Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part Three

UPDATE: David Barton made many of the same defenses in his World Magazine article dated January 22, 2013. Barton concluded:

Simply put, Jefferson did not have the financial resources necessary to free his 260 slaves.

In these three articles about Jefferson and slavery we anticipate and address the rebuttal Barton offered in his World article. Barton claims that Jefferson didn’t have the money to free his slaves. However, Jefferson had enough money to buy and sell slaves over the course of his life while other owners were freeing their slaves. Barton changed his argument a bit in the World article putting more emphasize on Jefferson’s financial status. Jefferson’s spending deserves a book but suffice to say that Jefferson spent money freely on fine goods and continual renovations to Monticello. The truth is that Jefferson had financial resources (slaves, lands, goods, etc.) very few other Virginians had. His choices about how to use them is at issue.

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In parts one and two of this response to David Barton’s appearance on Glenn Beck’s show, we looked at Barton’s defense of The Jefferson Lies on the subject of Jefferson’s record on slavery. In this post, we look at the remaining claims regarding slavery made by Barton last week. Here again is the video:

Barton claimed that Jefferson inherited 187 slaves when he was 14 years. On the clip at about 4:37, Barton says:

He [Jefferson] inherited 187 slaves when he’s 14 years old. So why didn’t he just release them? Because Virginia law says if you’re an adolescent, you cannot free any slave you’ve been given, you cannot emancipate any slave. So now he’s got 187 slaves he’s not been allowed to free.

It is true that Jefferson inherited slaves at age 14, but Barton gets the number of slaves wrong. Jefferson inherited 20 slaves at that time. In Getting Jefferson Right, we address this matter and get our information right from Jefferson’s Farm Book.

To get the proper accounting, we turn to the primary source of Jefferson’s notes in his Farm Book. In it, Jefferson delineated three categories of slaves he owned as of January 14, 1774. Jefferson titled the entire section, “A Roll of the proper slaves of Thomas Jefferson. Jan. 14. 1774” and then listed forty-one slaves that came through inheritance from his father along with those slaves who were purchased or born before his inheritance from his mother [20 slaves plus 21 who were added via birth and purchase]. He then listed eleven “slaves conveyed by my mother to me under the power given her in my father’s will as an indemnification for the debts I had paid for her.”  Finally, he listed the “roll of the slaves of John Wayles which were allotted to T. J. in right of his wife on a division or the estate. Jan. 14. 1774.” Here Jefferson listed the 135 slaves he received by inheritance from his father-in-law, John Wayles.* Adding these lists together, Jefferson owned 187 slaves by age thirty.

It may seem like a small point but for some reason Barton persists in saying Jefferson inherited the 187 when he was 14. Jefferson’s Farm Book (which you can see here; the total of 187 in 1774 is on page 18 at the bottom) says otherwise. While it is true that Jefferson was unable to free slaves when his father died in 1757, this was in part due to the fact that the only reason at that time allowed for emancipation was meritorious service on the part of a slave. The law allowing owners to emancipate slaves was not passed until 1782 (click here to see the text of the act to authorize the manumission of slaves).Barton then says on Beck’s show that someone told him that Jefferson could not free his slaves because they were collateral for his debts. While it is true that the Virginia legislature added a specific requirement in 1792 that freed slaves were required to work off any debts of the emancipator, this requirement actually could have made it an advantage for Jefferson to free his slaves. While the slaves would have had emancipation postponed until Jefferson’s debts were paid, they would have been free afterwards with Jefferson’s debt paid.  In other words, Virginia law allowed such emancipations but with rules in place to protect creditors.

Also, on the program, Barton states that we failed to discuss other laws that  were related to slavery. On the program, he said that there were a “whole bunch of laws that Jefferson had to deal with.” He then speaks of laws passed in 1778, 1791, 1793, 1795, 1798 and 1802. We are not the only ones not to refer to all of those laws. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton only cites the 1782 and 1806 laws regarding emancipation. We cite the 1782, 1806 and 1816 laws in Getting Jefferson Right.

On the program, Barton didn’t identify what the particular content of those laws were and how they related to slavery, or in what way that those laws might have prevented Jefferson him from freeing even some of his slaves. Our review of those laws do not support Barton’s contention. Male slaves younger than 21, female slaves younger than 18, all slaves older than 45 and slaves not of sound mind and body needed the financial support of their emancipator. All others did not. These parameters were still in place when Virginia amended slave laws in 1819. The bottom line is that we would like to see the Virginia statute or court case that Mr. Barton relies on to make his claim. In his book, the reference he cites concerns Massachusetts law, not Virginia.

Manumission deeds are available for review online. A review of these finds that some emancipators provided deeds for minor children with a promise of freedom at adulthood. Some slaves purchased their freedom. We encourage readers to read through some of the deeds of manumission. See the end of this post for links.

A couple of final points: When Glenn Beck introduced the segment, he said, “They say Jefferson was not against slavery.” I don’t know who “they” are, but we do not make that claim. Jefferson clearly did oppose slavery in principle and he took steps to eliminate the slave trade. However, his personal slave trade continued. In principle, Jefferson favored emancipation connected to deportation away from white society, rather than immediate abolition of the practice.

Last, those reviewing the evidence should ask why Barton omitted a section of Virginia law which would have undercut his basic argument. He mentioned it on the Beck show but did not give any explanation for the omission. Simply listing dates without specifics does nothing to address why Barton did not tell listeners that emancipation of slaves was legal, was done by many slave holders in the period between 1782 and 1806, and that Jefferson emancipated two slaves while he was alive.

Next we move to the segment on the Jefferson Bible.

Links to deeds of manumission:

Lists of slaves freed after 1782 in eight Virginia counties

Searchable links to those same eight counties

Manumissions in Isle of Wight County, VA

James Hemings manumission papers signed by Thomas Jefferson

Francis Drake deed of manumission

Deed of manumission drawn up by Robert Carter for his 452 slaves

Farm Book, 1774-1824, pages 9-13, by Thomas Jefferson [electronic edition]. Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003. http://www.thomasjeffersonpapers.org/

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part Two

UPDATE: David Barton made many of the same defenses in his World Magazine article dated January 22, 2013. Barton concluded:

Simply put, Jefferson did not have the financial resources necessary to free his 260 slaves.

In these three articles about Jefferson and slavery we anticipate and address the rebuttal Barton offered in his World article. Barton claims that Jefferson didn’t have the money to free his slaves. However, Jefferson had enough money to buy and sell slaves over the course of his life while other owners were freeing their slaves. Barton changed his argument a bit in the World article putting more emphasize on Jefferson’s financial status. Jefferson’s spending deserves a book but suffice to say that Jefferson spent money freely on fine goods and continual renovations to Monticello. The truth is that Jefferson had financial resources (slaves, lands, goods, etc.) very few other Virginians had. His choices about how to use them is at issue.

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On Friday, we posted part one of our response to David Barton’s appearance on the Glenn Beck Show (8/16/12).  On that show, Barton defended his claim that Virginia law did not allow Thomas Jefferson to emancipate his slaves. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton does not cite the part of the 1782 Virginia law that allowed slave owners to emancipate their slaves. In his book, Barton does not mention that owners were allowed to free their slaves during the life of the owner and gives no explanation for why he omitted that portion. During his appearance on the Glenn Beck Show, he mentioned the section of the law that allowed manumissions, but gave no explanation about why he failed to include it in his book.

On the Beck show, Barton said Virginia law required slave owners to provide a security bond for emancipated slaves. Since Jefferson was often in debt, he was unable to provide these funds for his slaves.  Part of the problem in getting clarity has been Barton’s presentation of the evidence in The Jefferson Lies.  He says on page 94 that “Jefferson was unable to free his slaves under the requirements of state law…” Actually, Jefferson was able to free his slaves after 1782 in accord with the provisions of the law on manumission. Barton is now arguing that Jefferson’s inability was financial and not legal.

On the Beck show, Beck made an analogy to small business owners in the present. He said that one is allowed to start a business but the government regulations make it so difficult that it is practically impossible. To accept that analogy as relevant, one must find evidence that Virginia government regulations prevented manumissions. To be sure, during the years between 1782-1806, there were government regulations (writing a deed, and a small clerk’s fee for filing the deed), but they were not so onerous that manumission was impossible, as is demonstrated by the many private manumissions and the large one of over 450 slaves initiated by Robert Carter.  And most important for Barton’s financial argument, we can find no evidence, nor has Barton presented any, that security bonds were required for slaves who were in the proper age range and of sound mind and body. As we demonstrate below, the evidence Barton presents does not relate to Virginia.

The one citation in The Jefferson Lies on the subject of security bonds is on page 92, where Barton writes:

Subsequent laws imposed even harsher restrictions, mandating that a slave could not be freed unless the owner guaranteed a full security bond for the education, livelihood, and support of the freed slave.

The footnote at the end of that sentence is to an 1857 book by W.O. Blake titled, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Ancient and Modern. Barton cites page 386 as his source for this information. Below is the entire page 386 from that book. Instead of a reference to Virginia law, this page completes a discussion of the fate of children born of black and white parents and begins one on emancipation in Massachusetts.

Laws were even found necessary in some of those colonies to limit what was esteemed a superfluity of parental tenderness. In the Anglo American colonies, colored children were hardly less numerous. But conventional decorum more potent than law forbade any recognition by the father. They followed the condition of the mother. They were born and they remained slaves. European blood was thus constantly transferred into servile veins and hence among the slaves sold and bought to day in our American markets may be found the descendants of men distinguished in colonial and national annals. –Hildreth’s History United States

In Massachusetts, a controversy arose as to the justice and legality of negro slavery which was conducted by able writers. It began about 1766 and was continued until 1773, when the subject was very warmly agitated. In 1767 and afterwards, attempts were made in the legislature to restrict the further importation of slaves. It was even questioned whether under the laws of Massachusetts any person could be held as a slave. This point was carried before the superior court in a suit by a negro to recover wages from his alleged master. The negroes collected money among themselves to carry on the suit and it terminated favorably. Other suits were instituted between that time and the revolution and the juries invariably gave their verdict in favor of freedom. The pleas on the part of the masters were that the negroes were purchased in open market and bills of sale were produced in evidence that the laws of the province recognized slavery as existing in it by declaring that no person should manumit his slave without giving bond for his maintenance &c. On the part of the blacks it was pleaded that the royal charter expressly declared all persons born or residing in the province to be as free as the king’s subjects in Great Britain that by the law of England no subject could be deprived of his liberty but by the judgment of his peers that the laws of the province respecting an evil and attempting to mitigate or regulate it did not authorize it and on some occasions the plea was that though the slavery of the parents were admitted yet no disability of that kind could descend to the children. The view taken by the Massachusetts juries was sanctioned about the same time in England by a solemn decision of the court of king’s bench in the celebrated case of James Somersett mentioned in a former chapter. Being brought before Lord Mansfield on a writ of habeas corpus his case was referred to the full court. After the argument Lord Mansfield said In five or six cases of this nature I have known it accommodated by agreement between the parties On its first coming before me I strongly recommended it here But if the parties will have it decided we must give our opinion Compassion will not on the one hand nor inconvenience on the other be to decide but the law The question now is whether any dominion authority or coercion can be exercised in this country on a slave according to the American laws The difficulty of adopting the relation without adopting it in all…

A review of the pages (click the link to go to the book) before and after page 386 finds no mention of requirements for security bonds in Virginia. If you read on to page 389 of that book, you will read:

The Virginia Assembly, on the motion of Jefferson, prohibited in 1778 the further introduction of slaves. In 1782, the old colonial statute was repealed which forbade emancipations except for meritorious services to be adjudged by the governor and council. This repeal remained in force for ten years during which period private emancipations were very numerous. But for the subsequent reenactment of the old restrictions the free colored population of Virginia might now have exceeded the slaves. Maryland followed the footsteps of Virginia both in prohibiting the further introduction of slaves and in removing the restraints on emancipation.

Note that private manumissions were numerous according to this source used by Barton. Actually, the significant restrictions were not added until 1806.  There is nothing mentioned here about a security bond.

In part three, we will address the remaining claims about slavery.

Here again is the Glenn Beck segment on slavery:

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part One

By Michael Coulter & Warren Throckmorton

UPDATE: David Barton made many of the same defenses in his World Magazine article dated January 22, 2013. Barton concluded:

Simply put, Jefferson did not have the financial resources necessary to free his 260 slaves.

In these three articles about Jefferson and slavery we anticipate and address the rebuttal Barton offered in his World article. Barton claims that Jefferson didn’t have the money to free his slaves. However, Jefferson had enough money to buy and sell slaves over the course of his life while other owners were freeing their slaves. Barton changed his argument a bit in the World article putting more emphasize on Jefferson’s financial status. Jefferson’s spending deserves a book but suffice to say that Jefferson spent money freely on fine goods and continual renovations to Monticello. The truth is that Jefferson had financial resources (slaves, lands, goods, etc.) very few other Virginians had. His choices about how to use them is at issue.

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On Thursday August 16, Glenn Beck had David Barton on to “clear the air” about The Jefferson Lies. Our impression is that Mr. Beck is a very loyal friend and his loyalty is preventing him from objectively considering the evidence. A more objective approach would be to have had someone else on the show to counter Barton’s claims.  That did not happen even though there was some discussion of evidence.

In any case, there are several clips of the broadcast posted on The Blaze website. During the broadcast, Beck said he would never promote another Thomas Nelson product. Given that statement and others, we think Thomas Nelson should come out with details about their rationale for pulling the book. Since we have not spoken with Thomas Nelson about Barton’s book, we don’t know what their specific problems with the book were.

The first clip to which we want to respond is the one on slavery and Jefferson. Barton provided more detail about this claim than in his book so we want to respond to what he said last night.  Roll the tape:

Barton said we were wrong (he kept referring to me while ignoring Michael Coulter, a political science professor) because we only refer to the 1782 law in our book. Actually, in our book, we discuss the laws passed in 1782, 1806 and 1816. Barton explained to Beck:

I say you could free your slaves at death like George Washington, and I say because of the laws, you couldn’t free your slaves.

Barton acknowledged that he left out the section which allowed slave owners to free their slaves during life, but gave no explanation why he did so. He then pivoted to say:

The point I make throughout the whole chapter is that there’s a whole bunch of laws Jefferson had to deal with.

Barton says our whole rebuttal is based on that 1782 law. At the point Beck takes a swipe a me because I am a psychology professor, completely ignoring my co-author Dr. Coulter. It continues to amaze me that Barton supporters use that defense since Barton is not a professor of history.

Barton then said we don’t take into account other laws in Virginia relating to slavery which he said prevented Jefferson from freeing slaves. On the program, Barton listed laws passed in 1778, 1791, 1793, 1795, 1798, and 1802 as relevant to emancipation. In The Jefferson Lies, when he takes up the issue of Jefferson and slave owning (pages 91-94), Barton refers to laws dated 1692, 1723, 1782, and 1806. He only quotes part of the 1782 law (leaving out the part of freeing slaves by deed) and then says that the 1806 law changed the conditions for emancipated slaves.  Barton is correct to say that the burdens on both master and slave were added to make emancipation a more difficult proposition after 1806. However, between 1782 and 1806, slave owners did, in fact, free slaves. Jefferson freed two slaves and he could have freed more.

The main change in the 1806 law was that emancipated slaves had to leave Virginia within a year of being emancipated.  Regarding, that change in Virginia law, Barton cites Dumas Malone’s Jefferson and His Time: The Sage of Monticello (footnote 25 on Page 92). On the page that Barton cites, Malone only states that the 1806 law required that emancipated slaves leave the state.  Malone never indicates that the 1806 law created an “almost impossible economic burden.”(The Jefferson Lies, 92)

On the Beck show, Barton then referenced various other slave laws passed between 1778 and 1802. There is another law (1785) that he didn’t mention as well. We will take up this list in part two of this series. However, as far as we can tell, none of these laws encumbered owners in ways that prevented owners from freeing able bodied slaves. Some related to treatment of slaves and others related to rights of slaves to petition for their own freedom.

We did not say Jefferson could have easily freed all of his slaves. We agree that there were some financial considerations involved for some slaves.  In keeping with provisions with the 1782 law, slaves which were judged not to be of sound mind or were infirm or above age 45 or below the age of 18 for women and 21 for men required the guarantee of the master for their care. However, there were many slaves owned by Jefferson which were of sound mind, and between these ages which could have been emancipated. None of those slaves would have needed a pledge of support from Jefferson.  Since Jefferson could have freed some additional slaves between 1782 and 1806 and did not, then Barton’s description of Jefferson as “a bold, staunch, and consistent advocate and defender of emancipation and civil rights” can reasonably be questioned (The Jefferson Lies, 113).

On the Beck show, Barton then brings up the 1814 letter to Edward Coles where Jefferson said “the laws do not allow us to free them [slaves].

Here is the pertinent section of the 1814 letter to Edward Coles:

It shall have all my prayers, & these are the only weapons of an old man. But in the mean time are you right in abandoning this property, and your country with it? I think not. My opinion has ever been that, until more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed and clothe them well, protect them from all ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen, & be led by no repugnancies to abdicate them, and our duties to them. The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good: and to commute them for other property is to commit them to those whose usage of them we cannot control. I hope then, my dear sir, you will reconcile yourself to your country and its unfortunate condition; that you will not lessen its stock of sound disposition by withdrawing your portion from the mass. That, on the contrary you will come forward in the public councils, become the missionary of this doctrine truly christian; insinuate & inculcate it softly but steadily, through the medium of writing and conversation; associate others in your labors, and when the phalanx is formed, bring on and press the proposition perseveringly until its accomplishment.

Coles wanted Jefferson to be more involved in efforts to end slavery and informed him that he wanted to leave the state to free his slaves. It is important to note that Jefferson advised against this abolitionist move. Jefferson urged him to stay and maintain the status quo all the while “softly and steadily” work for emancipation.

In this letter, Jefferson claimed the law did not allow owners to “turn them [slaves] loose.” This was technically incorrect even in 1814, as emancipation was still an option for owners. However, as we say in our book, the situation became much more difficult in the practical sense after 1806. Jefferson’s complaint about the law at that time was more of a practical restriction than legal one. However, between 1782 and 1806, Jefferson, like Robert Carter and other Virginia slave owners, was legally able to emancipate a good number of his slaves. In fact, as we point out, but have never heard Barton address, Jefferson did free two slaves, one in 1794 and the other in 1796. Barton’s reference to the 1814 letter to Coles is not relevant to the legal situation between 1782 and 1806.

Barton and Beck discuss Jefferson’s financial situation as a barrier to emancipation.  We agree that financial considerations were relevant to Jefferson since he considered slaves to be his property. However, this is a different set of factors than the legal ability to emancipate his slaves. Barton inappropriately cites Jefferson’s 1814 statement as covering the years between 1782 and 1806. The law allowed emancipation during that period for slaves, as  we noted above.

In our view, Barton does not consider the economic issues from all angles. Slaves were costly to keep (even for the slaves which required security, emancipation might be cheaper since he had to provide for them anyway) and owners had to pay taxes on them. In some cases, it might have been more economical to emancipate slaves rather than pay taxes on them and for their care. Furthermore, Jefferson bought and sold slaves as well as leased them from other slave owners. Important considerations relating to Jefferson’s financial situation were his continual building at Monticello and his acquisitions of finery from Europe.  A fuller treatment of Jefferson’s finances would be necessary to discuss his actions toward his property (slaves) but one cannot say he was unable to free his slaves due to Virginia law, especially during the period between 1782 and 1806.