Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Thomas Jefferson Ate Vegetables, Kept Slaves

Part of the extensive vegetable gardens at Jefferson's Virginia estate.
Thomas Jefferson was 83 years old when he died (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826). He lived a privileged life for his time, which, you could say, contributed to his long life. He also ate little meat:1
Thomas Jefferson: "I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an aliment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet."

Ellen W. Coolidge, granddaughter: "He lived principally on vegetables. ... The little meat he took seemed mostly as a seasoning for his vegetables."

Edmund Bacon, Monticello overseer from 1806-1822: "He never eat much hog meat. He often told me, as I was giving out meat for the servants, that what I gave one of them for a week would be more than he would use in six months."
About those servants:
"Over the course of his life, Jefferson owned 600 people. His way of life always depended on the labor of people he held in slavery."
A country founded on the principles of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" kept enslaved 20% of its population, not accounting for women, while inscribing these principles in a Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, while claiming "all men are created equal" and calling slavery an "abominable crime," spent much of his adult life finding ways to maximize the productivity of his slaves.2
1The Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
2PBS: Scientific American Fronteirs: Thomas Jefferson, Slavemaster


Angela and Melinda said...

"Not accounting for women"--how typical, even today.

Bix said...

Can you believe ... women could not vote nationally for almost 100 years after Jefferson died? All those Presidents, all voted for by men.

Angela and Melinda said...

Yup, not till 1920. And it was a boy from Tennessee who cast the deciding vote, persuaded to do so by his mother! Good woman!

Bix said...

A boy from Tennessee?

Angela and Melinda said...

Well, practically a boy--a very young state legislator. Here's the story--they needed 36 states to ratify the suffrage amendment, and TN would have been 36th:

"When thirty-five of the necessary thirty-six states had ratified the amendment, the battle came to Nashville, Tennessee. Anti-suffrage and pro-suffrage forces from around the nation descended on the town. And on August 18, 1920, the final vote was scheduled.

One young legislator, 24 year old Harry Burn, had voted with the anti-suffrage forces to that time. But his mother had urged that he vote for the amendment and for suffrage. When he saw that the vote was very close, and with his anti-suffrage vote would be tied 48 to 48, he decided to vote as his mother had urged him: for the right of women to vote. And so on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th and deciding state to ratify."

Bix said...

Dear God, what a story. It was so close!

Looking back, it seems odd that men would act, overtly, to prevent women from having a say.