Jefferson’s Anti-Slavery Crisis Vignettes

I was originally thinking of history as a wave, with the people being carried along it. However, that merits further investigation, as individuals often have large amounts of agency in history. Often times, historical movements are the results of a few people at the right time doing the right thing. So due to decreased interest, I have started a new thread of the various stories of each timeline; they correspond roughly with the chapters. So here is Chapter 1. I hope I could do better than the previous thread… I think it had a good run.

Vignette 1: Chapter 1


Context: Part of the Declaration of Independence where Thomas Jefferson criticized the slave market set up by the British Empire in the colonies.

June 29, 1776: Continental Congress

The delegates from thirteen colonies were trying to write the Declaration of Independence, which would declare independence from the British Empire. An enormous list of complaints about the British control, from taxation without representation to the quartering of soldiers in peoples’ homes in peacetime, had set the colonists on a breaking point. One of the biggest controversies in that Continental Congress prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 was about slavery. Many of the Founders thought slavery antithetical to the liberty the newly born United States of America needed from Britain. The shackles of slavery seemed very similar to those shackles that kept the colonies subservient to the British Empire. But not everyone thought that way.


THE titular clause.


Thomas Jefferson had just proposed the eventual abandonment of slavery in the Declaration of Independence. In his words,

“While slavery is often seen as a necessary evil, it is anathema to the new birth of freedom that we are trying to achieve in the United States of America when we declare independence from Great Britain. An enslavement of one is a threat to the liberty of all. The British King and Parliament have forced this wretched institution upon us near the inception of the colonies—this is something. While you might accuse me of hypocrisy, I am not thinking of removing slavery right now, only that we realize its ability to cause problems for liberty.”

Most of the delegates were in agreement, and so would their states. However, rumblings arose from the delegates from the Carolinas and Georgia. Two of the Georgia delegates even ran out of the convention soon after Thomas Jefferson finished talking about slavery. Their names were Lyman Hall and George Walton. Near Jefferson was med “They left because they thought their states would never support you on the slavery debate. The North Carolina and South Carolina delegates are thinking of leaving too.”

Thomas Jefferson responded, “In that case, while those delegates and the planter aristocracy that sees no future without slavery may disagree, their states may think otherwise. Please explain to the North Carolina and South Carolina delegates that if we do not hang together, we will hang separately.”

Jefferson and his compatriots attempted to stare down the Deep Southern delegates, but to no success. All the South Carolina delegates and the Georgia delegates fled, with only one of the North Carolina delegates (John Penn) having stayed—and he would not live to see the success of the new nation, as he would be assassinated by British agents.