This is a follow up to my question here. There, I asked about an inscription inside the Jefferon memorial that says:

God who gave us life gave us Liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free establish the law for educating the common people. This is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.

I am puzzled about

Commerce between master and slave is despotism.

Where was there commerce between master and slave back then, and if there were such commerce, was it despotism? Why would that be of great concern to Jefferson, and why would the designers of the memorial have selected that as part of a inscription inside the memorial?

1 Answer 1


It appears that the sentence:

Commerce between master and slave is despotism.

Is an abridgement of something that Jefferson did write:

The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it.

Now - this was over 200 years ago, and the word commerce does not necessarily convey the most used current meaning - trading of commodities - here.

Jefferson is referring to the whole relationship between master and slave - on the one hand, the master is a despot, ruling absolutely over the life of the slave, while the slave is forced to submit to this rule.

I should think that any despotism should concern Jefferson, as he was one of the founding fathers, and very keen on liberty. While of course he was a slave-owner, and conducted himself questionably by today's standards, Jefferson worked very hard to bring change to the social climate of 200 years and break the despotism he saw in slavery.

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