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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

America's great statesman and third president, Thomas Jefferson, certainly has taken a beating on his views of slavery during the past few decades. Jefferson was a slave owner himself, having bought and sold hundreds of slaves over the course of his life. At one point, he owned as many as 267 slaves (in 1822). He is believed to have fathered at least one child by one of his female slaves, according to recent historical research.

However, Jefferson opposed slavery throughout his life. He

...considered it contrary to the laws of nature that decreed that everyone had a right to personal liberty. He called the institution an "abominable crime," a "moral depravity," a "hideous blot," and a "fatal stain" that deformed "what nature had bestowed on us of her fairest gifts."

It was Jefferson who first proposed that Virginia prohibit the importation of slaves from Africa. In 1784 he proposed a ban of slavery in the new northwest territories. He believed in a plan of gradual emancipation.

However, he did believe in a general "inferiority of blacks," and

...coupled with their presumed resentment of their former owners, made their removal from the United States an integral part of Jefferson's emancipation scheme. These convictions were exacerbated by the bloody revolution in Haiti and an aborted rebellion of slaves and free blacks in Virginia in 1800.

As for Douglass, he would have refuted Jefferson's belief that blacks were inferior, since he was highly intelligent and firmly believed in the equality of all races. He believed that all blacks needed a strong education.


Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Douglass' view on slavery was fairly direct and concise.  Being a former slave himself, he saw it to be the worst crime that one human being can perpetrate on another.  He felt that American society would never be able to achieve its ideal conception of self so long as it permitted and encouraged slavery.  Douglass felt that the slave codes that prevented opportunities for self- expression and self improvement as well as the multiple guises that allowed slavery to exist had to be abolished.  Jefferson's view is a bit more complex.  Certainly, his writings and his political stance was against slavery.  The original draft of the Declaration of Independence did contain language that sought to abolish slavery.  Yet, I cannot reconcile this with his possession of slaves and participation in the slave trade.  The contradictions of America and its relationship to slavery and the voices of "the other" are present in Jefferson, whereas the need for change is highly evident in the work of Douglass.