Thomas Jefferson & His Democracy: Crash Course US History #10
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Thomas Jefferson & His Democracy: Crash Course US History #10


Hi I’m John Green, this is Crash Course US History, and today we’re going to discuss Thomas Jefferson. We’re going to learn about how America became
a thriving nation of small, independent farmers, eschewing manufacturing and world trade, and becoming the richest and most powerful nation in the world in the 19th century, all thanks to the vision of Thomas Jefferson, the greatest and most intellectually consistent Founding Father, who founded the University of Virginia and grew 20 varieties of peas at Monticello. Me From the Past, get to your desk! In a stunning turn of events, Me From the Past is an
idiot and Jefferson is more complicated than that. [Theme Music] So in 1800, Thomas Jefferson, pictured here – this is the third time that we’ve featured Thomas Jefferson on the chalkboard, so we had to go a little Warhol on it. Right, so, Jefferson, the Republican, ran
against John Adams, the Federalist. 1800 was the first election where both parties
ran candidates and actually campaigned. And, surprisingly, the Federalist’s elitist strategy of “vote for Adams because he’s better than you” did not work. Now, both parties realize that it was important to coordinate their electoral strategy to make sure that the vice presidential candidate got at least one fewer electoral votes than the presidential candidate. But then the Republican elector who was supposed to throw his vote away forgot to, so there ended up being a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. As per the Constitution, the election went to the House of Representatives, where it took 36 ballots and the intervention of Alexander Hamilton before Jefferson was finally named president. Incidentally, Burr and Hamilton really disliked each other, and not in like, the passive-aggressive way that politicians dislike each other these days, but in the four-years-later-they-would-have-a-duel-and-Burr-killed-Hamilton kind of way. A duel which occurred, wait for it, in New
Jersey. But anyway, shortly after the election of 1800, the 12th Amendment was passed, making the Electoral College simpler, but not as simple as, say, you know, one person’s vote counting as one vote. Anyway, complain about the Electoral College all you want, but without it, we would never have had President Rutherford B. Hayes, and just look at that beard! So Jefferson became president and his election showed that Americans wanted a more democratic politics, where common people were more free to express their opinions. The Federalists were never really a threat again in presidential politics. And, arguably, the best thing that John Adams ever did was transfer power in an orderly and honorable way to his rival, Jefferson. Jefferson’s campaign slogan was “Jefferson and Liberty,” but the liberty in question was severely limited. Only a fraction of white men were allowed to vote and, of course, there was no liberty for the slaves. There’s a lot of contentious debate on the subject of Jefferson and slavery, but here’s my two cents, which I should not be allowed to contribute because we should only round to the nearest nickel, which, by the way, features Thomas Jefferson. So Thomas Jefferson was a racist and he wrote about black people’s inherent inferiority to whites and Native Americans, and the fact that he fathered children with one of his slaves doesn’t change that. George Washington freed his slaves
upon his death. Well, sort of. They were supposed to be freed upon his wife’s death, but living in a house full of people who were waiting for you to die made Martha want to free them while she was still alive. But with few exceptions, Jefferson didn’t free his slaves upon his death and throughout his life, he used the sale of slaves to finance his lavish lifestyle. And this leads to two big philosophical questions
when it comes to history. First, if Jefferson clearly did not think that black people were the intellectual or moral equals of whites and was perfectly comfortable keeping them in bondage, then what does the most important phrase of the Declaration of Independence actually mean? And the second question is even broader: Does it matter if a person of tremendous historical
importance had terrible aspects to their character? Does being a bad person diminish your accomplishments? I don’t have a great answer for those questions, but I will tell you that no remembers Richard Nixon for starting the EPA. But this is very important to understand: Slaves were aware of concept of liberty and they wanted it. So in addition to an election, 1800 also saw
one of the first large-scale slave uprisings. Gabriel’s Rebellion was organized by a Richmond, Virginia blacksmith who hoped to seize the capital, kill some of its inhabitants, and hold the rest hostage until his demands for abolition were met. But the plot was discovered before they could carry it out and Gabriel, along with 25 other slaves, was hanged. But after the rebellion, Virginians, if they didn’t know it already, were very aware that slaves wanted and expected liberty. And the response was predictable: Virginia
made its laws concerning slaves much harsher. It became illegal for slaves to meet in groups on Sundays unless supervised by whites, and it became much more difficult for whites to legally free their slaves. Oh, it’s time for the Mystery Document? The rules here are simple: Identify the author, no shock;
fail to identify the author, shock. “The love of freedom, sir, is an inborn sentiment,
which the god of nature has planted deep in the heart: long may it be kept under by the arbitrary
institutions of society; but, at the first favorable moment, it springs forth,
and flourishes with a vigour that defies all check. This celestial spark, which fires the breast of the savage, which glows in that of the philosopher, is not extinguished in the bosom of the slave. It may be buried in the embers; but it still lives;
and the breath of knowledge kindles it to flame. Thus we find, sir, there have never been slaves in any country who have not seized the first favorable opportunity to revolt.” I mean, from the bit at the beginning about the love of freedom, it seems like it could be Jefferson, but the rest does not seem like Jefferson. Probably wasn’t a slave, since they were denied access to education precisely because the “breath of knowledge” is so dangerous to the institution of slavery. Oh, this is looking pretty bleak for me, Stan.
Mmmmmm. John Jay? [buzzing noise] Dang it! Who was it? George Tucker?! Who the John C. Calhoun is George Tucker?! Is there a person watching this who knew that
it was George Tucker? Fine! [electricity noise] Gah! Apparently George Tucker was a member of the General Assembly of Virginia and the Mystery Document was a description of Gabriel’s Rebellion that suggested a solution to the inherent problem of rebellious slaves. He argued that we should set up a colony for them in Indian territory in Georgia, which, of course, also wouldn’t have worked because we were soon to steal that territory. But back to Jefferson. His idea was to make the government smaller, lower taxes, shrink the military, and make it possible for America to become a bucolic, agrarian, empire of liberty, rather than an English-style, industrial, mercantile, nightmare landscape. So how did he do?
Well, really well at first. Jefferson got rid of all the taxes, except
for the tariff, especially the Whiskey Tax. And then, when he woke up with a terrible, cheap whiskey-induced hangover, he paid off part of the national debt. He shrunk the army and the navy, and basically made sure that America wouldn’t become a centralized, English-style state for at least the next 60 years. Low taxes and small government sounds great,
but no navy? That would be tough, especially when we needed ships and marines to fight the Barbary pirates “on the shores of Tripoli,” who kept capturing our ships in the Mediterranean and enslaving their crews. This is yet another example of how foreign affairs
keeps getting in the way of domestic priorities; in this case, the domestic priority of not
wanting to spend money on a navy. Also, vitally, Jefferson’s presidency really marks the last time in history when a Republican president didn’t want to spend money on the military. Don’t get me wrong: Democrats can do it too.
I’m looking at you, LBJ. As much as he wanted to get rid of any trace of the Federalists, Jefferson found himself thwarted by that imminently conservative and undemocratic institution: the Supreme Court. Jefferson appointed Republicans to most government positions, but he couldn’t do anything about the Supreme Court because they serve for life. And since the country was only like, 12 years
old, they were all still pretty fresh. Most important among them was Chief Justice
John Marshall, who happened to be a Federalist. Marshall was Chief Justice basically forever and is, without question, the most important figure in the history of the Supreme Court. He wrote a number of key opinions, but none was more important than the 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison. Marbury v. Madison is so important because in that decision, the Supreme Court gave itself the power of judicial review, which allows it to uphold or invalidate federal laws. The Court then extended this power to state laws in Fletcher v. Peck and eventually even to executive actions. Like, we think of the main job of the Supreme Court being to declare laws unconstitutional, but that power isn’t anywhere in the Constitution itself. Marbury v. Madison gave the Court that power and without it, the Supreme Court would probably be a footnote in American history. So unlike Marshall, Jefferson and the Republicans
were big proponents of strict construction: the idea that the Constitution should be read as literally as possible as way of limiting the power of the federal government. The problem is, there might be things the government wants to do that the Constitution didn’t account for, like, for instance, buying a large tract of land from Napoleon, who, as we remember from Crash Course World History, complicates everything. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. So yeah, Jefferson basically doubled the size of the US in what came to be known as the Louisiana Purchase. Napoleon was eager to sell it, because the rebellion in Haiti had soured him on the whole idea of colonies, and also because he needed money. Jefferson wanted to purchase New Orleans because western farmers were shipping their products through the city and when he approached France about this, Napoleon was like, “Hey! How bout I sell you, this!” Jefferson couldn’t turn down that deal, so he bought the whole kit and caboodle for $15 million, which is worth about $250 million today. To put that into perspective, a new aircraft carrier
costs about $4.5 billion, so he got a good deal. What’s the problem with this? Well, nothing if you believe in a powerful government that can do stuff that’s not in the Constitution. But if you’re a strict Constructionist like Jefferson, you have to reconcile this obviously beneficial act with there being no mention in the Constitution of the president being able to purchase land in order to expand the size of the US. So laying scruple aside, Jefferson bought Louisiana and then sent Lewis and Clark to explore it, which they did, even going beyond the boundaries of the Purchase all the way to the Pacific. And this was so cool that it almost makes us forget that it was kind of unconstitutional and a huge power grab for the president. So the question is: why did he do it? Jefferson’s desire to increase the size of the
country prompted Federalists to complain that, “We are to give money, of which we have too
little, for land, of which we already have too much.” By doubling the size of the country, Jefferson could ensure that there would be enough land for every white man to have his own small farm. And this, in turn, would ensure that Americans
would remain independent and virtuous. Because only a small farmer who doesn’t have to depend on the market for food or shelter or anything really (well, except slaves), can be truly independent, and thus capable of participating in a nation of free men. Thanks, Thought Bubble. And this desire to create a nation of independent farmers producing only primary products helps explains Jefferson’s other incredibly controversial policy: the embargo. Jefferson imposed the embargo in order to punish Britain for its practice of impressing American sailors, as well as its blockade of France, with whom Britain was once again, or possibly just still, at war. So basically, Jefferson wanted free trade among nations and his solution was to get Congress to forbid all American ships from sailing to foreign ports. The theory was that the British were so dependent on American primary products, like wood and cotton, that if we cut off trade with them, the British would stop impressing American sailors and end their blockade. What’s the connection between free trade and
Jefferson’s agrarian ideal? Well, the idea was that America would trade its primary products for Europe’s manufactured goods, so that the US wouldn’t have to develop any manufacturing capacity of its own. Alas, or perhaps fortunately, this did not
work. For one thing, Britain and France were too busy fighting each other even to notice America’s embargo. So they just continued blockading and impressing. Also, the embargo devastated the American
economy. I mean, exports dropped by 80%. Furthermore, not being able to import European manufactured goods only served to spur American manufacturing. I mean, Jefferson might have wanted Americans to be a bunch of self-sufficient farmers, but Americans wanted European manufactured stuff, like teapots and clocks and microwaves. Well, then how did they cook stuff, Stan? And if they couldn’t get that stuff from Britain,
they would just make it themselves. So in terms of Jefferson’s agrarian ideal,
the embargo was a massive failure. And lastly, the embargo limited the power of the federal government about as much as crystal meth limits cavities. I mean, imposing the embargo was a colossal use of federal power and it was also an imposition on people’s liberties. The problem the embargo was supposed to solve didn’t go away and, as we’ll discuss next week, it eventually led to the US’s first declared war. For now, I want to leave you with this: Thomas Jefferson is revered and reviled in almost equal measure in American history. The Declaration of Independence, which he mainly drafted, is a signal achievement delineating some heroic ideas for the founding of the United States, but also embedding some of its crucial shortcomings. And Jefferson’s presidency is like that too. He claimed to champion small government, but he enlarged federal power more than Washington or Adams ever did. He imagined an agrarian republic, but his
policies led to increased manufacturing. He wanted to foster freedom, but he owned
slaves and took land from the Indians. In the end, Jefferson’s life and policies encapsulate the best and the worst of us, which is why his presidency is still worth studying closely. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller. Our script supervisor is Meredith Danko. The associate producer is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history
teacher, Raoul Meyer, and myself. And our graphics team is Thought Cafe. If you have questions about today’s video, please ask them in comments, where they’ll be answered by our team of historians and we’re also accepting submissions for the Libertage Captions. Thank you for watching Crash Course and, as we say in my hometown: don’t forget to be awesome. Oh! That was a fake out, it’s going this way!

87 Comments

  • Blake Martin

    I do have a question. Thomas Jefferson actually wrote in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence a clause condemning the Atlantic Slave Trade. As well, one of the things that he brought up to slander George III was that he continued the slave trade. The reason that it wasn’t a part of it was a result of South Carolina and Georgia refusing to sign it if the Anti-slavery clause remained. So essentially, don’t you think it is unfair to say that a man was a racist even when he publicly condemned slavery?

  • james clarke

    Anyone read the sticker on the effiminate-creature presentor’s laptop?
    I wonder if he can truly and historically articulate just what exactly a fascist is?
    Anyway, a clear and relatively-concise video.
    Making America Great Again🇺🇸

  • Warren Rhinerson

    Some corrections, it was later tested DNA wise if Jefferson fathered children with one of his slaves, but it was never proven. It is more likely it was his brother. Also the reason Jefferson did not free his slaves on his death, was because by the time he died, 27 years after Washington died, it was illegal to free slaves at all

  • xtopher foster

    Actually mr. Green Thomas Jefferson was a democratic-republican there's no such thing as only the Republican Party back then

  • Infinitely Unremarkable

    I’m currently 6 minutes away from an APUSH exam and watching these on 2x speed and I think I can hear colors now

  • Yen Feng

    Thomas Jefferson believed in a Republic not Democracy. Thats why he always called america a constitutional republic since its foundation.

  • Ivana

    Okay so is anybody gonna mention the latest ocurrence of the Electoral College going against the general vote or

  • WALLAROO

    Jefferson's blockade may have been a folly at the time, but like Seward's Folly, it turned out correct in the end. A fortunate outcome, that would birth the greatest industrial age nation on the planet. The Logical Orders of Operation is a quirky thing…

  • becca moses

    there’s a fuckedt ad that played before this that started w “are you getting ready to fail the ap us history exam and disappointment your family and friends and everyone who loves you”
    Jesus Christ bro chill tf out

  • moodist 1er

    Thomas Jefferson was a profiteering hypocrite and a psychopath. The founding fathers should have their bodies exhumed and put on display in humiliating positions behind glass as a vitruvian display in the evil virtue of greedy ambition.

  • Daniel Makarenko

    did anyone else get that ad before these videos that goes "are you ready to fail your ap us history exam and disappoint your family and everyone you love", damn thanks for reassuring me w that the day before the apush test💀💀

  • john shaugh

    I like your jab at the electoral college. Maybe you should do a video on its importance in giving people throughout the country a voice in elections.

  • Schmuck Puppet

    This video is disingenuous at the very least and perhaps even deceptive. While it may be true that not all of Jefferson's decisions were consistent with his professed beliefs, you have to at least mention the financial system of early America in order to put the political situation that Jefferson found himself in in perspective. George Washington created a national bank and Jefferson and Madison opposed the renewal of that charter. The right to the issuance of legal tender is enormously important in any economy and Jefferson jeopardized the money cartel's early attempts at monopolization. Forget about all this ethical and moral stuff about slavery; this is about money. That's why Britain attacked the US in 1812: they wanted to bully them into accepting a new banking charter.

  • Poland Spring

    The phrase "All men are created equal" is meant to talk about social classes. It was a direct attack on king George III. In laimens terms it said " hey George you're not better than us". The phrase didn't mean that all races were equal because.That wasn't the contravercial topic of the era. That would come around 60 years later.
    The man believed slaves were inferior because of his love for books and reading. His slaves were illiterate and he saw that as 'inferior'. He wasn't racist, he hated uneducated peoples; which ,unfortunately, was mostly black people. His "racism" wasn't like the civil war color-of-your-skin kind, it was educationally structured.

  • Drakus

    No mention that Jefferson ended the Atlantic Slave trade, or that he ended slavery in the North. Just "Jefferson is racist. Jefferson is pro-slavery, oh and he's a Republican". Jefferson was probably the most pro-freedom president we ever had. He did more to end slavery worldwide than any other American President. And he was a Democratic Republican, not the same party as the GOP Republican Party of today that started in 1862.

  • Maston_Artin

    He was a great man with great personal flaws. I am reminded of what Walt Whitman said, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

  • Bill Boyd

    Hmm – does Mr Green think all people are equal? Considering how he treats me from the past, you can easily see the answer is "No".

  • Andrew C.

    Not enough contextualizing. You can't time travel 250 years back in time and simplistically hold someone else to today's enlightened standards. We can wonder why Jefferson maintained slaves while preaching equality, but we should also know that his compatriots voted him down on a few occasions. He was part of a paradigm shift, but he was also a part of the old paradigm.

  • US Election Center

    3:11 Make more things about race and culture, and much more things will make sense.

    "The men who wrote the words, ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ were themselves the owners of slaves, and despised Indians as something less than human. Equality in their minds meant merely that they were just as good Englishmen as their brothers across the sea."

    -Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race

  • jlrapid

    This is so false that it is sickening. Claiming as fact that he fathered children with Sally Hemings shows how badly motivated you are or, at best, completely ignorant. Look up how they had to issue a retraction to the original story claiming that Jefferson fathered children with her. Also, someone actually being intellectually honest couldn’t really come to such a conclusion that he was so anti-black knowing that the longest grievance in the original draft of the Declaration was Jefferson criticizing the King for slavery, knowing that he introduced bills to abolish slavery in his official roles in government, and knowing how often he wrote of the horror of slavery in his letters. Research more, but consider the following for starters:

    The first draft of the Declaration of Independence was full of anti-slavery remarks. He stated that King George III “has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrything them into slavery in another hemisphere as to incur miserable death in the transportation thither…Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit as to restrain this execrable commerce.”

    “Where the disease [slavery] is most deeply seated, there it will be slowest in eradication. In the northern States, it was merely superficial and easily corrected. In the southern, it is incorporated with the whole system and requires time, patience, and perseverance in the curative process.” Thomas Jefferson

    By the time of Jefferson’s death in 1826, State laws had so stiffened that it had become virtually impossible for Jefferson to use the same means as George Washington did to free his slaves.

    “President Jefferson was accused of having fathered a child, Tom, by Sally Hemings. Tom was said to have been born in 1790, soon after Jefferson and Sally Hemings returned from France where he had been minister. Present-day members of the African-American Woodson family believe that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Thomas Woodson, whose name comes from his later owner. No known documents support this view“

    Herbert Barger, the Jefferson family historian and genealogist who assisted in the original DNA study for Nature (and who strenuously objected to the conclusions published in the original story) explained: “My study indicates to me that Thomas Jefferson was not the father of Eston or any other Hemings child. The study indicates that Randolph [Thomas’ younger brother] is possibly the father of Eston and the others. Randolph, named for his maternal Randolph family, was a widower and between wives when, shortly after his wife’s death, Sally became pregnant with her first child. . . . She continued having children until 1808 when Eston was born. Randolph Jefferson would marry his second wife the next year, 1809. . . . [Significantly, t]hree of Sally Hemings’ children, Harriet, Beverly and Eston (the latter two not common names), were given names of the Randolph family.”

  • Jonathan C

    Jefferson did not free his slaves because he was hoping for an Emancipation deal that would allow him to get a recompense. Otherwise 95% of his wealth would simply disappear.

  • Maria Cargille

    I actually recognized the Mystery Document, for once! We used it in our AP Lang class, and it was one of my favorite texts. 🙂

  • SSArcher11

    Sigh . . . . Jefferson's party was the Democratic-Republican Party and Andrew Jackson shortened the name to Democratic Party. The Democratic Party continues to celebrate Jefferson-Jackson Day. Jefferson was a small "r" republican, not a Republican.
    Also, I don't think Jefferson's failings regarding race made him a terrible person, or anything like that. He merely lacked the modern enlightenment on the subject, along with many others.

  • Emanuel Martinez

    The U.S. could have negotiated with Spain, and agree to establish the following borders:

    – All land south of the 41st parallel north, west of the 97th meridian west, south of the 31st parallel north, east of the 86th meridian west, and the Gulf of Mexico south of the 26th parallel north (from the 97th meridian west to the 86th meridian west)

  • Alexander Aquino

    THIS IDIOT DOESN'T KNOW WHAT IT MEANS BECAUSE HE ASSUMED IT WAS APPLICABLE FOR THIS TIME.. "ALL MEN WERE CREATED EQUAL" THAT JEFFERSON WAS REFERRING WAS THE THE EQUALITY CONSIDERED AT THAT TIME.
    IT MEANS THAT ALL THE POWER SHOULD NOT ONLY FOR THE PEOPLE IN ROYALTY OR PEOPLE WITH ROYAL BLOOD, BUT TO PEOPLE AT THAT TIME CONSIDERED AS CITIZENS. YAHH WHICH IS THE MALE WHITE MAN.

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