On Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m., Saint Vincent College welcomed guest speaker, Dr. Robert Paquette—a history professor from Hamilton College. Paquette’s presentation—Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Slavery in the Age of Possibilism— centered around the argument that Jefferson had been against slavery and had acted against it. Paquette began his talk by addressing the counterargument.
People, Paquette claimed, have four issues with President Jefferson. Some believe that the third president of the United States was a hypocrite because he himself owned slaves, supposedly had an affair with a slave woman, had a perspective not synonymous with abolitionist views, and was lethargic. Paquette then continued by refuting the claims.
“Jefferson consistently wrote about what an abomination the slave trade was,” said Paquette. “He wrote to the King [of England], blaming him for pushing the colonists to [use] slavery […] [It] was his greatest anxiety.”
Paquette states that Jefferson’s anti-slavery arguments are the byproduct of the Scottish Enlightenment, a period in the eighteenth century filled with streamlined intellectual thoughts.
In the eighteenth century, according to what Paquette referred to as “pseudoscience,” owners of slaves used the false idea that “whites and African slaves were not on the same intellectual level” as justification for their treatment of slaves. Paquette brought up that it was not until the nineteenth century that words began cropping up in newspapers to defer to the cognate of racism. Jefferson was one of the first to speak of man as “white, black and red.”
But, Paquette argued, “Jefferson wrote that the master-slave relationship degrades the slave and corrupts the master.”
Paquette claims that Jefferson was working on a gradual change in the system of slavery in America by diffusion—the act of attempting to end slavery and the violence of slavery rebellion by spreading slave populations out instead of keeping a large population contained in one place.
Paquette ended his presentation with a Q&A with the audience where a few questions were asked for clarification.
Paquette is also the author of “Sugar is Made with Blood,” winner of the Elsa Goveia Prize, and he recently published, “The Denmark Vesey Affair. A Documentary History” which he co-authored.