Selective Equality

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Cory Jensen
Swanson
Comp 1
April 14, 2012

Selective Equality

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” ( Jefferson 1776). All men are indeed created equal. Each is born from their mother’s womb. Each must be nourished from their mother’s bosom. All men, at some stage of development must learn to speak their native tongue. However, after these basic steps in the process of human development, man’s ability to be equal no longer belongs to himself, but rather to the culture and society the he is raised in. For millions of African slaves in America during the 18th and 19th century the ability to be considered equal did not exist.

Thomas Jefferson spoke openly about the rights of all mankind, in particular his sympathy towards black slaves. Jefferson’s Notes on Slavery from 1781, describes his views towards the black population and the long standing history they had in the colonies of America. Also mentioned is the political objection of freeing black slaves and the damage that would be done because of the prejudices of white’s and the possible retaliation from slaves for all the suffering they had endured. Freeing the slaves could lead to the destruction of either race. Jefferson goes on to say, “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind” This is a contradiction to his original statement that all men are created equal.

Jefferson shared his opinions on the rights of blacks in numerous letters. In one such letter written to John Holmes in 1820, Jefferson said,
The cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me a second thought, if, in any way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected; and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. But as it is, we have the wolf by the ears, and we could neither hold him, nor safely let him go (www.teachingamericanhistory.org).

Clearly, Jefferson realized the possibility of problems that would be associated with freeing those in slavery. One would assume that during this time there was a great amount of fear if the slaves were to be freed that they would look to extract revenge for all the abuses they endured. Another thing to consider is what would become of all the blacks if they were freed? Would they be accepted into society as equals when moments before they were considered an inferior race of people? Would a former slave owner hire a black man or woman and pay them to do the work they once had no choice but to do? Another problem to consider would be the relocation of all the freed black slaves. Most slaves had shelter on the land their masters owned, the same land they once worked. Now freed where would these people go? It’s possible to believe that some may have been permitted to stay in the homes they have been made accustom to, but it’s safer to assume that once they were free the former slave owners would want them off their land.

Looking back at the creation of this country one is exposed to several points of view on the topic of slavery. In the first part of the 19th century, America is introduced to some of the earliest abolitionists that would help shape the country for years to come. One such man, Roger Taney spoke out against slavery early in his political career. Taney had freed his own slaves and even given a pension to some of the older ones who could no longer work. When Jacob Gruber, a Methodist minister who had been indicted for inciting slave insurrections went on trial Taney came to his defense and said,

A hard necessity, indeed, compels us to endure the evil of slavery for a time. It was imposed upon us by another nation,...
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