Slavery Is a Love Song

A commenter sent me this piece from The Volokh Conspiracy responding to Paul Finkelman's op-ed  on Thomas Jefferson. I made the mistake of reading it and thus stumbling on one the most immoral paragraphs I've read in a long long time:

Jefferson, Finkelman tells us, was not a "particularly kind" slave-master; he sometimes "punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time." And he believed that "blacks' ability to reason was 'much inferior' to whites' and that they were "in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous." So what? Really - so what? If you want to think that he was a bad guy -- or even a really bad guy, with truly grievous personal faults -- you're free to do so. But to claim that that has something to do with Jefferson's historical legacy is truly preposterous.

That's pretty deep. 

One way to approach this is with "facts" and "arguments." I think the sort of callousness that allows you to look upon the visage of human trafficking and say "So what?" probably inurs you against such tactics. 

I, myself, always like to remember that I'm writing actual people, who were more than happy to give us some sense of precisely how it feels to be among the So Whats of America: 

This is a letter that I often turn to. It was written to Laura Spicer by her husband, who was sold away, much as Jefferson sold people away. After emancipation  she repeatedly tried to rekindle their love, despite the fact that the husband had now remarried and formed another family. In this letter the husband tells us what it means to be among the refuse of history:

I would much rather you would get married to some good man, for every time I gits a letter from you it tears me all to pieces. The reason why I have not written you before, in a long time, is because your letters disturbed me so very much. 

You know I love my children. I treats them good as a Father can treat his children; and I do a good deal of it for you. I am sorry to hear that Lewellyn, my poor little son, have had such bad health. I would come and see you but I know you could not bear it. I want to see and I don't want to see you. I love you just as well as I did the last day I saw you, and it will not do for you and I to meet. 

I am married, and my wife have two children, and if you and I meets it would make a very dissatisfied family. Send me some of the children's hair in a separate paper with their names on the paper. Will you please git married, as long as I am married. My dear, you know the Lord knows both of our hearts. You know it never was our wishes to be separated from each other, and it never was our fault. 

Oh, I can see you so plain, at any-time, I had rather anything to had happened to me most than ever to have been parted from you and the children. As I am, I do not know which I love best, you or Anna. If I was to die, today or tomorrow, I do not think I would die satisfied till you tell me you will try and marry some good, smart man that will take care of you and the children; and do it because you love me; and not because I think more of the wife I have got then I do of you. The woman is not born that feels as near to me as you do. 

You feel this day like myself. Tell them they must remember they have a good father and one that cares for them and one that thinks about them every day-My very heart did ache when reading your very kind and interesting letter. 

 Laura I do not think I have change any at all since I saw you last.-I think of you and my children every day of my life. Laura I do love you the same. My love to you never have failed. Laura, truly, I have got another wife, and I am very sorry, that I am. You feels and seems to me as much like my dear loving wife, as you ever did Laura. You know my treatment to a wife and you know how I am about my children. You know I am one man that do love my children....
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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