Thomas Jefferson | A Film by Ken Burns

I watched this documentary about a month or two ago, but kept forgetting to write something up about it for this group.

As you would expect from Ken Burns, this was another excellent documentary. Too much time has passed for me to recall all the details, but suffice it to say it is worth seeing if you have not seen it.

I do feel that they harped on a little too much about how incongruous it was that Jefferson was a slave owner his whole life—not because I think it is a non-issue—but because I understood the point the first, second, and third times they made it. And they were right, it was. Jefferson owned slaves his entire adult life, insisted they not be whipped except in extreme cases, he referred to them as his family, fathered several children by them, and even introduced several bills in Congress that would grant emancipation to all slaves (which failed, of course)—and yet he refused to free his own.

He was an accomplished, complex, astounding, and often troubled man.

Here is the film on the PBS site:

Returning from France, Jefferson strives to preserve the fragile new U.S. government and helps create the first political party, in bitter struggles with the Federalists. He becomes vice president in 1797, and the third U.S. president in 1801. His Louisiana Purchase doubles the nation's size, but he faces controversy and scandal, finally retiring to his beloved Monticello in 1809. His last years are spent founding the University of Virginia.

Here is Thomas Jefferson on, on The Library of Congress’s site, and on Here is the website for his home, Monticello, and here is the Thomas Jefferson Digital Archive.

Tags: American history, Federalists, Ken Burns, Thomas Jefferson, USA, documentary, slavery

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Replies to This Discussion

... and yet he refused to free his own.

How does the doco explain this contradiction? I'm not keen on judging from appearences, maybe Jefferson had his own good reasons for this. Could it be he felt his slaves would be better protected until his bill proposals were passed, or something like that?
I don't think anyone ever really said. If I remember correctly, everyone was left scratching their head, unable to resolve the apparent contradiction.


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