BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Here comes the Fourth of July, number 236 since the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence and riders on horseback rushed it to the far corners of the thirteen new United States -- where it was read aloud to cheering crowds. These days our celebration of the Fourth brings a welcome round of barbecue, camaraderie with friends and family, fireworks, flags, and unbeatable prices at the mall.

But perhaps, too, we will remember the Declaration of Independence itself, the product of what John Adams called Thomas Jefferson's "happy talent for composition." Take some time this week to read it -- alone, to yourself, or aloud, with others, and tell me the words aren't still capable of setting the mind ablaze. The founders surely knew that when they let these ideas loose in the world, they could never again be caged.

Yet from the beginning, these sentiments were also a thorn in our side, a reminder of the new nation's divided soul. Opponents, who still sided with Britain, greeted it with sarcasm. How can you declare "All men are created equal," without freeing your slaves?

Jefferson himself was an aristocrat whose inheritance of 5000 acres and the slaves to work it, mocked his eloquent notion of equality. He acknowledged that slavery degraded master and slave alike, but would not give his own slaves their freedom. Their labor kept him financially afloat. Hundreds of slaves, forced like beasts of burden to toil from sunrise to sunset under threat of the lash, enabled him to thrive as a privileged gentleman, to pursue his intellectual interests, and to rise in politics. Even the children born to him by the slave Sally Hemings, remained slaves, as did their mother. Only an obscure provision in his will released his children after his death. All the others -- scores of slaves -- were sold to pay off his debts.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson possessed "a happy talent for composition" -- but he employed it for cross purposes. Whatever he was thinking when he wrote “all men are created equal,” he also believed blacks were inferior to whites. Inferior, he wrote, "to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind." To read his argument today is to enter the pathology of white superiority that attended the birth of our nation.

So forcefully did he state the case, and so great was his standing among the slave-holding class, that after his death the black abolitionist David Walker would claim Jefferson’s argument had "injured us more, and has been as great a barrier to our emancipation as any thing that has ever been advanced against us," for it had "…sunk deep into the hearts of millions of the whites, and never will be removed this side of eternity."

So, the ideal of equality Jefferson proclaimed, he also betrayed. He got it right when he wrote about “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As the core of our human aspirations. But he lived it wrong, denying to others the rights he claimed for himself. And that's how Jefferson came to embody the oldest and longest war of all -- the war between the self and the truth, between what we know and how we live.

So enjoy the fireworks and flags, the barbecues and bargain sales. But hold this thought as well -- that behind this Fourth of July holiday are human beings who were as flawed and conflicted as they were inspired. If they were to look upon us today they most likely would think as they did then, how much remains to be done.

Bill Moyers Essay: Thomas Jefferson’s Betrayal

In this video essay, Bill reflects on the origins and lessons of Independence Day. We should remember, he says, that behind this Fourth of July holiday are human beings, like Thomas Jefferson, who were as flawed and conflicted as they were inspired, who espoused great humanistic ideals while behaving with reprehensible racial discrimination. That conflict — between what we know and how we live — is still a struggle in contemporary politics and society.

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  • JonThomas

    It should never amaze us, or surprise us, to learn of the human ability to hoodwink our own rationalizations. But, it should always cause an inner repugnance toward our own selves to know we carry such debilitating capacities.

    It’s so easy to look back and clearly see the seemingly obvious hypocritical disparities evident in figures from the distant past. Their lives tell stories. Especially those giants of history whose experiences stand in clear dissonance with our current acceptance of reality.

    At the same time, when viewed through a mirror, reflecting their examples and at ourselves, we learn a precious truth…we too carry the same crippling potential for duality of cross purpose.

    Modesty learned from the their lessons, while in no way excusing or defending their actions and inactions, leads to an understanding of our own capability for similar flaws and weaknesses.

    Such guide posts can offer the direction, and refreshing of strength, needed to aim our own lives toward a more perfect, clearer, vision of what humans can continually aspire.

    In turn, if we succeed in minimizing these impediments, we provide our progeny the opportunity to prosper from the fruits of our struggles.

    In a word…growth.

    Thank you for the thoughts Bill.

  • Billandjudith

    And thank you for saying so. Bill

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Bill, for elucidating, so clearly, how much work is still to be done, if this country is to evolve to a  Nation of True Equality and Justice for ALL.  It is for us, who are still living, here, to apply those truths and premises so eloquently stated, but, thus far, not practiced in this country.   Let’s hold Politicians, ourselves and our neighbors, accountable to the precepts of The Declaration of Independence, now 236 years old.  Isn’t it time?  

  • Anonymous

    I suggest we all say a prayer for our great nation as well.

  • Chris Bonner

    Jesus Bill. You have an aptitude for the poignant. You only seem to grow sharper as you grow older.

  • Peter Grothe

    I pause and rewind the discussions because the dialogue is often so jarring and smart that I miss the meaning.  I am inoculated with thought and valuable perspective.  Thanks!   

  • Camillicenturion

    Not only was Jefferson was a racist but an imperialist who thought of
    taking Puerto Rico and Cuba from Spain without any regards to the inhabitants of those two countries. More so, he even talked about expanding the Unites States not only at the cost of these two Latin American countries but the cost of ALL of the Latin American countries. I suppose that for him the people of all of these countries meant nothing for him, as did with the black people of the United States.

  • 19obert63


    Thank you for sharing your beautifully written essay;
    we are all human, and those we idolize fall  fast, as others rise in our all too human eye.

    I greatly admired Jefferson and Lincoln when i was young, but
     with age and I hope a little bit of insight, I can no
    longer swallow that their thoughts were noble but they were just men of their time. Jefferson and his slaves,Lincoln and his corrupt dealings with powerful private companies(railroads)
    conflict and painfully remind us to choose our heroes wisely for they will be presented and reflect a list of  our children choices.

    We have been blessed with great men and women in America,
    our choice of a hero image is often reflected in the mirror we look at every morning. Hopefully , it is one we can live and celebrate with.-Happy 4th 

  • CWB

    Very nice essay Bill. As a
    longtime admirer of Thomas Jefferson, I cannot disagree with anything you said.
    However, I think some perspective is justified to the story. First, we can never really know what Jefferson’s private thoughts or
    personal doubts may have been. Obviously, his actions as a slaveholder were
    divergent from his eloquent writings. However, I think the passage from the
    “Notes on the State of Virginia (1781 with updates in 1782), that you cited, is
    often taken out of context. His statement regarding blacks was based on a naïve
    natural history perspective, with a very antiquated (but prevalent at the
    time), idea of species. Jefferson wrote:

    “I advance it
    therefore as a suspicion only, that
    the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and
    circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and
    mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the
    same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different
    qualifications.” He goes on to
    say “This unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation
    of these people.”

    Given that black slaves were offered very little, if any, opportunity to demonstrate intellecutal capacity, it can be envisioned how this perspective may have taken root. This absoluted does not
    excuse Jefferson’s hypocrisy, but it does provide some perspective in context of the
    time and thinking of the many, if not all, the founding fathers. Although Jefferson authored the
    Declaration of Independence, there are 55 other signatures on the document. Of
    those, it is estimated about 1/3 of the signers were slave owners. I maintain that, yes,
    Jefferson was a flawed man, but a great man nontheless.

    “I advance it
    therefore as a suspicion only, that
    the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and
    circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and
    mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the
    same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different
    qualifications.” He goes on to
    say “This unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation
    of these people.”

    Given that black slaves were offered very little, if any, opportunity to demonstrate intellecutal capacity, it can be envisioned how this perspective may have taken root. This absoluted does not
    excuse Jefferson’s hypocrisy, but it does provide some perspective in context of the
    time and thinking of the many, if not all, the founding fathers. Although Jefferson authored the
    Declaration of Independence, there are 55 other signatures on the document. Of
    those, it is estimated about 1/3 of the signers were slave owners. I maintain that, yes,
    Jefferson was a flawed man, but a great man nontheless.

  • Guest

    To belatedly atone, We should NOW be ACTING to draft And EFFECT an American “Declaration Of
    Inter-dependence” among ALL US 99% in order to depose the DESPOTUS’ 1%. OWSt.!

  • Handymanjohn1947

    So often the influence of money rules. When you look at how much money each rep. in the house and senate receive by the lobbist. The 95% have no voice.When they talk about the spin. We are lead by lies and propiganda, When are we going to wake up ?  

  • Cherol Brown

     P.T. Barnum’s writings is:
    “I said that the people like to be humbugged when, as in my case,
    there is no humbuggery except that which consists in throwing up
    sky-rockets and issuing flaming bills and advertisements to attract
    public attention to shows which all acknowledge are always clean,
    moral, instructive, elevating, and give back to their patrons in
    every case several times their money’s worth” (the Bridgeport
    Standard, 2 Oct. 1885).

  • RGordon92443

    I would greatly appreciate a text copy of this…

  • Joe

    I would disagree that what Jefferson wrote in his Notes on the State of Virginia simply reflects the naive natural history perspective of his time. Remember that Jefferson also speculated in his Notes whether the black skin color comes from “the colour of the blood”. For a guy who was obsessive about observing and recording the details of the world around him — like temperature — did the man never see a slave bleed? Did no one on his plantation ever cut themselves? What the passage shows is that the man just didn’t care. When he further goes on to talk about the mating of “Oranootans” [orangutans] with black women, this goes beyond the social construct of his society. Jefferson’s neighbor, James Madison also had slaves — but Madison never wrote such disparaging words about blacks — indeed, he stated specifically that they wouldn’t be slaves except for the color of their skin. What we learn from Jefferson’s Notes is that when he wrote “all men are created equal” in the DoI, he didn’t mean black, specifically because he didn’t believe that blacks were of the same species — they simply weren’t men.

  • Bob Austin

    Heas quite a vindictive President, going after Justice Samuel Chase and Aaron Burr for reasons of spite. Both attempts failing for lack of objective foundation.

  • dale

    As my grand-pappy Conway used to say, ” when you know better, you do better.” One must keep Jefferson’s comments in historical context, not superimpose our contemporary views upon the past. CWB below speaks to this, as well.

    Still, I thank you for your essay and appreciate, as always, your comments.

  • WittyFool

    Thomas Jefferson and other slave owners required slaves to toil without financial remuneration. The slave did receive free food and housing as well as medical treatment when needed. Something to consider: If the necessities in life are provided, what is missing in life? What might be required?

  • Prima31058

    Jefferson will always be an enigma.  That is why I much prefer John Adams!  This is really his day.  Happy Independence Day Mr. Adams.  And Mrs Adams, too!

  • Prima

    Jefferson will always be an enigma.  That is why I prefer John Adams.  This is really his day.  Happy Independence Day Mr. Adams.  And Mrs. Adams, too!

  • Beth Bailey-Kingdon

    Great “Independence” Day essay, Bill.  Thanks.

  • Planetvagabond

    Moyers is once again well aimed and on point.  Deifying the founding fathers (and a flaw can instantly be seen in that it is only ‘fathers’) blindly is not a show of patriotism, but a revelation of a lack of concern.  If you really love your country you will seek for it to improve endlessly.

  • Rizpah37

    Prima, I think Adams would disagree. I believe he insisted till his dying day that Independence Day should have been July 2, and refused to celebrate it on the fourth.

  • OldManKensey

    I vaguely have a recollection of a letter by Jefferson where he states (paraphrase), “if these men [blacks] are less educated than us, it is only because they are not afforded a school or education…” 

    Is it possible that Jefferson, like so many of us, learned as he lived and possible changed his attitude as he grew older? 

  • Howard Eagle

    Dear Mr. Moyers,

    Thank you for penning this important critique and reminder. Relative to gaining a clear and comprehensive understanding of overall, current socioeconomic, political, and cultural conditions and power-relationships within the U.S. — your critique represents a critically important perspective. In fact, it is not possible to gain the type of above- referenced clarity and understanding — without placing our examinations and studies into historical context.

    The truth of the matter is that (as evidence by some of the comments associated with your article) millions upon millions of “Americans” remain in the deepest of denial regarding the ongoing relevance and importance of knowing and remembering this history. In fact, many struggle night and day to completely erase it from their psyches — mainly because of the irrational, fear and guilt that it conjures up.

    The latter point reminds me of that which I refer to as the ‘Eric-Holder syndrome’, i.e., the vicious and negative fallout or backlash, particularly on the part of much of white America, as a result of Mr. Holder’s famous or infamous (depending on one’s perspective) statement during a Black History Month Program in February of 2009, at which he was the keynote speaker (shortly after being appointed as the first African American to hold the position of U. S. Attorney General). Many will recall that Mr. holder reminded us of the absolutely-unquestionable fact that, when it comes to even so much as having open, honest, consistent, ongoing dialogue about matters of race and racism — “Americans have always been essentially a nation of cowards.” This was true when Mr. Holder uttered those words in February of 2009. It’s still true — 3 1/2 years later. It’s so sad (to say the least) that even the first African American President of the U.S. has (due to certainty of the same type of widespread negativity and backlash experience by Mr. Holder) avoided the topic of race and racism, which I refer to as the ‘forbidden-fruit’ issue, as if it’s the plague.

    Thank you,
    Howard J. Eagle

  • LPeters

    Not often I quote my own poetry, but seems appropriate here:

    The Hero Speaks


    I lie here night
    after night

    Riddled with guilt

    Gulping down rage

    Shaking with secret

    Wanting to reach
    beyond this eternal barrier


    To tell you that I am just a
    man who

    was leaving tomorrow on vacation

    was in love with my wife

    needed to get my tires rotated

    just filed for divorce to marry my assistant

    forgot to pick up my clothes from the cleaners

    cheated on my taxes

    loved my kids

    hoped to close another deal today

    stole from my company

    was writing the novel that no one wanted to publish

    hated my job

    loved my job

    loved my boyfriend more than my family

    loved my family more than my girlfriend

    hated war

    wanted to kill

    didn’t want to die

    To tell you that I am just a
    woman who

    forgot to eat breakfast this morning

    just started menopause

    didn’t want this child just discovered in my belly

    had a migraine

    yelled at my kids

    baked fresh cookies for my staff meeting

    drank too much

    was in debt over my head

    was closing on a new home today

    loved to dance in the nude

    had a secret second job

    was going on my first date tonight

    loved living alone

    hated living alone

    was about to celebrate 25 years in a loveless marriage

    just met the love of my life


    But you have covered
    my mouth

    With crime tape

    Marked “HERO”

    So my true story can
    never be told

    And the depth of my
    humanity never exposed

    Setting aspirations for
    others that can never be met

    Using a single action
    to trap me in your mythology

    Like a butterfly
    encased at the height of its beauty

    Keeping me from my
    full humanity

    Burying me under the
    weight of your fantasies

    Until no one truly
    knows me

    As anything other
    than a statistic. 

  • Historian67

    Are you kidding me?

  • Warren

    which is WHY they SHOULD ALWAYS be removed EVERY 5 years and no more.

  • Warren

     Then repay your debt to the descendants of the slaves your ancestors had.  Then let’s talk AFTER you have done it AFTER your children have been sold off and your love mate raped.  We can talk then.  If you would like to.

    {The comment was removed as I made this comment}

  • 7492

    Our actions never quite live up to our principles and ideals. we just have to keep reducing that gap. “The best sermons are lived, not preached. “

  • Warren

    Not sure HOW to take this essay since it is marked toward Independence Day.  Does one think that America would have its independence IF it wasn’t for the Native American Indians and the hard-abusive work of the Slaves?

    All I know about superiority is that if you put a White Man and a Black man in the water with a Great White Shark that hasn’t eaten in a week, who do you think will survive?  My money is on the shark.

    Superior?  Colorado is on fire, so the ‘superiors’ are just letting it burn to the ground?  No money can stop nature.  Postpone its effects, but not stop it entirely.

    You CAN’T improve something by burying the truth and thinking know one remembers or knows.

    Happy Independence Day.

  • KMK

    And today we have Mitt Romney saying everyone should have all they education “they can afford.” 

  • Howard Eagle

    This is not about Jefferson “learning.” He believed that black were inferior to white people — period. There is no evidence anywhere that even suggests that he didn’t go to his grave believing this. Jefferson, like each and every one of the so-called “founding fathers” were hard-core racists. We need to stop trying to rationalize, and just accept this factual reality.

  • Jdjekm

    Just goes to prove that when “money”(slaves kept Jefferson afloat$$$) men do corrupt things even when they know it is wrong…sounds like what we are experiencing in today’s world and may I add, as it has always been….

  • Jdjekm

    correction to JDJEKM : Just goes to prove that when “money” (Slaves kept Jefferson afloat/wealthy) is involved, men do corrupt things even when they know it is wrong…sounds like what we are experiencing in today’s world and may I add, as it has always been….

  • KK

    Well, no.  Jefferson freed his slaves and those who remained were paid. Pity how history has been distorted to fit the agenda du jour.

  • Moses Phillips

    I have always been conflicted with Jefferson’s honest and have been known to exclaim loudly at his monument:  “Liar!”  I later learned that it can be from the view point of a failure of enlightenment theory.  How else can such opposites reside in the same consciousness?

  • Howard Eagle

    “…superimpose our contemporary views upon the past.”??? You must be kidding. Your comments represent nothing more or less than attempted, sophisticate denial.

    There is no way to so-called ” superimpose our contemporary views upon” statements such as the following: Inferior, he wrote, “to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.”

  • Howard Eagle

    Another example of hard-core, entrenched DENIAL.

  • Howard Eagle


  • Bboberson1

    I’m not sure we’re breaking some ground here.  Not to dismiss any of it, but it has been out there for some time.  That he wrote the words and he’s a mess does not mean that the words are not foundational and endure.

  • Howard Eagle

    There is no historical record of this (as you described it), but even if he had so-called “freed” and/or “paid HIS [so-called] slaves” — this makes him what — some kind of good Samaritan or compassionate “master” or what?

  • Warren

     Please help me identify my denial.  I’m not sure of what I am supposed to be in denial of.  Many people are not born greedy nor arrogant.  Kick a dog long enough and it will bite you.  Corner a rattle snake and you will get bitten.  Learn to apologize and most can be forgiven, but not forgotten.

  • Billandjudith

    Thanks for this thoughtful response, Howard Eagle. Bill M.

  • Joe

    Umm, not really. Jefferson only freed 2 slaves during his lifetime. allowed 3 to run away and freed 5 at his death. At his death, most of Jefferson’s slaves were sold to pay off his massive debts. As to paying his slaves, this is also inaccurate. He didn’t pay his slaves for their normal everyday labor. The only slave to earn a wage was Great George, when he worked as an overseer. Some slaves were paid for fish or meat caught in “their own time”, that is outside their normal work time. Then, of course, there were the child slave laborers who worked long hours at the nail factory — kids as young as 10 years old. They weren’t paid.

  • 4 whirledpeas

    I am a HUGE Moyers fan, but I believe this article is seriously flawed.

    In the 1700’s, people didn’t know about genetics. They also thought that human beings were conceived fully formed (and blew up like balloons in the womb until they were big enough to be born). There was no concept that germs caused disease, no telegraph to spread information quickly, and little ability to predict the weather (just to name a few things). People invented explanations for things they could not explain in ways that at least seemed plausible (based on their minimal amount of knowledge, and what they had been raised to believe).  This also included explanations about human beings, and the ordering of society. The Great Chain of Being (that all living things had a their place in a divine heirarchy) was the pervasive ideology of Western thought, beginning with Plato. 

    Until about 10 years before the Declaration of Independence was written, there was NO consciousness of a single identity as a country or people.  There were British colonies, Spanish colonies, and so on –and each had been made up of subjects loyal to their own sovereigns.  They came from feudalistic societies in the Old World where the king’s newest conquests became his newest slaves.  The United States was not invented “from scratch” but was built upon the colonization and practices that proceeded it’s realization. 

    Even many of those in the abolition movement did not think that blacks and whites were “equal” (they simply found the practice cruel, and an immoral way to treat any living beings).  Jefferson fell into this category. People of that time simply did not realize the  effect of environmental factors on cognition, ability, and stature.

    I do not believe in the deification of the Founding Fathers, but neither do I support the elevation of ourselves (as if we are somehow omniscient). We have learned more in the last 20 years than in all of human history combined, yet we cannot allow this to blur our understanding of history. ONE hundred years ago, there were less than 10 miles of paved roads  in America, most homes did not have electricity or indoor plumbing, and life expectancy was 47.  Jefferson was born in 1743 (269 years ago).

    To bring this idea into modern times, how many people reading this having been driving an electric car for decades? (It first made an appearance in the 1920s.) In the future people will be aghast that even
    though we knew that fossil fuels released poisons into the atmosphere, we continued to live our lives as prescribed by our times and traditions. If you have worked against traditional sources of energy (helping to bring about changes in paradigms and practices) will you be regarded as a hypocrite if you yourself did not have a low energy footprint (and instead traveled on planes to attend conferences and symposiums to work on new technologies and raise awareness)? 

    Most of us will do good to leave a legacy nearly as expansive as Jefferson’s (he even worked on improving outhouses). To say he fell short because he was a pioneering thinker in many (but not all) areas, or because even he was not always able to live up to his own ideals, is inaccurate in my view.  

  • Teresa Lynch3988

    I think that we need to remember that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Thanks Mr. Eagle for calling it cowardice.

  • Howard Eagle

    The idea that Jefferson’s inhuman behavior and supremacist belief system (throughout his entire lifetime) can possibly be explained away via explanations such as — “like so many of us, Jefferson [possibly] learned as he lived and possibly changed his attitude as he grew older” — represents a clear matter of unsubstantiated speculation, i.e., grasping for straws — in attempt to explain away straight-up, crystal-clear, racism. There is nothing recorded in history that would point to this as a possibility. It’s important to note that it would not have been a matter of him merely “changing his attitude.” Instead, it would have been a matter of him having to change his entire belief system, which was instilled in him from the crib up.

    Often, when people are faced with realities that cause cognitive dissonance, they “grasp for straws” or formulate irrational “rationalizations” to help deal with the fact that what they have been taught all of their lives, just isn’t true, i.e., in an objective sense — Jefferson was not, as all of us were taught in our Social Studies classes, a great and noble, loving, kind, outstanding “founding father.” On the contrary, he was a cruel, inhumane, slave-holding racist, which is probably very difficult for you and many others to come to grips with. Denial is sometimes so deeply embedded in our psychics (from the crib up) that, — unless we continue to study, think deeply, and search for objective truth — it’s very easy (“normal”) to routinely engage in denial — without even realizing it. I hope this helps.

  • Howard Eagle

    My pleasure —  thank you again for writing the article.

    H. Eagle

  • Patriotically_Sober_1

    It’s simply a statement of elitest spin produced to justify stealing another man’s labor as,an inheritance of fate of the common man to serve the upper class.  It may stick in one’s side if we fail to believe the early colonies were financed by slavery.  Thoughts? 

  • M Arthur

    He was a man of his time, just like some are today. It is always easier to have your head in the cloud, if all your other needs are met. Gratitude is not always in their vocabulary. I know some people that have the same attitude. Some would call me a dumb immigrant and then wanted my help spelling their English. Things never seem to change too much. But I never feel inferior, after all English was my third language and was able to spell in each one of them.

  • Dktr Sus

    So beautifully stated.

    Jefferson was not ‘hypocritical’ — he was a man of this  new country, a man of his times.  And … as America was then, America is now — economic concerns (i.e., greed) ruled — and rules — over ethical concerns. 

    Slavery was reason enough for America to declare independence. It was outlawed in England in the early 1700’s, and may well have outlawed it in the colonies. Our forefathers held that slavery was essential to America to sustain the economy — much as Oil Wars are defended for the health of the 21st American economy.  It isn’t hard to see the foundation of our present depravity in our forefathers’ values.  We are in no position to judge.

    And as well …  slavery is just one of the bleaker sides of American beginnings. Writers of the Declaration of Independence go on to revile  ‘the merciless Indian savages’ — giving us a glimpse into their determination to exterminate the native populations. Extermination/domination of others for our profit continued-continues as an American trait as well.

    As a woman I have always  bridled when anyone used the words, “man” and “mankind” to express all humanity. I don’t in this document … it is almost a relief to see women omitted-ignored-forgotten in the Declaration of Independence.  Perhaps if this country ever sheds its past, it will only be because it gives women and the exploited the same power as the wealthy white men and those that serve them.

  • Warren

     Basically  you are trying to say I’m denying that Jefferson was evil?  Then as he became a frail old man, decided to change his ways?  I did not say that nor am I denying it. 

    Abraham Lincoln was about to free the slaves which is why he was killed.  200 years of suppression, 200 years to play catch up.

    I do not have to study peace to stop traffic for a family of ducks crossing a high way.  I regard all life as equal, black, white, brown, yellow.

    I do not kill ants that enter my house because I feel superior to them, for without them, this world would be bug ridden.

    Not sure if that is how I was raised, but I learned A LOT about treating people and things with RESPECT and HONOR at age 8.

    IF it breathes or bleeds, it is alive, respect it.

    But for some, they are dense and it takes time, even a crisis like cancer or death to ‘see the light’ and change their ways.

    But THAT does not pardon their past.

  • Howard Eagle

    Speaking of DENIAL — rarely have I seen such an elaborate explanations designed to explain away the fact that the so-called “founding fathers,” including Thomas Jefferson, were hard-core, inhumane, racist, greedy, capitalists.
    Now, do you mean to tell us that it was solely because of the times in which Jefferson was born and raised that he didn’t know that it was wrong to kidnap millions of human beings from their native lands; force them into a form — a system of enslavement — such as the world had never seen up to that point in history — a system of enslavement that legally classified kidnapped Africans as chattel (just like cows, pigs, or horses). Do you mean to tell us that Jefferson did not know that Africans were human beings? If this is in fact true — then obviously he believed that it was acceptable to copulate with lower animals (just like cows, pigs, or horses). The U.S. form and system of enslavement (for centuries) systematically stripped African peoples of our languages, religions, histories, entire cultures.
    Your argument that “people of that time [, particularly the elitist, so-called intellectuals and “leaders”] simply did not realize the  effect of environmental factors on cognition, ability, and stature” is totally bogus, totally invalid, totally wrong. If they “did not realize the effect of environmental factors on cognition, ability, and stature”  — then why did they find it necessary and important to develop laws that forbade African people from reading and writing, and why did they make it punishable by death in some cases for African people to even attempt to learn? Stop it!
    It is your thinking that’s fundamentally, grossly flawed — as opposed to Mr. Moyers’.
    In fact, I would argue that your brand of deep-seated denial is even dangerous to some extent — because it seems to be “backed” by pseudo intellectualism.

  • Howard Eagle

    Dear Ms. Lynch,
    We need to be careful about believing our own symbolic, ultra-patriotic, narrowly-nationalistic rhetoric. Considering that millions, if not the majority of people living in this stolen land, don’t even have the courage to DISCUSS one of the nation’s oldest, most devastating, pervasive, and potentially volatile socioeconomic, sociopolitical and cultural issues, which continues to impact us greatly in the present, and will also effect us greatly in the future, i.e., the dual-headed, ‘forbidden-fruit’ issue of individual and institutionalized racism, which are inseparable from one another, and which was embedded in the very fabric and foundation of this thoroughly racist nation-state, and therefore reflected in each and every major institution of the society (right from the very beginning) — it’s really rather difficult to make a credible argument that this is “the land of the [so-called] brave.”
    The part of your argument regarding it being “the land of the free” has some credibility (at least in relative terms), which is why, (unlike my ancestors — less than 150 years ago) I am FREE to think and to write.
    With regard to “cowardice” — I agree with the Honorable Attorney General Eric Holder that — when it comes to even DISCUSSING matters of race and/or racism — the United States of America has clearly and definitely always been essentially a nation of cowards. You may not like to hear /read this, but you can’t deny it.

  • Malik Abdul Rasheed Oxford

    A wonderful book that touches on the founding years of America is American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis. Great July 4th read. 

  • Anonymous

    Sally Hemings and her children were “White Slaves.”  Most of her children became fully white when they were emancipated.  This is even more true for their descendants:

    Obituary of Beverly Jefferson, grandson of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

  • Steeleye1

    “a system of enslavement — such as the world had never seen up to that point in history”  – um, Rome? Any one?  History goes back a long way.

  • Diana Attuso

    Despite the diatribe from Howard. I agree with your statement and am please to have it stated here in so eloquent a way. Modern people really have absolutely no idea what life and culture were like even 100 years ago let alone 250 years ago. Honestly, people think that “morals” are immutable. But they change **all** the time.

    Before Citizens United no one thought a corporation was a person, now we know it is (with all the rights that come with person-hood, but none of the morals and ethics). Perhaps some day corporations will also behave in moral and ethical ways, but since it took us hundreds of years to abolish slavery and give women the vote, it will take corporations that long to treat their “fleashy” counterparts as equals.

  • Steeleye1

    You do realize that “racism” as a concept and even a word was not a part of our consciousness until the 1930, and was brought to our attention by Nazi Germany. That blacks were of another race, as were Indians and Asians, etc. was a matter of fact, just as at that time in history everybody, including the slaves, *believed* that the races were not equal in any way.

  • Steeleye1

    or that their parents can pay for.  

  • KGW1737

    Slavery WAS NOT abolished in Great Britain in the early 1700s. Slavery wasn’t abolished throughout the British Empire until 1834. The slave trade wasn’t abolished in the Empire until 1807. The Somerset decision didn’t come out of the Court of King’s Bench until 1772–AND it was a very narrow decision that simply forbade the FORCIBLE removal of a slave from England to the West Indies. Now, in 1779, the Scottish Bench (Scottish law was then and is now very different from English, based in Roman, not Common, law) declared slavery illegal in SCOTLAND. (The Act of Union of 1707 kept both Scottish law and the Scottish Kirk separate and independent bodies.) The Somerset Decision in combination with the Scottish decision gave the IMPRESSION to many at the time and to many now that slavery in Great Britain was illegal.

  • Gailpauli@ne60


  • Mfharahan1

    and your point Teresa is what?  that racism is OK…obviously even you do not believe that slavery is moral . 

  • Dez

    In the USA, and in Canada and Mexico, the servile  class and the plutocratic power elites are thriving. Transcending race or colour of skin, we must compete with corporations as ‘persons’. Unlike Jefferson, nay humans, ‘corporations’ are the impersonal masters among us. Like Jeffersonian times, most of us are oblivous and semi conscious of the ubiquitous reality of our time. That which we must realize is oft in historical terms only discoverable after we are are long gone . Corporations as we all now know are going concerns with a soul-less flesh-less longevity. Your thoughts on the Jeffersonian reality is sobering and a call to action now in your country and ours .
    Cheers and Happy Birthday

  • dale

    Thank you for recognizing the better of the two. We have Jefferson to thank for the likes of Tea-publicans.

  • Howard Eagle

    I don’t know exactly when the word “racism” was added to “our” vocabulary. I assume this is something that you have researched. So, if your claim is that the “word racism” was added to “our” vocabulary during “the 1930’s” (compliments of the Regime of one of the world’s most notorious arch-racist) — so be it. On the other hand, the “concept,” and in fact, the reality of racism (regardless of what it was or wasn’t called) — developed as part of “our consciousness” simultaneously — along with the beginning of modern, European imperialism and the development of the capitalist economic system, including and especially under the system of U.S. chattel slavery. European social “scientists,” in both the “old” and “new” worlds (so-called anthropologists, psychologists, archeologists, etc…, particularly Germans) were busy developing “scientific” categorization and labeling of human beings as “superior” and “inferior” as early as the 1600’s. Also, European, so-called theologians or religious leaders were busy debating whether or not Africans and other peoples of color had “souls.” Remember (as part of the justification for enslavement and genocide) — indigenous people of (Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the so-called “Americas” had all been conveniently / expediently labeled by many leading religious figures as being “heathens” — as well as not fully-developed human beings. Your thoroughly ridiculous, fabricated idea that during the “time in history [,in which Jefferson lived] everybody, including the [so-called] slaves, *believed* that the races were not equal in any way” is ludicrous on it’s face, and has no factual validity at all. So-called “inferiority” was not an intrinsic or natural phenomenon among Africans or other people of color. Instead, it was beaten, raped, lynched, shot, and burned into them — both psychologically and physically (over numerous centuries). Obviously, you can attempt to twist and distort the historical record, but you CANNOT change it. The objective historical record is permanently, well-established. Your fundamentally flawed (to say the least) thinking, and that of many others writing here, represents the main reason why we need to have this conversation on a continuous, consistent basis — so that we can (once and for all) separate fact from fiction — with hopes that sooner than later — we will all be able to stop burying our heads in the sands of deep-seated denial (as an ostrich would do), and finally begin to deal with the ongoing, pervasive, devastating, residual effects and impact of past atrocities and sins.

  • Howard Eagle

    “Diatribe”? You’re kidding right?

    Another sure-sign of deep-seated DENIAL is — when all else fails, and you are unable to formulate credible counter-arguments — rely on dismissive tactics, especially when you know or believe that you have a captive-audience that largely agrees with your “position.”

    Now, let’s briefly examine the idea of “diatribe” :
    “Honestly, people think that “morals” are immutable. But they change **all** the time.”

    So, “250 years ago” it was “moral” for some human beings to “own” others, and to “acquire” them via invasion, military might, and massive kidnappings; to label them (legally so) as chattel — with “no rights that the white man [,including Jefferson] was bound to respect”; it was moral to rape, beat, murder them at will, and to systematically (legally) deprive them of the right to develop intellectually; to destroy entire cultures, and tear families asunder; it was “moral” to commit genocide against indigenous people around the world? I see.
    “Before Citizens United no one thought a corporation was a person, now we know it is (with all the rights that come with person-hood, but none of the morals and ethics).”

    So, “the rights that corporations” enjoy today represents a “good” analogy relative to understanding the “rights” that Jefferson and other hard-core racists kidnappers and enslavers enjoyed “250 years ago”? I see.


  • Michelle M Heitman

     Are you HONESTLY CLAIMING that there was no such thing as the prejudgment of another group of people, based upon their difference from you, prior to Modern European Imperialism?  With all due respect….you are an idiot.

  • JMD

    Mr. Moyer’s excellent essay is more about us in the “now.”

    Similar to our sharing features with our biological parents, our main gift and challenge is that we share the spiritual, moral, and ethical DNA of our nation’s “founders”- the good as well as the bad.  A choice to see only fragments of what we have inherited from them is a serious self-inflicted handicap. With that choice we only see fragments of ourselves.  

    We are an unfinished people in the middle of a long, cruel, awkward, adolescence.  And like a tiresome teenager, perhaps we expect reality to be easier than it is, demand more than what we deserve, and insist on being recognized as something that we have not yet become. 

    At our core, as well as at our current crossroads, we see only what we want to see, daring little else.  In that manner we are are also tied to the American “anti-revolutionaries”-who also had a hand in carving us out of the North American wilderness- and who willingly forgave King George all, and rather than engaging in critical thought, preferred to exist passively in a half existence within the shadow of superstition and stupidity.  The word for them, a believe, was “loyalists.”

    Contrary to the (state approved) history books, we are still writing America’s first chapter.  And it is a rough draft at that.

  • 4 whirledpeas

    I apologize if my position was unclear, Mr. Eagle. I am not denying that the actions of the past were extremely ignorant, repulsive, and reprehensible. Nor do I deny that many people were greedy and inhumane (willing to exploit through cruelty).  European colonization and enslavement was an arrogant use of power, destroying both individual lives and honorable cultures. Sadly, the actions of this despicable history are still causing multidimensional reverberations in the present day (and in many places it still continues -as human trafficking is currently a $12 BILLION dollar annual industry, and an estimated 3,000 languages will become extinct in the coming decades).  

    On the topic of who qualified as “fully human”, Plato and Aristotle lumped together children, women, slaves, free laborers, and animals –because “with their bodies they attend to the needs of life.”  In their soul/body philosophical perspective, those who used their bodies were “lower,” “seedy,”  and a “deviant class” ( ineligible of an afterlife).  According to their ideology, either you led a soul-directed life, or a bodily-directed life (which supposed that the latter had been created for the purpose of being used and controlled by the former).  

    To be clear, my objection is NOT to the scorning of these abominable acts or philosophies!  Neither am I attempting to justify them.  (They simply occurred.)

    Rather, my objection is to the idea of singling out Thomas Jefferson as almost solely responsible for our nation’s ills.  This is especially questionable (to me, at least) when comparatively,  Jefferson made  innumerable personal sacrifices in an effort to forward the idea of democracy (including fighting powerful moneyed interests).  Very few people anywhere are able to rise above the “doxa” of their own cultural conditioning  and places in history. Jefferson did better than most on several  counts, so incriminating him alone is where I dissent. 

    It is also relevant that that during the time between the writing of the Declaration of Independence and his first term as president, Jefferson was keenly aware that France was experiencing the Reign of Terror  (because of the intense conflict between political factions).  He decided to focus on creating a stable country, and said about abolition: “A good cause is often injured more by ill-timed efforts of its friends than by the arguments of its enemies . . .” He reasoned that there would be little use in creating laws if there was not a governmental system in place to enforce them. He feared chaos and angry mobs (and a return of European rule).

    Of course it would have been better if there had been no such thing as slavery, or other atrocities,  in the first place! But, slavery came with Columbus (1492). It would be almost 200 years before John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers had conceived pf the notion of a “social compact” (1689). It would be almost another 100 years before the people in the colonies began to conceive of themselves, and the United States, as their own country.  I don’t think that one person can be held responsible for so much of what happened then… in addition to being blamed for the many inadequacies still present in our own time. That’s all. 

    Of course others are welcome to their own opinion.

  • Dktr Sus

    I wonder how the Canadians would view your perspective.  Were their ‘forefathers’ who did not break with King George live  “passively in a half existence within the shadow of superstition and stupidity”? 

    It is worth noting that Canada’s “adolescence” has caused far, far less pain and suffering to humanity than this American experiment. (and I realize this could be comparing apples and oranges, but humans are humans and make choices for which they must take responsibility.)

     I don’t think the US is doing as well as it could or should and I would suggest that permissive parenting of adolescents is as bad as autocratic parenting … sometimes even worse. It is time to grow up.

  • Dktr Sus

    Perhaps that “IMPRESSION” was enough to make Southern forefathers believe that slavery  would be banned in the colonies if left to British law.  Ending slavery was the general global trend by then; it wasn’t just a ‘slippery slope’ argument. The economic power of the Southern states was essential to the independence of the colonies, so slavery had to be part of the compromises to ‘create a more perfect union.’

  • Mark Friedman

    @a8e75a1c9e6ec73be1d03909c96dcee6:disqus  I’m not sure where you’re coming from in making that statement as I didn’t see Mr. Eagle make any such claim. There was certainly “prejudgement” of groups of people based on such items as language, tribe, and religion prior to “Modern European Imperialism”. However, Mr. Eagle wasn’t raising or discussing other forms of “prejudgement”. Instead, he was talking about the historical origins of modern racism, specifically the roots of white supremacy. As far as global dynamics and certainly the way America’s history developed, this is a history to be crystal clear about. The history of racism is one of the focal paramount issues that has shaped and continues to influence the major power dynamics in the world so it’s worthy of our utmost concentration and attention.

  • jaymax

     Familiar experience. I’m Black, foreign born, I was studying chemistry late one afternoon in the Student Union, [1979-80] with a White classmate  that depended heavily on me for explanations [we were grad level adv. degree – so not immature kids]. Three Arab looking students peeked in at the Union door, my classmate named “Rick”, responded reflexively, “these dumb foreigners”. I immediately responded, “Rick, how could you say that? I am a foreigner too”. He responded, obviously embarrassed, “No! No! you’re different”.
    I’ve always remembered that SNAFU of his.

    But it only shows that economic factors (something of value to be gained) will always trump morals, ethics and positions – no matter how lofty sounding.  Few will really rise to that level.

  • jaymax

     “How else can such opposites reside in the same consciousness?” Easily!

    Only about 10% of a population will take a firm stand on a position, one way or the other – that makes it ~ 5% on a pro or con position. The remaining 90% merely follows. Where monetary gain is involved expect the distributions to shift. So one can espouse lofty ideals while one’s economic engine is in conflict with the ideals. Popularity and ‘Fads’ can mask reality and be a containment vessel for the contradiction.
    During the French Revolution many ‘Pro-Monarchy’ persons masqueraded as being Pro-Republic; today, many pro-diversity advocates actions contradicts with their verbal statements; currently there is a plethora of ‘Green” Corporations, Companies and Individuals, are they all Green? and let us look at the greatest contradiction producing the strangest of all bed-fellows – most sexist male chauvinist loves women!

  • Dez

    Well stated – thought provoking.

    All North Americans share the DNA from our collective history and indeed today all of us are rough, and when we need each other, tough drafts “at that”.    Canadians who have paid close attention to this year’s Centennial of the War 1812,  are proud  North Americans proud to share an evolving heritage with our forebearers and our closest friends and the  many recent arrivals.I feel certain in this age that we will continue to write  our joint history  book together .

    I for one believe it will be it will be a great book if Chapter One as we know it, is any future indicator. 

    We are in this thing going forward together


  • Dez

    jaymax, “economic factors (something of value to be gained) will always trump morals, ethics and positions – no matter how lofty sounding”

    I’m from the sixties and white : Let me cite just a “few ” of my heroes :

    Martin L King
    Malcolm X
    Pres. A. Lincoln
    Chief Tecumseh
    Chief Crazy Horse
    Sally Fleming
    Jackie Robinson
    Jim Brown
    Sammy Davis Junior
    Bill Clinton
    Spike Lee
    Steven Spielberg
    Mr Douglas
    Master Wilburforce
    Pres. L.B.J.
    Little Richard
    Rodney King
    …….and list goes on and on

    This be cool dude and fairly moral upright eh?…
    Oh add Pres. Obama, Oprah, and Gayle King ….r u : ) ing?

    Rick-ticks come and go and ought 2b forgiven for mispeaking , jaymax.

    The “level” is outstanding


  • Dez

    World wide I understand the slavery holocaust involved over 10 Million souls . Slavery has existed for centuires thru out history . However the slavery trade across the world including most notably the substantial trade in the Americas during the period you probaly cite was astounding horible and in the millions mostly from Africa and near-Africa sources.

    History and modern media and now the internet archive and our collective gobalied memory and nervous system is well aware and ashamed .

    You need not be uncertain about the question.

    Like our war dead whom we honour  and like the WWII Holocaust victims, the world must ( and I believe we now more than ever )  know about and remember and abhore the Holocaust of Slavery .

    The better legacy may be manifested in events today and yet to come

  • JMD

    The above remarks are in no way intended to  offend our neighbors to the North.  In the past thirty-one years I have visited their country seven times, traveled from Victoria to Montreal, and spent a fifteen week winter tour of small communities in rural Alberta along the Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories boarders.  In my experience Canadians are kind, level-headed, and generous.

    That said, I am proud to be an American citizen, a country that stood up to the inherent evils of monarchy.

    I have also traveled across our homeland a great deal and have lived in the West, South, Midwest, and East Coast regions.  I am a westerner by heart.  Some of my ancestors traveled across the continent on foot, prodding large animals along the way that didn’t want to take the journey.  They ate what they could find, tended to their sick, buried their dead, and kept pressing forward, determined that a better life was over the next hill.  When they arrived, they lived in drafty shacks with dirt floors and endured bad weather, earthquakes, avalanches, flash floods, predators, and lawlessness.  They improvised, redefined themselves, and built beautiful cities.  When you hurt a westerner, you can see all of that in their eyes.  It is as much of a testament as any document.  

    Growing up out west we often repeated the remark “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and understood the importance of doing (or attempting to do) no harm.  I always thought it was a universal thought.  When I moved to other parts of the country I was surprised that the saying had been changed to “we don’t know how to fix it, so it ain’t broke.”  Both thoughts are part of the American mind set.

    In the south, some are still upset at the outcome of the Civil War.  In the midwest, some are upset at the coasts.  I have come to the conclusion that we are still finishing up the Revolution, and until we resolve its resulting dissonance with honor and grace we will flounder  hamstrung to a vague identity.          

    The reference to “superstition” in the above comment was a nod to my favorite founder, Thomas Paine.  Since his “Common Sense” sold hundreds of thousands of copies in 1776, one could argue his was a favorite founder of our founders.  The “stupidity” part was mine.  Mr. Paine would have used the word “ignorance,” but ignorance means unawareness.  But with the Supreme Court decisions of the past decade and the economic policies of the last forty years we are not ignorant, we are just collectively passive, which is stupid.

    But our founders, including Mr. Jefferson, were not passive, so that is something.  They faced their challenge with a response, and their response has produced our challenges.  What will our response be?  As for the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling, or for that matter the inheritance tax folly and the rising income unfairness, I can’t help but think that Mr. Paine would have repeated the same argument he made in 1776 about the evils of monarchy: “…first [it] is a degradation and lessening of ourselves,…[second it] is an insult and an imposition on posterity.  For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever.”    In this way we are still fighting the same fight.  Just because Wall Street thugs plundered us does not mean that their descendants have a right to continuously victimize our descendants nor assume to rule over them.

  • 4 whirledpeas

    Thank you Diana.  

    “Presentism” or anachronistic thinking is often considered  a logical fallacy when viewing history, as is ethnocentrism when attempting to understand people of another culture.  Avoiding these errors is an ethical pre-requisite in many disciplines.

    And, viewing something objectively, or through a scientific lens,  is not the same as denial.

  • 4 whirledpeas

    JMD, I agree with your comparison to our current circumstance as “adolescence.” Using the same analogy, if human history is taken as whole, there were also developmental stages of infancy, toddlerhood, early and late childhood. We first crawl, pull ourselves up to stand, and walk before we can we learn to run (and perhaps later refine this skill with athletic acuity).  To expect a toddler to perform the same tasks as an adult, or understand what they see or hear in the same way, is folly.  Similarly, we accept toddlerhood for what is was –a precursor to a later stage. 

    There is a history of ideas; an evolution of thought  –with new concepts and ideas only able to exist because of those that preceded them.  It is an arduous process of trial and error, with both punctuated periods of growth (growth spurts, if you will) and many regressions. There are also external factors and environments that can either foster or inhibit the realization of potentials. 

    From this view, it is possible for us to become more compassionate, more intelligent, more creative, more courageous, and so on. Yet, this is not a given –nor is progress always in a straight line. 

  • Averde

    Perhaps not quite as flawed as someone who created a television commercial which dishonestly incited fear and led to one of the biggest crooks being elected President in 1964…  

  • 4 whirledpeas

    It is absolutely true that millions of Americans are either
    uneducated or in denial  when “regarding the ongoing relevance and
    importance of knowing and remembering this history.”

    It is also true
    that institutionalized racism and the unjust stratification our society
    (including the perpetuation of a permanent underclass) is an anathema to the
    principles of freedom and justice, and should demand our most rapt attention
    and commitment of resources. It is and has been, as Kozel describes it, the
    shame of our nation. 

    It is also true that not talking about race, or pretending
    that it is inconsequential, can also be considered racism (in as much as
    silence can be perceived as tacit approval, and enforced silence can disallow
    another from speaking their truth).

    Yet, that does not change the fact that this article is rife
    with fallacies.  Besides presentism and
    anachronistic thinking (that I mentioned in another response) it also employs
    hasty generalizations (painting with a broad brush to force a conclusion),
    cherry picking (ignoring facts and information counter to its position), attribution
    errors and biases, and more.

    We do not get closer the truth by allowing ourselves the
    same logical and cognitive fallacies that enabled the situations to occur in
    the first place. Additionally, forcing these fallacies further divide people of
    good will –who might otherwise be able to combine their energies to combat the
    problem productively (thereby creating a self fulfilling prophecy).

    I would like to see our problems of race and inequity addressed
    as thoroughly, quickly, openly, honestly, logically, and as rigorously as
    possible. That has been my motivation for participating in this conversation.

  • Howard Eagle

    As it relates to its original meaning, the term “idiot” was used to describe people who had no knowledge or understanding of politics and governmental affairs. It’s reasonable and logical to assume that (with regard to its original meaning) — “idiots” either could not or did not read (at least not well). With no due respect, obviously you have a lot more in common with idiots than I do. This is evidenced by the fact that (presumably) after having read, or at least attempting to read my previous posts — you came to the grossly erroneous conclusion that I wrote and/or believe “that there was no such thing as the prejudgment of another group of people, based upon their difference from you, prior to Modern European Imperialism.”

    As it relates to its original meaning — if you can get past the likely characteristic of idiocy, i.e., inability and/or lack of studiousness relative to reading, and go back and reread what I wrote — you will NOT find any reference to “prejudgment of another group of people, based upon their difference from you,” which does NOT represent a full or legitimate definition of institutionalized racism, particularly as it developed and continues to exist — beginning with modern, European imperialism and the development of the capitalist economic system, including and especially under the system of U.S. chattel slavery. In terms of an analogy — I wrote about “watermelons”, i.e. development of the world’s most inhumane system of institutionalized racism, which developed under European imperialism. You attempted to extrapolate via your submission regarding “peanuts,” i.e., “prejudgment of another group of people, based upon their difference from you.” Since you obviously suffer from deficiency associated with idiocy — let me see if I can make this plain for you:

    1) Based on what you wrote, apparently you don’t have a clue about what racism is or is not, particularly as it relates to its institutionalized form.

    2) “Prejudgment of another group of people, based upon their difference from you,” is not a full or legitimate definition of institutionalized racism — idiot!

  • Anonymous

    This is the ONLY 4th of July-related item I will post on my FB page.

  • Jerry R. Meeks

    This is well said. The institution of slavery was a product of Imperialism brought to us by the World Super Power at the time, Great Britain. It was embedded in all Thirteen Colonies and with laws to back it up. It’s important to note that every race has been subjected to slavery at one time or another in history. There was no racism at the time of Jefferson because both races didn’t know what freedom was in British Imperialistic rule. The idea that all men are created equal came after the War of Independence and it was just an idea then written down on a piece of paper called “The Declaration of Independence.” It took less than century later to end slavery as a lawful practice in the U.S. after a bloody Civil War. The idea that All men are created equal was sparked in men’s minds and we owe this spark that soon turned into a flame to Jefferson and many others. NO MAN HAS TO BOW AND FEAR NO EVIL.

  • NMH

    This is one of the most well-written comments I’ve ever read on the internet, JMD. Thank you for putting this so beautifully into words.

  • Anonymous

    I have always loved the truth-telling and clear vision of Bill Moyers!

  • Shirley Hershey Showalter

    Another beautiful essay, Bill. Happy Independence Day to you and Judith. We are all interdependent, as Parker Palmer reminds us.

  • Nathan Roser

    While I largely agree with Mr. Moyers’ comments, the “Notes on the State of Virginia,” from which he finds Jefferson’s racist quote, also includes a draft declaration of Independence, in which Jefferson discusses the institution of slavery quite caustically, himself, being a slaveholder. I would have liked Mr. Moyers to reconcile in more detail the paradox that Jefferson, being a slaveholder, could have stated some abolitionist tendencies in a possible Declaration of Independence, even if it would destroy himself financially–but continued to be a slaveholder up until he manumitted his slaves upon his death.

  • Alethea Eason

    Excellent thoughts. I totally agree. We are a YOUNG country.

  • Terry Benish

    His words amount to so much sophistry in the face of his actions. What kind of struggle did he go through? Food and warm comforting arms from slaves are hardly the residual of struggle.

  • marvin steiner

    I don.t think he manumitted his slaves,they were pledged to his creditors of which he had many.Washington on the other hand did.

  • Anonymous

    This is the day on which Thomas Jefferson achieved immortality. In writing what in anyone else’s hand would have been a routine state paper, Jefferson managed to find language that would resonate with the aspirations of humanity for the rest of time. The world pivots on July 4, 1776, because Jefferson gave us the template for a universal human dream: due process, equal protection under the law, the understanding that people are born with rights and government’s main purpose is to respect those rights, a believe that we are entitled to take charge of our own destiny, and the idea that we are born to seek happiness, not endure misery or our original sinfulness. If Jefferson had done nothing else, he would be remembered for his agency in drafting the most important document in the English language. And yet he was a shy and diffident man who would rather have been in Virginia.

    One day Egypt will enjoy the full fruits of the rule of law, and Syria, and Pakistan, and China, and North Korea. “Some sooner some later,” said Jefferson and not without “oceans of blood.” We Americans must remember the gravity of what we represent, and return to something like republican virtues and values. The world is watching us, and what they see now is a slovenly paralyzed nation that prefers stuff to liberty. It is never too late to renew our vows.

  • Anonymous

    Judgment is so much easier than right action.

  • dann-0

    how likely is it that all 13 colonies would have signed the declaration if it insisted on freeing all the slaves?

  • PaulMoser

    After seeing this video, I once again have to repeat what I have said before: Bill Moyers is an extraordinary American treasure. His insights and passionate views strike a chord with every thinking–and feeling–American. Even more amazing is his insistence on civility in carrying on the national discourse. Mr. Moyers: Thank you, thank you, and thank you again.

  • Django

    Why do I rarely hear the Magna Carta mentioned when discussing the Declaration etc.? It’s all through the thing.

  • Anonymous

    The problem in America is not the government, but the people who form opinions without facts, who fabricate notions to match their opinions and call them facts, who hide their ignorance behind cynicism, who believe in the absolute truth of their opinion but deny evidence base facts, who demand their way and denounce other options, who engage in self-indulgent narcissism and accuse others of being obstinate, who believe in the competitive struggle for getting ahead and demand fair play from others, who proclaim the sanctity of life and are quick to deprive the poor and rush off to war, who are a contradiction of moral judgements but always want to be popular and well-liked. I esteem President Obama who, like President Lincoln, is presiding over a divided nation full of vitriol, threats of states rights and succession, and a group of angry conservatives and progressives disappointed in not getting their way, and yet he maintains his composure and speaks of a future of hope. Cynicism is not citizenship.

  • Anonymous

    Americans are not worthy of democracy. Not saying there’s any other country worthy of it. But Americans are enslaved to capitalism, which trumps democracy. The type of civilian activism and vigilance needed to nourish a democracy is in constant short supply. Jefferson was hypocrite and knew it. He wanted to be remembered, in particular, for writing the Declaration of Independence. He got his wish. He never asked to be remembered for his hypocrisy. The historical significance of the 4th of July is lost upon many of today’s generation. Bill, you’re a national treasure, not worthy of the poor state of human affairs from which you draw and share so much of your golden insight into the plight of American democracy.

  • Anonymous

    Congratulations, Bill, on another in your provocative series of video essays. You are usually spot on.

    It should be noted though, that the Declaration of Independence did not spring fully formed from the minds and pens of the founders. Rather, it and the US is the intellectual child of the Enlightenment.
    The works of Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Rousseau, and others.

    There was much cross-fertilization between Europe and the young America where Franklin, Jefferson, and other Americans worked as diplomats lobbying for support from the French. Subsequent to the American Revolution the French Revolution followed a different trajectory while espousing sentiments similar to those in the American documents.

  • Jack Wankner

    Exactly what make him exceptional.

  • Vivian Parker

    Fabulous essay Bill…thank you once again.

  • pcd

    Perhaps they should have gone ahead without those slave holding states. Those areas would have remained British Colonies and had their own revolution when the British outlawed slavery in their territories in 1833.

  • Anonymous

    V E R Y well said. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    “peoples is peoples, what you expect?” Nick: Muppets take Manhattan.

  • rseippnj

    That’s a good insight..The colonies could have probably been fine without the small colony of Georgia then. but SC had the very important port of Charlestown, VA and NC and MD would have been very difficult not to include.

  • Matt

    I am inclined to agree. The Magna Carta was sort of the beta-test of the Declaration. They both contain the same ideas. I suspect it is because the Declaration inspired a group of guys to revolt against the greatest world power at the time, while the Magna Carta was what a group of nobles forced a king to sign in disgrace.

  • Frank Monachello

    The growing complexity of our society and, likewise, the complexity of the issues our legislators are required to confront demands we also intensify our efforts to build an informed citizenry. I can’t see how the Founding Fathers could have anticipated how critical citizen education would become here in the 21st century. It is this lack of a broad and deep informed citizenry coupled with the corrupting impact of huge sums of cash on our elective process that makes me fearful for the survival of this young democracy. Having citizenship education be mandatory at EACH grade level and overturning the SCOTUS decision in the Citizen’s United case would cause me to be more optimistic.

  • John Seabrook

    I want to do video essays!

  • Alexandra Leigon

    Here, here, Frank! I’m posting your comment on my FB page.

  • kkenn

    The problem with going ahead without the slave holding states is that it would have given the British a stronghold within America from which to wage war. Also, the people declaring America’s indepence were committing treason, and were fully aware of the penalties they would face should the Americans lose. They could afford nothing less than a unanimous decision.

  • noel

    I wonder if he wanted life and the pursuit of happiness for his concubine and her/his children?

  • Steve Purnell

    Thanks for your teachings Bill, while I hate to learn this about a long time hero, Thomas Jefferson I appreciate his efforts and yours to make U.S. better yet than we were before.