Negro president : Jefferson and the slave power /

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Main Author: Wills, Garry, 1934-
Format: Book
Language:English
Published:Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
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Introduction: The Three-Fifths ClauseThe election of Mr. Jefferson to the presidency was, upon sectional feelings, the triumph of the South over the North - of the slave representation over the purely free. - John Quincy AdamsWhat did Thomas Jeffersons Federalist critics mean, after 1800, when they called him the "Negro President"? A person first encountering the term might, in the not too distant past, have thought it referred to Jeffersons private life at Monticello. In those hagiographical days, calling him a "Negro president" might have been interpreted to mean that he was a pro-Negro president, an ami des noirs who sympathized with the plight of slaves, though he could not do much about it. That was the line I heard when I first visited Monticello more than forty years ago. More recently still, the term might be taken to mean that he loved his own slave Sally Hemings, or exploited her, or both. But those first calling him the "Negro President" were not prying into his private life. They were challenging his public boast that the election of 1800 was a "Second Revolution" based on the expressed will of a popular majority. It was no such thing, they argued. In terms of the number of actual votes cast, John Adams was re-elected. The Second Revolution never occurred.Jeffersons ElectionIf real votes alone had been counted, Adams would have been returned to office. But, of course, the "vote" did not depend solely on voters. Though Jefferson, admittedly, received eight more votes than Adams in the Electoral College, at least twelve of his votes were not based on the citizenry that could express its will but on the blacks owned by southern masters. A bargain had been struck at the Constitutional Convention - one of the famous compromises on which the document was formed, this one intended to secure ratification in the South. The negotiated agreement decreed that each slave held in the United States would count as three-fifths of a person - the so-called federal ratio - for establishing the representation of a state in the House of Representatives (and consequently in the Electoral College, which was based on the House and Senate numbers for each state in Congress). It galled the Federalists that Jefferson hailed his 1800 victory as a triumph of democracy and majority rule when, as the Mercury and New- England Palladium of Boston said (January 20, 1801), he had made his "ride into the temple of Liberty on the shoulders of slaves." He was president only because of "somber" or "sable" non-votes, and the Columbian Centinel noted (December 24, 1800) that the half-million slaves affecting the outcome had no more will in the matter than "New England horses, cows, and oxen." Timothy Pickering, the former secretary of state under Washington and Adams, coined the term "Negro President" and made it current among his Federalist allies - along with references to Negro electors, Negro voters, and Negro congressmen. Senator William Plu Excerpted from Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power by Garry Wills All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.