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Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Jefferson Declines To Carryout Will That Would of Purchased and Freed Slaves

Thomas JeffersonThomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, author of the Declaration of Independence, and an advocate for the freeing of the slaves, was nominated to become the executor of the estate of Tadeusz Kosciuszko in 1798. Kosciuszko's will itself left $17,000 that was supposed to be used to "purchase and free American slaves and to educate and train them to be good citizens." According to the Wall Street Journal, "[w]hen Kosciuszko died in 1817, Jefferson was 74 and in poor health." Jefferson would decline to become the executor of the estate because he was in declining health and was too old to start a task that would likely take a great amount of time and effort. Unfortunately, litigation over the estate prevented Kosciuszko's goal from ever being carried out. The money in the estate would later be dispersed to Kosciuszko's sisters. 

This was sad turn of events for the founding father who did more to combat the rise of slavery than most people in his time. In fact, the only reason that he never freed his own slaves was because as property they were subject to the claims of his creditors. Jefferson would die in debt. 

See Robert F. Turner, Jefferson and the Freeing of Slaves, The Wall Street Journal, Letters to the Editor, Nov. 23, 2012.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/2012/12/jefferson-declines-to-carryout-will-that-would-of-purchased-and-freed-slaves.html

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Comments

Reasonable minds can differ on whether or not Thomas Jefferson "did more to combat the rise of slavery than most people in his time," and "the only reason that he never freed his own slaves was because as property they were subject to the claims of his creditors." I suggest that those who want to challenge their conception of Thomas Jefferson as the kind old master who only begrudgingly went along with the peculiar institution of slavery start by reading Henry Wiencek's recent article in the Smithsonian magazine. Read Mr. Wiencek's book, read the critiques, and read his responses.

Posted by: C O'Neil | Dec 4, 2012 6:07:03 AM

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