted their slaves

+30 # LonnyEachus 2012-07-02 12:55
The notion that the Declaration of Independence -- or later, the Constitution -- could have freed the slaves is ridiculous.

That day was not today. I'm not defending Jefferson's lifestyle, but I am saying that what is implied in this article could never have been accomplished at that time. Freeing the slaves? In 1776? The very notion is shallow thinking.

If anybody had attempted, in the Declaration or the Constitution, to explicitly free the slaves, very likely the signers would have been lynched. And even if they weren't, the Constitution would never have been ratified by the States. Surely the founders were aware of that.

Instead, what they did was word those documents in a way such that future generations could see their essential truth, and do what they could not, in all reason, be expected to do themselves.

Jefferson may not have been perfect, but he and certain others laid the foundation for making a better world. I am sure they were aware that they could not do it all, themselves, immediately.

Ask yourself the opposite question: what if Jefferson had NOT been a rich slave owner? Had not had family money for an excellent education, had not been able to afford to travel and engage in politics?

Again, I am not defending his home life. But it is silly and pointless -- and I believe genuinely malicious -- to criticize people for not doing things that in fact they had no way to do, at the time.
+25 # tomo 2012-07-02 13:19
Jefferson could have decided to free his own slaves and live a life of greater simplicity. Instead he chose to live elegantly at Monticello and to use his slaves as collateral for the debts he incurred. At his death, except for the Hemings family, these slaves were sold, and families were broken up--amid great sorrow. Does one wish to say these costs were compensated by the fact Jefferson was thereby freed in his lifetime to write eloquently of human dignity and freedom?
+12 # anarchteacher 2012-07-02 17:11
Jefferson inherited vast numbers of enslaved persons, landed properties and financial debt when his father-in-law John Wayles died. After Martha Jefferson, his wife of eleven years, died in 1782, Jefferson remained a widower for the rest of his life; his marriage produced six children, with only two surviving to adulthood.

In 1802 allegations surfaced that he was also the father of his slave Sally Hemings' children. Sally was the half-sister of Martha. In 1998, DNA tests revealed a match between her last child and the Jefferson male family line. Whether these children were fathered by Jefferson himself, or one of his relatives, still remains a matter of controversy and debate among historians.

As this Wikipedia entry for Martha Jefferson demonstrates there is much more to the whole complicated story than what you alluded concerning Martha's mother, Betty Hemings, Sally Hemings, John Wayles, and Jefferson

Under Virginia law manumission could not be initiated while a slave owner was in debt.
+2 # LonnyEachus 2012-07-03 22:39
Quote: "Does one wish to say these costs were compensated by the fact Jefferson was thereby freed in his lifetime to write eloquently of human dignity and freedom?"

He did A LOT more than just sit on his ass and write. You would not be here if he had not been.

Once again: second-guessing an entire culture of a different time is a pointless exercise. He was a product of his culture, just as you are of yours. The very idea of freeing slaves was likely to cause a riot in those times. The idea genuinely horrified many people.

I say again: I am not defending him, but neither am I arrogant enough to try to judge him. I did not live in his time, and neither did you.
+20 # Todd Williams 2012-07-02 13:28
You might feel different if you are black with slave ancestors. The abolishment of slavery was not unknown even in Jefferson's time.
+3 # Pickwicky 2012-07-02 16:08
LonnyEachus--if everyone acted as you say Jefferson did, then we'd have no need of the word 'courageous.'
+13 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-02 17:42

Please see my reply above to Todd Williams - both manumission and emancipation were formalised with legal instruments and legislation, and implemented, at the time in question; there's nothing ridiculous about the idea, it happened in fact, and it happened here in north america.

Further, Jefferson and the gang were hardly the first to openly affirm to a temporal power the truth of the equality of all men; the Scots, with their Declaration of Arbroath, 1320, for one, got quite the jump on the Founding Fathers

If 14th century Scots could write it up and present it to the greatest power of their day - the Pope - and Jefferson's peers could put the idea into action - not just jot it eloquently down on paper - well then it's hardly malicious to point out Jefferson's own failure to do what was known to be right and good since at least 1320.
+4 # DrEvel1 2012-07-02 22:25
Quoting thirteenthpaladin:
...both manumission and emancipation were formalised with legal instruments and legislation, and implemented, at the time in question...

Not, it should be noted, in the Commonwealth of Virginia; as correctly noted earlier, manumission was legally impossible in cases of debt. Pennsylvania and/or New York law carried no weight at all across sovereign state lines at that time. I'm not prepared to defend his public rationalization s of slavery; but at the least we owe him the courtesy of recognizing what were and were not legally permitted avenues of remediation.
+3 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-04 11:28

Your point is taken, wrt Commonwealth of Virginia's legal inhibitions to manumission in cases of debt; however, the larger point, to me, would be that the argument we may call, for want of a better term, the "man of his times defence" is fairly full of holes and won't carry water a single step.

Jefferson had the opportunity, for example, to fully execute Kosciusko's will, as described above, but held little enthusiasm for the job and so did not fulfill his duties to his friend; to a war hero; to a dying wish; and to the many, many slaves whose liberty was at hand, only to be lost through Jefferson's failure to execute a legal instrument.

Kosciusko chose Jefferson, above others, for this posthumous honour and duty because Jefferson gave Kosciusko to believe that he, Jefferson, felt truly and deeply as he spoke and wrote, and but for "insurmountable " hurdles, would act on those beliefs.

His conduct over the will was a terrible betrayal of moral obligation and personal honour, for there before him, at last, lay the perfect "legally permitted avenue of remediation."
-2 # LonnyEachus 2012-07-03 22:46
One thing does not follow from the other. The fact that they were legal does not mean they were generally accepted at the time. And in fact, those ideas were not well accepted by the general populace at the time. If they had been, all the slaves would have been emancipated or manumitted. Instead, relatively few were.

I wasn't saying it wasn't legally possible to do, I was saying it wasn't PRACTICALLY possible to do. The very fact that it was instrumental in causing a war much, much later is pretty darned good evidence of that.

No, it wasn't possible, in that day and that culture, to do what you say. The people of the time would not have it. Blame them all you like, but it was a cultural thing, not a legal one, that was in the way.
+3 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-04 11:40

I understand what you're saying, but doesn't the willingness to cross one's culture when that culture is morally wrong - or at least certainly when it is depraved - constitute the very essence of "greatness" in a man?

Jefferson was a man of great intellect and many talents; he was, by all accounts, also blessed with wealth, position, fair looks, health, and no little charisma; to whom much is given, of him much is required.

The "people" in the time of the Civil Rights movement "would not have it" that a black man or woman might sit beside them at a lunch counter, but the truly good and great sat themselves down anyway, they didn't just write and talk about it.

Times change, but people don't, as Sam Peckinpah was wont to say, and walking the walk is, and was, the same as ever it will be.
-2 # LonnyEachus 2012-07-05 02:01
No, obviously, you did NOT understand what I was saying.

(Please ignore the other comment with the same content. It was sent to the wrong person.)
0 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-05 17:12
Quoting LonnyEachus:
No, obviously, you did NOT understand what I was saying.

If you say so.

My reading of history is replete with examples of the exercise of moral agency culture did "not allow."

+1 # Selwick 2012-07-05 19:46
Yes, but it also shows that America is and always was trying to hold onto something that didn't and doesn’t really exist.
It creates a picture of liberty, freedom, equality, opportunity and the reality is just not so. Right from the beginning until now.
Also think of how we spend holidays, think of the “perfect life” commercials try to paint to us. Everybody labours to reach that perfect picture and everybody utterly fails. What a sense of personal dis-achievement we create therefore every day.
And if you can’t even achieve a better personal life how can you even strive for a better public life.

The great American dream is just that: A dream.
+9 # dick 2012-07-02 13:04
I absolutely love Bill Moyers, but I bet wasn't always righteous when he worked for LBJ. One need not perfect, or even near perfect, to accomplish great good. Judge't throw the first stone. ALWAYS retain humility. ALWAYS seek to see yourself clearly FIRST. As best you can, NEVER go along with the evil norms of your time. Moyers does these; he is quite a role model.
But he hasn't done as much for freedom as Thomas Jefferson; but then, who has? You can count them on one hand.
+12 # tomo 2012-07-02 18:30
The cost of NOT judging Jefferson has been immense to later generations of Americans. Each Fourth of July we mouth his words and think it somehow compensates for treating people in all kinds of places as much less than equal.
0 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-04 11:41
@ tomo

Yes. Thank you.
+20 # ericlipps 2012-07-02 13:08
In his famous declaration that"all men are created equal," Jefferson, of course, did not mean to suggest equality of ability or character, but only equality in certain "inalienable rights."

Not that this lets him off the hook, for aong those rights were "life, liberty and the pursuit of happines." While life was permitted to slaves, liberty certainly was not, which made their "pursuit of happiness" problematic. Jefferson's hypocrisy continues to stain his legacy, and always will.
+8 # elmont 2012-07-02 13:08
Well said, Bill, well said.
+22 # reiverpacific 2012-07-02 13:19
I tend to think that the phrase "All MEN (capitals intended) are created equal" were taken from the French Revolution's "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité") and were slipped in to sound noble in the break away from the ENGLISH Monarchy, like many of the current wannabe enslavers' sweet sounding titles, my most immediately to-mind example being the joint-Fuhrer Koch's "American For Prosperity" (for a few) The "Heritage" Foundation", "Liberty" University -add your own at will, there are plenty to call on.
At least the French, after Napoleon, a brief return to Monarchy, a disastrous brush with colonization and a spell of occupation by the Nazis, have maintained a steady path towards Democratic Socialism and the people still have the power to bring the government to a screeching halt if they get pissed-off enough.
Would that it were so here both for the American people and the planet but there are too many finks, blacklegs, racists and ignoramuses, including a few that post on the site, who are always willing do the unquestioning bidding of the Corporate State and it's string-pullers.
Occupy and upwards; the Hell with bunting, fireworks and militaristic displays. Veterans for Peace is now taking part in some of these and I applaud them; it's a kind of "Take back the Peace" reminder.
+11 # anarchteacher 2012-07-02 14:40

The American Revolution began on April 19, 1775. The Declaration of Independence was adopted in July of 1776 by the Second Continetal Congress.

The French Revolution began on July 14, 1789 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was adopted on August 26, 1789, by the National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante).
+9 # reiverpacific 2012-07-02 17:25
Quoting anarchteacher:

The American Revolution began on April 19, 1775. The Declaration of Independence was adopted in July of 1776 by the Second Continetal Congress.

The French Revolution began on July 14, 1789 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was adopted on August 26, 1789, by the National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante).

I know all that; also that there was a great deal of ideological interchange in the run up to both. Hell, the US could have been part of Canada at one time, as you surely know.
Robert Burns, our Scot's Bard, took much of his inspiration for his Liberty-themed poetry like "For a' That", penned in 1795, writing from the example of both revolts against royalty, as Scotland had also been seething under the yoke of the English -dominated monarchy since the 1603 alleged "Union of Crowns".
Revolutions don't just start, spread and die in a year or two (hopefully including the next US one), hence my insertion of the phrase "tend to think". I've have heard like comparisons from more than one historically credible source relating to the "era of revolutions" reacting to each other.
But thanks for the reminder, I should probably have put the relative dates and historical logic in but we have limited characters to one post on RSN. Good to hear from someone that knows their Pan-European related history in these times.
Happy Bastille Day.
+10 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-02 18:21

And all quite late to the fair, in any case, weren't they, the French and Americans?

In the ancient world there was already in place provision for release from slavery/servitu de, the process varying according to time and place; and, in consideration of Kosciuszko's wise words that "Liberty alone cannot provide for the peasant and his family," we find:

Charter of the Forest/Henry III (along with Magna Carta), 1217, 1226, 1297;

then, for eloquence and speaking truth to power, there's the Declaration of Arbroath, 1320; for innate wisdom and courage of the common man, Wat Tyler's Rebellion, 1381; and who could forget that wag, priest John Ball (1338 -1381), who put the essence of it all so succinctly:

"When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?"

The Iroquois Confederacy had the whole thing nicely worked out long before Jefferson drew breath, much less put quill to parchment, or got up to less than upstanding high jinx with his half-sister-in- law, who was and remained, by his will alone, his possession/chattel.

On the fourth perhaps americans might want to exercise some restraint and reticence when it comes to self-congratula tion.

We stand but on the shoulders and graves of those who've gone before.
+10 # Widoff 2012-07-02 13:20
I admire Bill Moyers and I admire Thomas Jefferson.

Moyers condemns Jefferson because he was a slaveholder and did not recognize the contradiction in his position regarding slavery. But it simply uncharitable and unfair to condemn Jefferson on this after the fact basis. He was a product of his culture and his times. He was a great spokesman for human rights which have now been broadened to include all people and his first term as President was a truly great one.

It would be equally unfair and uncharitable to condemn Moyers for working for LBJ. LBJ was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of Americans and Vietnamese in the most I'll conceived, arrogant and incompetent was ever fought by the USA.

Both Jefferson and Moyers remain great Americans for what they said and did in spite of the limitations and flaws of their culture and their time.
+8 # tomo 2012-07-02 18:44
Curse out Moyers if you wish. If you think he did wrong, by all means denounce him for it. But don't give Jefferson a pass. Of course Jefferson knew that slavery was wrong. Or would you have it that the only reason slavery is wrong is because we passed the Thirteenth Amendment and THAT made it wrong? On the contrary, we passed the Thirteenth Amendment to outlaw something we'd all known was criminal.
+5 # coberly 2012-07-02 13:21
well, just to create hate and discontent

Bill Moyers, who ought to know better, gave Pete Peterson two free hours to disseminate lies about Social Security, without rebuttal or even hard questions.

While his "only corporate sponsor" was Prudential.
+12 # Huck Mucus 2012-07-02 13:22
Moyers writes: "And that's how Jefferson came to embody the oldest and longest war of all - the war between the self and the truth, between what we know and how we live. . . . But hold this thought as well: that behind this Fourth of July holiday are human beings who were as flawed and conflicted as they were inspired."

Therein lies the truth: Logic dictates that you focus on WHAT was said, and NOT on who said it (or how he/she acted). If Hitler said that one apple plus one apple equals two apples, then he is correct. Let Republicans, and conservatives, focus on the cum-stained dresses, the high-carbon-foo tprint houses and other hypocrisies and lies of their opposition. We are a nation of aspirations, not laurels. Rise to it; don't dwell on the failures. THAT is what Jefferson should mean to us because, in the end, we are ALL human. Strive. And be prepared to incite and participate in revolution and violence when the time calls for it. That was Jefferson, and that is the Fourth of July.
-27 # Dumbledorf 2012-07-02 13:27
+16 # Pickwicky 2012-07-02 15:50
Dumbledorf: Jefferson stole the work of some of the most 'brilliant men' of his time--a good deal of his work was not original. Further, he did not accord attribution--si nce you like bluntness, Dumbledorf, Jefferson was a clever cheat. Holding slaves and living in a 'closed community' are not equivalent. Your entire criticism is fallacious.
+22 # CreativeBlue 2012-07-02 16:45
Well, heck, I live in a highrise apartment build with a doorman and make over 6 figures a year, so maybe I'm not "equal" to you either, but that's not what Moyers or the Declaration were talking about.

In any event, Moyers quit LBJ over policy disagreements, as moral people are wont to do, went on to help found the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and hasn't looked back.

What have you done lately?
+18 # Todd Williams 2012-07-02 17:39
I guess I made a mistake. I thought we were discussing Jefferson, not Bill Moyer's personal life. But on a more serious note, TURN OFF THE DAMN CAPS. IT IS DRIVING ME CRAZY!
+7 # hbheinze 2012-07-02 20:25
Quit with the capital letter already. It's too hard to read. We can tell you're yelling; if you want people to wade through your response, write in readable, lower-case letters!
+9 # reiverpacific 2012-07-02 23:01
@ 'Dumbledorf'.
Boy, when you come out of yer bitter-root cave you come out swingin' don't ya!
But you always miss any point that's going.
I personally don't give a wet wank who is worth what, if gained honestly ("Who steals my purse steals trash, 'twas something, nothing and hath been the tool of thousands") -it's none of my business as long as others are not exploited to make it so (as in capitalism), however wantonly.
But when you try to drag down a man who has worked and still works relentlessly for the common good, you cross the line ("But he who filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed"). Think on, if you are capable of't and fer Gawd's sake, stop yellin' -you are givin' my keyboard a fit of the vapors, you angry li'l poo-you!
Respectfully of course.
+10 # anarchteacher 2012-07-02 13:38
In the original draft of the Declaration were these powerful words condemning George III and slavery:

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidels powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. He has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce determining to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

Jefferson capitalized “MEN” so there would be no doubt that these “people” were the same as those earlier referred to in “all men are created equal.” He changed the Lockean triad of life, liberty, "and property" to "and the pursuit of happiness" so there would be no doubt that that he was not defending the idea of enslaved persons as "property."
+3 # tomo 2012-07-02 18:37
The reason Adams and Franklin got Jefferson to edit out the "powerful words" you cite, anarchteacher, is such words would have made their author a laughing stock and would have taken from the seriousness of the document. It would have been too much like a drunk in a bar cursing out the whiskey business as he called for another drink.
+6 # CreativeBlue 2012-07-02 20:00
As vitriol, your analogy is apt, not not particularly explanatory.

How many times does it have to be pointed out that if those words had remained in the Declaration, the independent slave states would not have joined with the non-slave states in separation from England?
+4 # tomo 2012-07-03 09:41
Fine, Creative Blue. Just remember that Jefferson himself belonged to the "independent slave state" of Virginia. Would Jefferson himself have favored the Revolutionary War if he'd thought it would lead to the loss of his slaves?
+22 # dickmail 2012-07-02 13:46
There is now enough evidence to indicate that we are again up against tyranny in this country, this time called "Fascism". Unless we unite to defeat AIPAC, big pharma, insurance, banks, and others who have enslaved us we will remain enslaved. Maybe it's time to study the first American generals, such as Crazy Horse, Geronimo, and others to learn how to find the courage to fight for our freedom.
+15 # indian weaver 2012-07-02 14:16
That is right. Crazy Horse, Geronimo, the other great Native American leaders were the original legitimate Homeland Security, fighting terrorism since 1492. We have no leaders now, no one with any personal integrity or courage like the native american leaders. Their assassinations are the world's great loss, courtesy of amerika, land of the free and home of the brave?
+12 # teineitalia 2012-07-02 15:37
I agree with you,dickmail, that AIPAC and the insane military/indust rial complex with the revolving door of lobbyists in Congress is a huge part of the problem.

but I assure you that when fascism comes to America, it will be 'carrying a bible and wrapped in the flag'.
-32 # ecoforestree 2012-07-02 13:50
Yes, it's easy to slander and judge someone who has been dead almost 200 years and who did more for civil rights that Bill Moyers and the corporate press will ever do. I suppose Jefferson hated women since they were not allowed to vote in colonial America and have been second-class citizens ever since.

Bill Moyers’s article appears to be a part of the ongoing effort to rewrite history and to savage the US Constitution and the founders of the USA. This is clearly a part of the US government's current propaganda effort to destroy our heritage of freedom and to trash the Constitution and the rights guaranteed therein. It is not coincidental that article is posted right before Independence Day. The fascist forces in the Obama administration, The US Congress and the US Supreme Court are enemies of liberty and of all the founders of the USA fought for.
+17 # Pickwicky 2012-07-02 15:58
Ecoforestree--y our understanding of American History, the Founders, and what does and does not "trash the Constitution" is woefully lacking. Clearly, you are listening to those who want to make President Obama a one-term president by spreading lies. Going to the ballot box as an uninformed voter is a true example of an enemy of "liberty and of all the founders (sic) of the USA fought for."
+10 # Todd Williams 2012-07-02 17:44
He definitely had no respect for black women. He was probably a rapist. He owned humans. Also, I was not aware the US Government is in a "propaganda effort to destroy our heritage of freedom and trash the Constitution and the rights guaranteed therein." Man, you learn something every day.
+5 # teineitalia 2012-07-03 15:52
Wow, ecoforestree, turn off the Fake News and hate radio barkers. Your paranoia is off the charts.

According to you:

"Bill Moyers’s article appears to be a part of the ongoing effort to rewrite history and to savage the US Constitution and the founders of the USA. This is clearly a part of the US government's current propaganda effort to destroy our heritage of freedom and to trash the Constitution and the rights guaranteed therein."

Moyers isn't re-writing history,he's shining a spotlight on a place where a great man came face to face "with the oldest and longest war of all- the war between the self and the truth." Who among us has not struggled with that?

Moyer's thoughts have given Jefferson his humanity; you appear to want to sanctify him and everything about American history.

open your eyes: it is a history of both violent deeds and extraordinary goodness, and to deny that is to whitewash history and historical figures with a broad stroke, fashioning them as you want them to be, rather than as they are.

Moyers acknowledged the heady idealism of Jefferson's words; his disappointment, I believe, lies in the disconnect between Jefferson's ideals and his personal life. Integrity demands that a man's life become the picturebook of his creeds, if we are to believe R.W. Emerson.
+13 # carolsj 2012-07-02 13:54
Be the change you want to see in the world!
+23 # socrates2 2012-07-02 13:55
There is a reason why this Thomas and not Thomas Paine, remains exalted as the establishment's highly publicized, definitive "Founder." Paine was a no-holds-barred patriot whose love of authentic equality relegated him into the ranks of anarchism, a condition of freedom not favored by Yankee monied interests and the Virginia slave-owning cabal.
+14 # anarchteacher 2012-07-02 13:56
All his adult life, from the time he first entered the Virginia House of Burgesses, Thomas Jefferson hated slavery and acted repeatedly to eliminate it. Besides his original draft of the Declaration condemning King George III and slavery, he authored the Land Ordinance of 1784 which expressly outlawed slavery in the new territories of the United States. The passage which did this was eliminated due to one man not being present voting in favor of retaining it (thus setting up the internecine conflict which later became the Civil War). Later the Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which prohibited slavery in the North, while slavery was permitted in the Southeast in what later became the states of Mississippi, Alabama, etc. To his dying day Jefferson spoke of this betrayal of his anti-slavery sentiments.
+5 # Pickwicky 2012-07-02 16:01
anarchteacher-- so he spoke "of his anti-slavery sentiments." It should have occurred to you that's why we value action over mere talk. --Not to mention how we define 'hypocrite'--so meone who says one thing and does another.
+4 # tomo 2012-07-02 19:38
You're onto it, Pickwicky. The legacy we take from Jefferson is not dedication to democracy but his permission to play the hypocrite.
+4 # Pickwicky 2012-07-03 16:25
Tomo--well put.
+13 # Douglas Jack 2012-07-02 14:06
LonnyEachUs, 1776 was a time freer and more enlightened than today, if the European invaders and African slaves had honoured the Two Row Wampum treaty and respected the laws and customs of First Nations here. These deeply democratic 'indigenous' (Latin = 'self-generatin g') First Peoples lived in the world's densest most urbanized populations in 1491.

European indigenous Celtic ancestors of the invaders lived with the same empowered democratic status with: Longhouse Multihome communities, Women's councils, String-shell time-based human resource accounting, circle process, Production Societies, Apprentice-ment or relations and more.

Jefferson and Franklin met on a fair number of occasions with First Nations to learn the democratic system upon which they wrote the Declaration. Bill Moyers may be ignorant of this but we don't have to fall into the same trap. We won't get out of the mess we are creating until we recognize First Nation sovereignty and our ongoing crimes against humanity.

Make no mistake. Western colonial-based society is not evolving but degenerating to potential collapse of the whole planet if led by the US and Canadian inheritors of genocide. The only way out of this self-confining 'worldview' is to learn, each of us, our indigenous heritage from which we have been alienated.
+13 # deadhead 2012-07-02 14:28
Though not "news", I enjoyed this perspective. What I find more fascinating in general, is the presence - at the nascent period of our wonderful (and it *is* wonderful, in spite of its flaws and woes) democracy - there existed a plethora of similar dichotomies: Freedom for all, except for the natives, property rights, except for the slaves (who were property). And a bit later a noble president who struggled with all his might to preserve a recalcitrant, confounding union, while at the same moment in history, was dispatching portions of his federal army West to continue the annihilation of the red man. We have come such a long way in spite of ourselves, yet portions of our populace seem to find plenty of reasons to disenfranchise or marginalize other portions for no rational reason (gays, Muslims, immigrants -- wha??? aren't we all immigrants??) Sorry for the essay, but it just seems to me, the more we advance, the more we look like idiots - like we haven't learned a thing from our own history. I would say the schools could do better in teaching that, but aren't they the ones now bowdlerizing "Huck Finn"? Could be there is unmentionable shame involved?
+1 # moviedream 2012-07-02 14:28
I wish Thomas Jefferson were here to defend all these accusations. It's always so easy to make stories about someone who is not there to respond.
+10 # teineitalia 2012-07-02 14:39
As imperfect as he may have been, I am thankful for Jefferson, and his inspired words. I am thankful for all of the men-- every one of them imperfect-- who signed that Declaration. They understood that they could well be signing their own death sentences, and their courage is astonishing in the face of all that.

I believe that Jefferson knew that he was writing for generations to come, and while he could not divest himself of his station and means, or confront the unspeakable tragedy of slavery, he could still, with his words, point the way to a better world. It was his vision, his genius that gave us a remarkable document we can aspire to, and as Mr. Moyers has so eloquently reminded us, still learn from.

Thank you, Bill Moyers for reminding me to re-read it. These are difficult times, and it's important to remember where we began, and how far we still need to go. From age to age, we stand on the shoulders of giants, so we can see a little farther down the road.
+15 # Vonney 2012-07-02 14:58
Thomas Jefferson may have had some guilty feelings about his slaves esp Sally Hemmings and their offspring, but he never gave women in general one second of thought except, of course, when he wanted sexual relief. He said "all men are created equal" and that excluded women period. If a woman had as many children out of wedlock as he did, she would have been scorned and spat upon and branded with a scarlet "A" and shunned for the remainder of her days. I guess if we re-examined the lives of all the males of history who are held in the highest esteem by this country, they would all be knocked off their pedestals.
+8 # James Marcus 2012-07-02 15:09
Hypocrisy then; hypocrisy now.
A Disturbing, but wonderful, and oh-so-necessary reminder, of how words can, and do, deceive us all.
Most every issue we face today, all the forms of violence perpetrated by one upon another, are founded on deception. Only through slight of hand, mouth and often deliberate mis-perception, is Humanity continuously embroiled in this quagmire of depravity.
When will Integrity Reign Supreme?
We have the means , human, technological, and raw material resources to resolve everything facing our World today.
But Selfishness prevails, in Deception, yet well hidden.
Why, else is the Major Media is 'well controlled'?
..... lest 'real' dialogue, and undistorted facts, enter the conversation and 'Spoil the Game' of the .01%. (Yes POINT zero one. The rest of the 1% , .099%, are generally 'sleeping co-operatives', enriched along the way, coerced with privilege and benefits, into being 'The Operators'; and (SHhhh!) also the 'Sacrificial Lambs', as, when and if necessary.'
Wherefore Art Thou, Integrity?
+10 # the walrus 2012-07-02 15:09
I'm not sure what i'd do without the wisdom of Bill Moyers. You're one of a kind, Sir. And this is just a wonderful, eloquent, and simple article.
+13 # okie_mule 2012-07-02 15:50
My mother told me on several occasions that she was a Jeffersonian Democrat. She was also born in Alabama and raised there for a time before moving to Oklahoma. I'm sure she would defend Jefferson's hypocricy as well as her own Christian hypocricy. What rankles me is that so many Americans only want to hear the sugar coated verson of our history. They also have a tendency to dislike those who expose its dirty underbelly because it makes them see a reality they would rather believe does not exist. I too am on occasion a hypocrite, and I ALWAYS know when I am,'s called having a conscience that will not be denied.
+19 # Cabell 2012-07-02 16:50
In any discussion of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson it is important to remember that she was his wife's half sister, having been fathered by Jefferson's wife's father. One of the most pernicious aspects of slavery is the vision of these 'shadow families' related, often very closely related, but free and NOT free, existing in very close quarters. Children playing together, and then suddenly separated, some to go off to be schooled, others to a life of labor and captivity.
The compartMENTALiz ation necessary to carry on under these circumstances boggles the mind.
-2 # Todd Williams 2012-07-02 17:50
Kinda like Snookie, The Sitch and all their friends on Jersey Shore?
+1 # Todd Williams 2012-07-03 05:54
Lighten up, it's a joke.
+6 # tomo 2012-07-02 19:46
By this standard, moviedream, no one should look to history in order to find out what not to do. Indeed, this is a standard we have followed. Refusing to learn from history, we doom ourselves--as Santayana said--to repeat it. We continue to speak as Jefferson spoke, and to behave as Jefferson behaved.
+4 # Douglas Jack 2012-07-02 19:57
United States of Aggression DECLARATION OF 'INCIPIENCE'
1660s, from L. incipere from in- "into" + -cipere, comb. form of capere "to take"
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for continental intruders to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with a host parasite & to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate & equally violent genocidal aggression to which the Laws of Nature & of Nature's God abhor them, a decent respect to the opinions of imperial racist mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all white rich 'men' but not women, First Nations, other races, landless nor poor are created equal, that they're endowed by their monetary Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are commodification of Life, Liberty & the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, violent institutional Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their unjust powers from worldwide theft of sovereignty, exploitation of resources, human slavery without consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it's the Right of the Privileged to alter or to abolish it, & to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such genocidal principles & organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect privileged Safety & Happiness.
+3 # Tippitc 2012-07-02 20:15
Thomas Jefferson was human, just like we all are. None of us is perfect or ever will be - we make mistakes, we have lapses in judgment, but we continue to strive to do and be better. If we were all perfect, life would get to be kind of boring I think.

Do no harm - and strive to do the next right thing.
+4 # kyzipster 2012-07-03 10:48
We are all imperfect and I think Jefferson should be credited for the positive contributions he made but it's also important to teach a realistic perspective of history. There were many people who objected to slavery during his lifetime. England and many other countries outlawed it, Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1775. Jefferson was undoubtedly aware of the debate, he made choices and they were immoral. I wouldn't dismiss it as simply a mistake.
+3 # Innocent Victim 2012-07-02 22:18
Jefferson betrayed more than the humanity of imported Africans and their descendants. He also violated the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. He continued the use of the Alien and Sedition Acts, of John Adams, our 2nd president.
-2 # ray songtree 2012-07-03 03:54
Okay, one person asked for Jefferson to defend himself, so here goes. One of my past lives was Jefferson. For those who think you understand life and death and afterlife, you can quit reading now because you aren't open to the mystery of time and experience.

Looking back at that incarnation, the fact that Jefferson, like most of his/my other incarnations in recent eons, had a penis, is a fairly stupid thing to focus on.

Jefferson and Franklin and several others at that time incarnated together as a group to bring about a new chance for civilization. They worked with many beings that were not in the visible field but had influence. The Constitution, like the Magna Carta, was a move away from war lord tribalism. It is a move toward respect, and we are defining that as we go. In general respect is based on sanctity of diversity.

The two biggest problems I have with the Jefferson history are the great loophole in the phrase "pursuit of happiness". If the pursuit is materialistic, ecological destruction is guaranteed. But in his time, Jefferson couldn't elude to a spiritual definition, because spirituality at that time was monopolized by the Church, which spelled corruption.

Now the meaning of "pursuit of happiness" needs to be purified.

Another problem I have is the Louisiana Purchase. Other cultures and their pursuit of happiness was trashed.

-1 # Bruce Gruber 2012-07-03 07:24
Jefferson was an intellectual. He contemplated both historic and current 'thinking'. He was also an aristocrat, constrained by the peer pressures fostered by 'mutual respect' foisted upon one another whether members of the Hell's Angels or the Carlisle Group.

He promulgated thoughtful consideration within a revolution of worldwide governmental empire building ... and he enjoyed the benefits of wealth and privilege which we ALL pretend are a worthy goal. He was just a man, but he was certainly an influential one. We cherish the accomplishments he defined, though we recognize his imperfections as one of us. Our discourse neglects the ever continuing search for "betterment".
+2 # digi 2012-07-03 07:45
Isn't it true that jefferson collateralized his slaves for loans, and that they were not his to set free?
bill bouris
+5 # Utopia Bold 2012-07-03 08:57
For most of human history, women were also mens slaves who were not allowed to keep their own wages or inherit. Men could divorce women and keep all their possessions and inheritance and take their children. In parts of the mid east women are under absolute subjugation of men who kill them for the least infraction ("honor killings) and men control the sex slave industry where women are sold all over the world so men can buy them for sex.
+2 # Douglas Jack 2012-07-03 17:41
Jefferson took on the huge expense of a lavish huge home Monticello as well as the finer things in life ending up 107,000$ in debt, for which his slaves paid with their lives. If we all want to be abundant together, we will follow the 'indigenous' (Latin = 'self-generatin g') model of the Multihome dwelling and the Production Society string-shell welcoming inclusive integrated accounting for capital, currency, condolence (social-securit y), diplomatic conveyance (shared resource harvesting), collegial apprentice-ment or education, math-based communications and more.
The colonial white had lost his and her own indigenous heritage as Celtic peoples living in Longhouse, with women's councils, circle-process, production-soci eties, string-shell and apprenticeship education when the Roman Christian invaded and cut down the abundant Celtic polyculture orchards. Women in indigenous times (most of human history) were at least as powerful as men. It is only the institutional falsehoods promulgated under 'exogenous' (L = 'other-generate d') imperial rule which has diminished women.
Respecting First Nation indigenous sovereignty was a real option for refugees arriving from the burnt ecology and economy of Europe and still is today.
+3 # whole2th 2012-07-03 18:40
Based on the official narratives of 9/11--which Bill Moyers appears to accept--those who hate our freedoms could not have hoped for the shredding of our Constitution and taking of our liberties which have been wrought out of the big lies.

A future Bill Moyers will reflect on our dear sage Bill Moyers' own compromise of the truth and turning a blind eye to justice in the matter of the growing police state based upon lies that blame muslims for 9/11.

Todays muslims are Jefferson's blacks--expenda ble livestock.

I used to admire Bill Moyers until I awoke to 9/11 lies and was shocked to see Moyers on the side of the deceivers.
+3 # larrypayne 2012-07-04 07:03
I formerly admired Bill Moyers as well until I saw this letter sent to Moyers and signed by many people who I admire greatly.
+3 # lark3650 2012-07-04 07:44
One of the most brilliant political writers of the day was Thomas Paine. The Declaration of Independence is very similar to the style of writing of Thomas Paine. Let's not forget that it was the pamphlet, Common Sense, that was the spark that ignited the Revolutionary War...the spark that convinced the people of this country that they should fight for their independence from England. It was Thomas Paine's Crisis papers that urged the army to continue the quest for freedom when it was thought that all hope was lost. Read the works of Thomas Paine and you will see the similarity in the style and you will feel a real sense of patriotism that was the foundation of this great country of ours.
+1 # Howard Eagle 2012-07-04 12:47
Dear Mr. Moyers,

Thank you for penning this important critique and reminder. Relative to gaining a clear and comprehensive understanding of overall, current socioeconomic, political, and cultural conditions and power-relations hips within the U.S. --- your critique represents a critically important perspective. In fact, it is not possible to gain the type of above- referenced clarity and understanding --- without placing our examinations and studies into historical context.

The truth of the matter is that (as evidence by some of the comments associated with your article) millions upon millions of "Americans" remain in the deepest of denial regarding the ongoing relevance and importance of knowing and remembering this history. In fact, many struggle night and day to completely erase it from their psyches --- mainly because of the irrational, fear and guilt that it conjures up. (Cont'd)
+1 # Howard Eagle 2012-07-04 12:49

The latter point reminds me of that which I refer to as the 'Eric-Holder syndrome', i.e., the vicious and negative fallout or backlash, particularly on the part of much of white America, as a result of Mr. Holder's famous or infamous (depending on one's perspective) statement during a Black History Month Program in February of 2009, at which he was the keynote speaker (shortly after being appointed as the first African American to hold the position of U. S. Attorney General). Many will recall that Mr. holder reminded us of the absolutely-unqu estionable fact that, when it comes to even so much as having open, honest, consistent, ongoing dialogue about matters of race and racism --- "Americans have always been essentially a nation of cowards." This was true when Mr. Holder uttered those words in February of 2009. It's still true --- 3 1/2 years later. It's so sad (to say the least) that even the first African American President of the U.S. has (due to certainty of the same type of widespread negativity and backlash experience by Mr. Holder) avoided the topic of race and racism, which I refer to as the 'forbidden-frui t' issue, as if it's the plague.

Thank you,
Howard J. Eagle
-1 # Allan Lindh 2012-07-05 20:31
I assume no one here has read the "Hennings of Monticello" (by a distinguished Black woman historian), or any of Jefferson's other writings -- the Library of America volume of his writings is a good place to start. Much of what is asserted above is false, most of the rest is grossly unfair.
More important, we each live in our own time, as did Jefferson. If you think he is hypocritical, consider your own situation. You live in a society that uses approximately four times as much energy per person as the world average -- about one billion people live with effectively no external energy sources at all. About half the people of the US are overweight or obese, and almost everyone eats more than is good for them. Yet about 30,000 children a day, ten million a year, die from lack of adequate food, clean water, and minimal health care. Another 100 million children a year grow up with so little food, that they are physically and mentally stunted. How will history judge you, you vastly overfed hypocrites? But I understand you don't have time for such concerns, occupied as you are with the decision of when to buy a new Ipad.
0 # thirteenthpaladin 2012-07-06 09:58
@Allan Lindh

The Hemingses of Monticello, Annette Gordon Reed

"Amazon: Jefferson ... one of the greatest advocates for equality and freedom, also held slaves, including one he was joined so intimately with. How did he reconcile that to himself, if he did?

Gordon-Reed: I don't think this was something that Jefferson agonized about on a daily basis. This is not to say it wasn't important, but it didn’t concern him the way it concerns us. I think the Federalists ... concerned him far more."

AGR goes on, that in this contradiction Jefferson is not to be "set apart from all mankind"

Perhaps. But that something is so, and commonly met with, neither makes it right, nor exempts it from merited disapprobation and rejection.

That large numbers of people may be presumed to be even more hypocritical than Jefferson provides neither counterweight nor mitigation to the actual damage done by the original hypocrisy/moral failing under consideration.

Further, it creates no legitimate bar to seeing clearly and acknowledging openly the original hypocrisy and its terrible and enduring effects on entire classes of persons, as well as the immediate victims.

The "man of his times" defence just doesn't hold up in the light of history; the "everybody does it" defence is even less persuasive; the "you're probably worse yourself, you overfed gamer-boy" - seriously?
-1 # Allan Lindh 2012-07-08 12:24
I believe what the Good Book says is "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone."
+1 # TruthWriter 2012-11-08 08:00
Mr. Moyers, Before you decided to continue a myth about Thomas Jefferson. Did you do any research whatsoever? The relationship that you state in fact, has been debunked. I suggest that you read: The Jefferson-Hemin gs Controversy. This book is a year long study by scholars reviewing the facts. FACTS. not myths. I had much more respect for you until I read this today.
-1 # DavidtheLiberal 2017-07-17 07:59
Like everyone, well really _NOT_ _EVERYONE_, Thos Jefferson was a great man, but he was a product of his time. The dichotomy between his pronouncements of freedom and equality and his ownership of slaves and his utter failure to recognize in any way that women should have any rights did not bother him. Bill Moyers characterizes this dichotomy as a "betrayal". I do not think that this was a betrayal, but it was a contradiction that we can easily see from a vantage a couple of hundred years later.

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