Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bill Moyers Essay: Thomas Jefferson's Betrayal

For decades, journalist, author, broadcaster and former Director of the Peace Corps under President Lyndon Johnson, Bill Moyers, has been one of the best commentators on current affairs and American history. He has done interviews over a wide range of topics from his seminal series of programs on "The Power of Myth" with Professor Joseph Campbell to his round-table discussions on a variety of political, social and spiritual topics that grew out of his Public Broadcasting series, "Bill Moyers Journal".

Here is one of his latest essays, pointing up the success of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence as a benchmark of human liberty against the terrible institution of slavery which degraded and counterpointed the struggle for freedom in the United States for decades. In was a institution that Jefferson himself perpetuated, as did many of the Founding Fathers.

Not all the major Founding Fathers thought as Jefferson did. Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton criticized Jefferson and his party for demanding freedom for themselves but not for blacks. Hamilton, a senior officer in the Revolutionary war who served directly under George Washington, urged that black men willing to fight for the revolutionary cause in the Continental Army be granted the right to freedom. As an adult Hamilton was opposed to slavery, but his views
on this, as well as his far-sighted need for a National Bank to boost manufacturing, did not survive the need to unify the 13 former colonies after the war.

"The existence of slavery makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason or experience."--Alexander Hamilton.

Although their views on slavery were not advanced by our standards, men like Hamilton and Franklin saw the contradictions of the peculiar institution and served in manumission groups to try and bring a gradual end to the "peculiar institution".


  1. It's up to the Individual to be aware of the past,
    because the past repeats unless we learn from it
    and progress.

    I like Moyers,

    Thanks Doug,
    Happy 4th of July 8-)

  2. Very interesting ....I am too tired to comment on it right now, but have a great 4th of July yourself Doug and please spare a thought for us without independence, the latter day slaves to debt and rampant consumeriem. Good video I will be back!

  3. Well said, Michael.

    Happy 4th to you as well.

  4. Looking forward to your comments, AA.


  5. I think this posthumous exposé of Thomas Jefferson is very interesting. The issue of slavery was and is an emotive one, but in many ways it is a red herring I think, or perhaps a 'black herring' is a better description.

    Everything these Enlightenment intellectuals stood for was entirely supported by slavery, but not only black African slavery, but a largely unwritten history of white slavery in America and the British Empire.

    Liberalism and capitalism cannot survive without slavery, it never has anyway, today it is in child labour and grossly underpaid homeworkers for the big sexy High Street labels. When America was forming it was also many thousands of white slaves whose conditions were no less harsh than their black counterparts created the exceptionalism and powered the industrial revolutions. The oppressed and impoverished of almost all nations are represented in the missing frame here I think Doug.

    Wikipedia puts it like this:-

    Workers, usually Europeans, including Irish,Scottish, English, or German immigrants,immigrated to Colonial America in substantial numbers as indentured servants,particularly to the British Thirteen Colonies. In the 17th century, nearly two-thirds of English settlers came as indentured servants, although indentured servitude was not a guaranteed route to economic autonomy. Given the high death rate, many servants did not live to the end of their terms. In the 18th and early 19th century, numerous Europeans traveled to the colonies as redemptioners, a form of indenture.

    The role of European slaves seems to have been written out of the official accounts across the English speaking world Doug, brushed under the carpet, because the British Empire and America created so-called democracies that were no less dependent upon slavery than was the Athens of 500 BC where the concept first bloomed.

    In my view the picture we paint of the struggle for the manumission of slavery in America is incomplete and misleading without the role of indentured servants, the hidden white slaves from Europe who no less built America's infrastructure than did the black slaves or the Chinese coolies.

    There have never been more slaves in the world than there are today though Doug.

    In 2005, the International Labour Organization provided an estimate of 12.3 million forced labourers in the world.....Wiki again:-

    "Siddharth Kara has also provided an estimate of 28.4 million slaves at the end of 2006 divided into the following three categories: bonded labour/debt bondage (18.1 million), forced labour (7.6 million), and trafficked slaves (2.7 million).
    Kara provides a dynamic model to calculate the number of slaves in the world each year, with an estimated 29.2 million at the end of 2009."

    So the power of the Myth is that it limits the thinkable and attempts to set the boundaries of all critiques, but the continuation and expansion of slavery may mean that one day history may judge us all as we are currently judging Jefferson, if not as apologists then as tolerators of an intolerable system of exploitation.

    An interesting topic indeed Doug, thanks for generating the discussion

  6. Good links AA. One wonders if our society has quite advanced as far as most people (myself included) might like to think most of the time in regards to human bondage.

    You are quite correct that the role of the bonded or indentured laborer has been swept under the rug of popular history. It's easy to forget that all of us over here who have an ancestry from Europe likely have relatives who came either in the indentured servitude systems or in

    We see it's reflection in the undercompensated labor in China, Southeast Asia, Haiti, Mexico, et al. Eighty percent of the goods that fill the Wal-Marts and other competing retailers in the USA are made overseas.

    Each of these nations compete in a "race to the bottom" to give corporation cheap wages and the lure oftax breaks. Until that is outlawed the war against inhuman traffic in labor is not over.

    Are are the modern equivlent of the Royal Navy's "West Africa Squadrons" that intercepted slave ships and put the forces on notice that their era of inhumanity was closing?

    Why spend billions on drones and fighter planes when it is free primary and higher education, safe drinking water, zero tolerance for wage slavery with fair working conditions that could REALLY deal a blow against terorrist cells in Africa and parts of Asia and Arabia?

    We do have laws in most nations against flat-out slavery and peonage, but we will be judged as you fear i think in the LACK of real support for these causes. If people stopped buying goods unless the people making and distributing the merchandise got a decent wage that was fair and could support families in their nations then that would be progress.

    then and onlt then could we we might be able to say with a clear conscience that we really have made progress over Thomas Jefferson's plantation home of chattle slavery, as well as that of his neighbors, the bondsman and the underpaid servants.

    Thanks for expanding the scope of this blog, AA.