Financial History 143 Fall 2022 - Page 11

Promissory note from Thomas Jefferson to Hugh Nelson , dated August 7 , 1814 .
slaves were sold into worse circumstances after his death . While his finances troubled him throughout his life , the consequences for his slaves were far more drastic .
Stanton describes the slave auction held at Monticello beginning on January 15 , 1827 . One hundred thirty human beings were sold at auction over the next five days . The auction was well attended despite the cold , and prices received for the slaves were exceptional . Slave families , such as the Fossetts , were split up at the sale . Joseph Fossett received his freedom after Jefferson ’ s death , but the rest of his family did not . Edith , his wife , and their eight children were sold at the auction . 4 The proceeds from the slave auction did not come close to paying all of Jefferson ’ s debts . A dilapidated Monticello was eventually sold in 1834 , but Jefferson ’ s estate was not settled until the 1850s .
Jefferson made many mistakes with his personal finances . He chronically lived beyond his means , he endorsed a loan that he couldn ’ t pay when the loan ’ s original borrower defaulted , he was never able to spend enough time focusing on his finances and his failure to do so adversely affected the lives of his slaves . Inflation , the vagaries of plantation farming , the devastations of war and an unwelcome financial panic , along with Jefferson ’ s bad financial habits , left the third President of the United States so deep in debt that he could never recover .
Brian Grinder is a professor at Eastern Washington University and a member of Financial History ’ s editorial board . Dr . Dan Cooper is the president of Active Learning Technologies .
Notes 1 . Jefferson assumed the debt to Farell &
Jones when he took possession of his portion of his father-in-law ’ s estate in 1773 . It was not fully repaid until March 1807 .
2 . According to Sloan , “ Planters found themselves condemned to pay both the original debts , and , according to the creditors , a full eight years of interest at 5 % per annum .”
3 . In 1782 , in a letter to James Monroe , Jefferson wrote , “ I considered that I had been 13 years engaged in public service , that during that time I had so totally abandoned all attention to my private affairs as to permit them to run into great disorder and ruin .”
4 . A persistent Joe Fossett , with the help of his mother and sister , spent over a decade raising the capital needed to purchase his wife and most of his children . A joyous event occurred on September 15 , 1837 , when Fossett , who now owned his wife , five of his children and four grandchildren , set them free . ( Stanton 2012 )
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