Thomas Jefferson’s Dark Side: Four Damning Secrets

Published June 30, 2017
Updated March 14, 2019
Published June 30, 2017
Updated March 14, 2019

Slavery Everywhere Else

Thomas Jefferson Slaves

Slaves on Jefferson’s farm. Image Source: Pinterest

Pro-Jefferson historians have gone to great lengths to “prove” Jefferson harbored anti-slavery feelings, as if he were secretly an abolitionist. In fact, Jefferson’s abandonment of abolition is one of the most striking reversals in American political history.

Early on in his career, Jefferson had included the African slave trade in the list of terrible things the English had inflicted on America, describing it as a “moral depravity” and “hideous blot.” Throughout the 1780s, Jefferson was one of the few founders who could be counted on to fight back against the interests of slave-holding Virginians such as George Washington.

But all that changed sometime around 1792. In that year, Jefferson penned a letter to George Washington, who was then in his first term as president, in which he worked through the math of slave ownership. Somewhere around this time, Jefferson had realized that his slaves were earning him an annualized five or ten percent profit just by having babies.

Slaves were not just good for doing business, they were a business. From the early 1790s on, Jefferson grew very quiet about the evils of slavery, and very eager to increase his workforce of very, very profitable slaves.

Thomas Jefferson Cotton Workers

Image Source: Pinterest

Like any man with a good idea, Jefferson couldn’t keep it to himself. He advocated slavery among his peers, other land-owning Southerners, and he defended the practice in private. As president, he was instrumental in spreading slavery west, as he took on the Louisiana Territory and started carving it up into states as soon as he was able, though he knew this guaranteed that Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and eventually Missouri would be slave states.

Jefferson even went so far as to advocate the deportation of freed slaves, despite the fact that virtually all of them had been born in America and knew less about Africa than he did.

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.