Is it Race or Class?
How History Links Jefferson to Trump in the Black Lives Matter Era
In the west, capitalism and chattel slavery have been entangled since their respective beginnings, and the question of race and class has endured since those times. As far as those two institutions in the US, I figured we should explore the words of one of the leading philosophers of the 18th century.
“All men are created equal.”
These words, as written by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence from The Crown, are usually seen as proof that the founders really were good men with an impeccable vision of future progress. They believed in the natural law that made Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke as famous now as they were back then. You’ve probably heard your favorite Conservative politician quote the founders, suggesting that society should be run now the according to the founders original intent.
Thomas Jefferson, the attorney, philosopher and politician, loved Lockean theory so much, that he plagiarized John’s noted self-evident truths of “life, liberty, and property,” but changed it just enough to not get expelled from Enlightenment University to “the pursuit of happiness.”
Locke believed the purpose of government was to secure and protect these natural rights. It was a moral imperative because these rights came from Gawd! In turn, he believed it was the moral responsibility of the people to obey the laws and rulers. Now, to me, this sounds like a Jedi mind trick to move people from a revolution against one state’s tyranny to obedience to that of another. I’ll leave that for you to decide…
Now, you might ask, if TJ believed in Locke’s words so much, why did he make any alterations in the first place? Many subscribe to the thought that the “natty rights” folks believed that slavery would eventually end, and ole Tom Tom didn’t want to codify slavery in his Declaration because enslaved people were considered property.
I call bs. I side with the historians that believe Jefferson changed to a more flowery, aspirational rhetoric as to make his intentions indecipherable. See, Thomas wasn’t always POTUS, but he was always a human trafficker, I mean, enslaver. He inherited quite a few enslaved folks from his father, and even more from his father-in-law. He was said to have enslaved around 600 people in his lifetime. Yeah, he owned a lot of “property.”
So, if he owned “property” but also wrote “all men are created equal,” did he really mean it? I doubt it. Bigly. Upon death, he willed the emancipation of only 7 people. Two were his sons aka the offspring of his long-term rape and abuse of Sally Hemings.
The illustrious third President of the United States was known to be controlling, and wanted to make sure he was accurately represented in his lifetime and for all of eternity. So, he wrote. A LOT.
He definitely believed all white people were equal. Though with all that property he couldn’t help but think it was his bougie ass that should be in charge, especially over women and poor men.
TJ was such a boss that he’s got schools, museums, roads, and many statues made in his honor. He was the guy who made the Louisiana Purchase, which many consider to be the best deal of any deal ever made. He saw indigenous folks as physically and intellectually more or less equal to whites, though he thought they had a primitive culture. So, instead of making them choose between extermination or assimilation, he decided he would just break them off a piece of that Purchase. (Sadly, this laid the groundwork for Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act and all the broken treaties issued since.)
Now, Black folks. He ain’t feel so equal to Black folks. Especially not in “reason” or “imagination.” He believed the difference between the two “races” were fixed in nature. He thought white people were smarter, more beautiful, and more elegant, because niggas were really just “orangutans.” These are his words. Words that you’d probably expect to hear from a Fox News guest back when Hannity was thing.
To our reproach it must be said, that though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history. 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.
— Notes on the State of Virginia
So when you see Donald Trump decry the “left-wing anarchists [who] tore down a statue of Thomas Jefferson,” know he’s just holding down his fam. Paraphrasing former Trump admirer, Jay Z, when Trump says a B.I.G. [Jefferson] verse, he’s only biggin’ up his brother.
Thomas Jefferson did not believe in equality amongst races, nor did he actually believe equality was possible. He didn’t believe it because he didn’t, in fact, believe “all men are created equal.” That might be why his statues are on what I call the anti-Indian (and Black) Removal Act list.
So the next time somebody asks you if the problem is race or class, remind them that founders like TJ believed the so-called Black race WAS a class. No matter how much a Black person learned or earned, he still only saw them as Black.
In his own words…
 The first difference [between whites and blacks] which strikes us is that of color. . . . The difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of color in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immoveable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favor of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the orangutan for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man? . . .
 They seem to require less sleep. A black, after hard labor through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning. They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. . . .
 Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one [black] could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. It would be unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation. We will consider them here, on the same stage with the whites, and where the facts are not apocryphal on which a judgment is to be formed. It will be right to make great allowances for the difference of condition, of education, of conversation, of the sphere in which they move. Many millions of them have been brought to, and born in America. Most of them indeed have been confined to tillage, to their own homes, and their own society: yet many have been so situated, that they might have availed themselves of the conversation of their masters; many have been brought up to the handicraft arts, and from that circumstance have always been associated with the whites. Some have been liberally educated, and all have lived in countries where the arts and sciences are cultivated to a considerable degree, and have had before their eyes samples of the best works from abroad. The Indians, with no advantages of this kind, will often carve figures on their pipes not destitute of design and merit. They will crayon out an animal, a plant, or a country, so as to prove the existence of a germ in their minds which only wants cultivation. They astonish you with strokes of the most sublime oratory; such as prove their reason and sentiment strong, their imagination glowing and elevated. But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture. In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time . . . . Whether they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody, or of complicated harmony, is yet to be proved. Misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches in poetry. — Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry.