Magazine | August 13, 2018, Issue


Detail of Thomas Jefferson portrait by Rembrandt Peale, 1800 (Wikimedia)

Jefferson on Slavery

In “Was the Enlightenment Racist?” (July 9), Jonah Goldberg provides an insightful and nuanced account of the Enlightenment debate prompted by Jamelle Bouie’s Slate essay on recent books by Goldberg and Steven Pinker. I do take issue, however, with Goldberg’s characterization of slavery as “Jefferson’s blind spot.” To the contrary, Jefferson was well aware of the immorality of slavery and explicitly denounced it on more than one occasion.

In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson writes:

[The king has] waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s [sic] most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. . . Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.

In correspondence with friends, Jefferson routinely expressed his opinion that slavery is a “hideous blot” and that it constitutes “moral depravity.” In a famous passage on slavery from his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson confesses: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice can not sleep forever.”

Jefferson opposed slavery not only in theory, but also in policy. As a member of the Virginia state legislature in 1778, he led the effort to ban the slave trade in Virginia. He went on to propose a program of gradual slave emancipation a year later, and in 1784 he urged federal legislation that would have banned slavery in new U.S. territories.

It’s time Jefferson received the credit he deserves for being an early and effective opponent of “the peculiar institution.”

Stephen L. Dolson-Andrew
Glendora, Calif.

Jonah Goldberg responds: I am gratefulsincerelyfor this lesson from Mr. Dolson-Andrew. I had not appreciated the extent of Jefferson’s expressed opposition to slavery. I say that with some embarrassment, for this is something I should have addressed in my book. My point about the hypocrisy of the Founders still stands, I think. Hypocrisy illuminates a principle. Jefferson was more aware of this hypocrisy than I had known. But that was probably small comfort to his 600 slaves. Still, in the grand scheme of things, it’s better that he recognized it.



Because of an editing error, “So Long, Shakespeare” (Kevin D. Williamson, July 30) conflated Sleep No More, an installation based on Macbeth, with Alan Cumming’s 2013 version of the same play. They are in fact separate.

The Week (July 30) misidentified the federal judge who ruled that the structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional as “Leon” Preska. Her first name is in fact “Loretta.”



“Battle of the Chesapeake” (Alexandra DeSanctis, July 30) related that one source had told the author that John Whitbeck was forced out of his role as state GOP chairman by Virginia’s congressional delegation after Corey Stewart’s primary victory in a campaign for a U.S. Senate seat. On further reporting, we don’t have confidence in this claim and are withdrawing it. We stand by the rest of the article as published.


NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More