If you would have done what Thomas Jefferson didn’t, do you act now?

February 26, 2023 by Joshua
in Choosing/Decision-Making, Leadership

Do you believe we should remove statues of people who held slaves?

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

I can see both sides of people taking down statues of Thomas Jefferson. He was President of the United States and helped write its founding documents. He advanced freedom. Yet he was a racist who believed men in Africa mated with orangutans (he spelled oranootan in his 1784 Notes on the State of Virginia) and owned slaves. Since he would never choose to be a slave, how can anyone excuse enslaving others? He could have freed them but didn’t.

If you had inherited slaves in Virginia before the Thirteenth Amendment, would you have freed them? I suspect you would say yes without hesitation. Maybe, like Robert Carter III, you would have had to wait for the law to change, but you would do what he did. Starting in 1791, he freed the most slaves in the United States before the Emancipation Proclamation, giving some land to live on.

If you lived in the U.S. before the Civil War and were white, would you work on abolition or would you just watch slavery happen? I presume you’d put in some effort. I’d hope you’d devote your life to it, as the U.S. South became the largest slave power in history by some measures, enslaving about four million people.

Those were hypothetical questions. Let’s consider you here and now. As one small measure of pollution today, nine million people die per year from breathing polluted air. The Atlantic Slave Trade took centuries to reach a number we hit annually. That number is increasing and is tiny compared to many other harms. Cornell predicts billions of climate refugees by 2100.

Today’s parallel to “If you lived in the U.S. before the Civil War and were white, would you work on abolition or would you just watch slavery happen?” is:

Will you work on sustainability or just watch it happen? Would you, like Robert Carter III freed his slaves, stop polluting or will you, like Thomas Jefferson, keep polluting?

Do you think it would be harder or easier for a Virginian in 1791 to free 500 slaves than for you to go camping instead of flying for vacation or using cloth diapers instead of disposable?

Will future generations take down your statue?

What is your legacy on today’s biggest problem?

Why can’t you do today’s equivalent of what you think Thomas Jefferson should have done?

Read my weekly newsletter

On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Sign up for my weekly newsletter