Annette Gordon-Reed on Jefferson’s Hope for America
Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School and a professor of history at Rutgers. She earned a place in history with her first book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, which had an acclaimed but stormy reception when published in 1997, and which The New Yorker described as “brilliant.” She is recognized as one of our country’s most distinguished presidential scholars.Gordon-Reed spent her early career as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and as Counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections. She speaks or moderates at numerous conferences across the country on history and law-related topics. Gordon-Reed is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and son.
Gordon-Reed: I think he would have wanted every, and he would have thought of it in terms of men, so we have to put it that way, white men. Men to have the freedom to be independent in there own lives. And what that meant to him was that people could have land and people would have farms and they would not be beholding to wages from other people who would he would say would be exploitative of them. So he would want sort of self-sufficiency was his sort of mantra. Now, self-sufficiency and he’s got, you know, 200 slaves but self-sufficiency. I don’t think, he really did believe that was going to die out. Now, he never had any way of saying how it’s going to die out but he thought slavery was a sort of retrogressive system and how you think people, it will whither away at some point without any clear vision of how that was actually is going to happen. But what he wanted was self-sufficiency for the Americans to spread out West from sea to shinning sea, maybe hook up with Canada and South America in some sort of union really against Europe because he saw European influences a baleful influence on America and the sort of old world kings fighting one another in wars and he said peace was his passion. He wanted the end of war in the world. So he thought that if everybody spread out, everybody had enough land to take care of themselves, there would be no need for fighting and there would be end of… left the Europeans behind, we could get out of those kind of dynastic wars where people always fighting each other for kingdom and so forth. So, he wanted peace and prosperity and land for American, and he thought that could be achieved in a sort of simple yeoman farmer type world. I mean, he didn’t think… He knew that eventually society would evolve, but the point was to stave off the sort of corruption of a British style, you know, factories and those kinds of things as long as possible, to remain an agrarian society for as long as we possibly could.
Annette Gordon-Reed confirms that Jefferson wanted all (white) men to be able to live unencumbered lives.