“Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give the earth itself and all it contains rather than do an immoral act. And never suppose that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing, however slightly so it may appear to you... From the practice of the purest virtue, you may be assured you will derive the most sublime comforts in every moment of life, and in the moment of death.”- Thomas Jefferson, 1785 Thomas Jefferson said a number of memorable things about the young country of America and what it truly meant to be an American, but the above sentiment holds a special meaning. It speaks not to our laws or freedoms, but to the noble character and human spirit that lies at the heart of our laws and freedoms. Jefferson is telling us that morality and honor should be cherished and preserved, for without them all else is lost..
Sadly, today Jefferson’s words fall on deaf ears in our halls of power, and the key to turning this country around lies in returning to the bedrock values that were instilled by our Founding Fathers and inspired by our creator.
SLAVES AT MOUNT VERNON AND OTHER STORIESGeorge Washington Speaks of Life in the 1700sSee Photo Essay: Washington Visits Indian King Tavern
After some other tales of life along the Potomac in Colonial times, Washington threw himself open to questions from the Indian King audience.
The first question shouted out was: "How do you feel about owning slaves?"
There was a hush across the floor as the racially-mixed crowd awaited the response.
Sommerfield's Washington touched his fingers together, paused for a few seconds and then spoke with thoughtful sadness about one of the great ironies of the eighteenth-century war that secured American freedoms:
"I was born into a world where slavery existed," he explained. "In my father's will, I inherited ten slaves. When I married Mrs. Washington, she brought to the marriage 50 slaves in her dowry. Those slaves intermarrried at Mount Vernon
"We never sold any slaves because I thought it was despicable to break up these families. When I retired from the war, there were 300 slaves there and Mount Vernon was losing money very fast because it was not producing what it should.
"We changed what we were growing. We decided not to grow tobacco any more because tobacco demanded that you have many hands to pick and pack it. Instead, we started to be wheat farmers and grew cows and sheep as well. I became not a planter but a farmer. But we still had 300 slaves who needed shoes, clothes and medical treatment.
"Many other Virginia farmers faced this same problem and what did they do? They sold their slaves down river. Sold them into the Indies, into the cane fields and into the Carolina rice fields where conditions were severe. I could not do that. It was against my conscience. So, I decided that I would develop a plan.
Virginia slave law
"I would divide my farms into five parts around Mount Vernon and I would lease those to anyone who would retain my slaves for wages. For, you see, you could not leave a slave loose unless that slave was supported. If you did, anyone might take that person and sell him or her. That was Virginia law.
"But after 100 years of growing tobacco on Mount Vernon land, the soil was worn out. No one leased the farms and the scheme had to be abandoned.
"Then, I decided ten years before my death that I would write a codicil in my will that said upon my death and the death of my dear wife, that all our slaves should be free and given a stipend of $30 a year. And those who were too old might live out their lives at Mount Vernon and those who were too young might live there until they were 18. But no one could leave Mount Vernon unless they learned to read. It's in the will.
"Although I felt slavery was despicable and I was criticized for not speaking out, in my heart I knew that sooner or later, it must be expunged from our nation."