Rights and Slavery in Thomas Jefferson's Political Thought


  • Ari Helo University of Helsinki




Thomas Jefferson, American History, Human Rights, Political History, Slavery, The Founding Era


Thomas Jefferson is famous for his advocacy of equal rights of men, religious freedom, and democracy throughout the United States. He is equally (in)famous for his racist statements, for his little concern for women's rights, for his apparently unrealistic anti-slavery policies, and for his strongly anti-Federalist politics. This article will make clear that his political solution to the problem of slavery was not as far-fetched at the time as many scholars still tend to think it was. His fame as the high priest of minimal government also needs to be reconsidered given his hugely expensive, governmental solution to the problem of slavery. It is also important to grasp how very restricted a role Jefferson attributed to the federal government in putting his abolition plan into effect. The only aspect concerning the federal government in Jefferson's plan had to do with financing and sending slaves abroad after each state's individual decision of emancipation.

Author Biography

Ari Helo, University of Helsinki

Ari Helo (Ph.D) is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Helsinki and previously taught intellectual history at the University of Oulu and cultural studies at the University of Vaasa. As an ASLA-Fulbright and Academy of Finland Fellow, he has also worked at the University of Virginia for several years. His books include Thomas Jefferson's Ethics and the Politics of Human Progress (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and History, Politics, and the American Past: Essays on Methodology (Routledge, 2020).



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How to Cite

Helo, A. (2021). Rights and Slavery in Thomas Jefferson’s Political Thought. American Studies in Scandinavia, 53(2), 127–150. https://doi.org/10.22439/asca.v53i2.6394