Saturday, October 13, 2007

Hitchens on Jefferson

In Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, Christopher Hitchens takes note that Thomas Jefferson believed that the institution of slavery threatened the future of America because he feared that a just God would take action against the nation. Hitchens references Jefferson's remark from Notes on the State of Virginia that "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

Hitchens gets in a good dig at Jefferson's belief in an apparently interventionist God.

He proposed that "after they year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude." This was a bolder attack on the institution than any he had yet mounted, and on this occasion it was not the objection of southerners, potent as these were, that undid the plan. A New Jersey delegate was taken ill at a critical moment, and the motion was lost. Slightly contradicting himself where divine justice and retribution were concerned, Jefferson wrote: "Thus we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and heaven was silent in that awful moment." Did he then tremble for his country at the thought that God was neutral?
Sadly, even though this would appear to paint Jefferson as an early champion of the cause of abolition, Hitchens also notes that Jefferson was less than enthused about the slave revolt in Haiti (and feared that were slavery to end in America without slaves being expatriated something similar would happen.) As Hitchens puts it, it's a "reminder that history is a tragedy and not a morality tale."

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