Thomas Jefferson

The Justifications for Slavery

Early Americans, both pro-slavery and anti-slavery, explored the potential justifications for slavery in the United States. In 1764, James Otis of Massachusetts asked “Can any logical inference in favor of slavery be drawn from a flat nose, a long or short face?” after pondering why only blacks had been enslaved. James Otis, The Rights of the […]

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Equality for Some

Shortly after the Revolution, new principles emerged that permeated all of society, from government institutions to societal norms to family life. Egalitarianism spread to families. The family became an “autonomous private institution whose members had their own legal rights and identities.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 500 citing Michael Grossberg, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century […]

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Early American Punishment

By the time the United States declared its independence, capital punishment was common for murder, robbery, forgery, housebreaking, and counterfeiting. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 492. Some states had as many as two dozen crimes designated for capital punishment. Id. Further, “[e]xecution of the condemned criminals were conducted in public, and they drew thousands of spectators.” Id. The early […]

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Tyranny Founded on Ignorance

The early Republic were the years where American civil society was developing its own distinctive character. One component of that civil society was the newly created educational institutions, which many early Americans viewed as one of the safeguards against the dangerous ignorance that was supposed to allow a monarchy to continue. For example, Simeon Doggett […]

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The Assertive Judiciary

In the early years of the Republic, there was an itching for reformation of the systems and processes that had come to define colonial life. This reformation began with “enactment of an increasing number of laws.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 405. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led this movement of reformation. While they and […]

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The First Casualties

The friction between the Native Americans and colonizing settlers is well documented and known. However, the general policy underlying that friction is perhaps best captured by Thomas Jefferson’s perspective on the subject: “let the natural demographic growth and movement of white Americans take their course.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 398. Jefferson believed that this would […]

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The Zeal for Land

Thomas Jefferson, from his earliest years, imagined that all of the North American land known in the 1790s would one day belong to the United States. He imagined that Florida would become part of the United States, that Cuba would join, that Mexico’s provinces would join, and that ultimately, Canada would join as well. Gordon […]

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