Chronology of Thomas Jefferson's Opposition to Slavery   

1723 | &quotNo negro, mullatto, or indian slaves, shall be set free, upon any pretence whatsoever, except for some meritorious services&quot

“It was enacted by the act of 1723, that no slave should be emancipated, but for meritorious services, to be judged of by the Governor and Council…and so the law continued ’till the revolution”(footnote p. 434 Revised Code 1819). The statues at large; being a collection of all the laws of Virginia, from the first session of the legislature, inthe year 1619. Published pursuant to an act of the General assembly of Virginia, passed on the fifth day of February one thousand eight hundred and eight …By William Waller Hening. Volume IV page 132

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 13, 1743 | Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell Virginia
1745 | At two years old, one of Jefferson’s earliest memories is of being handed up to a slave on horseback and carried on a pillow

“Thomas Jefferson was two years old when the family exodus took place, and he used to mention as his first recollection, his being handed up and carried on a pillow by a mounted slave, as the train set off down the river towards Tuckahoe.”–The life of Thomas Jefferson. By Henry S. Randall, Derby & Jackson, New York, 1858. Volume 1, page 11

June 10, 1751 | &quotSlaves freed without legal licence, may be sold by the churchwardens&quot

“Slaves freed without legal licence, may be sold by the churchwardens. XXVI. And be it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, That no negroe, mulattoe, or Indian slave, shall be set free upon any pretence whatsoever, except for some meritorious services, to be adjudged and and allowed by the governor, and council, for the time being, and a licence thereupon first had, and obtained; and if any slave shall be otherwise set free, it shall be lawful for the churchwardens of the parish, wherein he, or she, shall reside the space of one month, next after his, or her, being so freed, and they are hereby authorised and required to take up, and sell him, or her, as a slave, by public, auction, at the next court held for that county, and to apply the monies, arising by such sale, to ‘the use of their parish, towards lessening the levy thereof. XXVHI. And be it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, That this act shall commence and be in force from and immediately alter the tenth day of June, which shall be in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and tifty one.” The statues at large; being a collection of all the laws of Virginia, from the first session of the legislature, inthe year 1619. Published pursuant to an act of the General assembly of Virginia, passed on the fifth day of February one thousand eight hundred and eight…By William Waller Hening.VOLUME 6, page 112

 

 

1757 | At 14 years old, Thomas Jefferson inherited 35 slaves from his father, Peter Jefferson although they did not become legally his until he was 21 in 1764.
1760's | Slave uprisings in the Virginia counties of Loudon, Fairfax, Frederick, Stafford, and Hanover increased the Virginia colonists' fear of a slave insurrection

The Monstrous Absurdity by Mary Miley Theobald, Colonial Williamsburg website

 

1767 | Jefferson was admitted to the bar and began practicing law
1767+ | &quotJefferson declined fees whenever cases came his way that would have established the freedom of persons their masters claimed were slaves&quot

Willard Sterne Randall, Thomas Jefferson: A Life, Henry Holt and Company, 1993. Page 114

 

February 24, 1768 | Jefferson accepted at no charge, a slave’s suit for freedom in Whitehead v. Belsches.

“Ben Whitehead v. Belsches. The pl. sues in the county court for his freedom. His grandmother was an Indian brought in and sold by an Indian trader, not taken in war. He does not know the precise time when she was brought, but given these hints. She was a girl of 6. or 7. As soon as she was a woman she brought the pl.’s mother who is now 68. years old. Qu. Whether an old act making Indians slaves was in force when her grandmother was sold? If there should be an appeal in this cause I am to appear for Pl. who prosecutes in forma pauperis. In the meantime get the date of the act.” Editor’s notes: A person permitted to sue and be sued in forma pauperis was granted the legal status of a pauper and not charged with the costs of litigation. It was the usual form for suits brought by those claiming to be illegally enslaved.–Research courtesy Richard Dixon from Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, 1997, page 44

 

1769 | Jefferson’s first attempt at confronting the institution of slavery was a bill he drafted for the Virginia House of Burgesses proposing the manumission of slaves, &quotI made one effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected.&quot

This was Jefferson’s first attempt at confronting the institution of slavery as the representative from Albemarle County, at 26 years old. If successful, it would have allowed slaves’ owners to transfer their property interest in slaves back to the slaves themselves and thus set them free. It avoided the laborious process of proving that slaves to be freed were worthy and had performed meritorious service, deserving the court’s approval to be free. Jefferson was too junior in that British body to make such a proposal so he drafted fellow Burgess and kinsman, Richard Bland to introduce the law. They were hooted down.

He later wrote in his autobiography, “In 1769, I became a member of the legislature by the choice of the county in which I live, & continued in that until it was closed by the revolution. I made one effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected: and indeed, during the regal government, nothing liberal could expect success. Our minds were circumscribed within narrow limits by an habitual belief that it was our duty to be subordinate to the mother country in all matters of government, to direct all our labors in subservience to her interests, and even to observe a bigoted intolerance for all religions but hers. The difficulties with our representatives were of habit and despair, not of reflection & conviction. Experience soon proved that they could bring their minds to rights on the first summons of their attention. But the king’s council, which acted as another house of legislature, held their places at will & were in most humble obedience to that will: the Governor too, who had a negative on our laws held by the same tenure, & with still greater devotedness to it: and last of all the Royal negative closed the last door to every hope of amelioration.”-Autobiography, January 6, 1821.–Founders Online, National Archives. Original source, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series[/descriptionmore]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 25, 1814 (relevant to 1769) | Jefferson blamed the unwillingness of his relatives and neighbors to ban slavery as well as other forms of bigotry and intolerance on the British and an older generation

“Our minds were circumscribed within narrow limits by habitual belief that it was our duty to be subordinate to the mother country in all matters of government, to direct our labors in subservience to her interests.”–Autobiography.

The entrenched habits of an older generation were also culpable: “From those of the former generation who were in the fullness of age when I came into the public life…I soon saw that nothing was to be hoped. Nursed and educated in the daily habit of seeing the degraded condition, both bodily and mental, of those unfortunate beings, not reflecting that their degradation was very much the work of themselves and their fathers, few minds have but yet doubted that but that they were as legitimate subjects of property as their horses and cattle.”-Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, 25 August 1814, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov

 

 

1769 | Jefferson hired Isaac Jackson from his owner until he became free. Then paid him for five more years.
October 18, 1769 | Jefferson agreed to take the case of Samuel Howell, a mulatto servant suing for his freedom (one month after his attempt to legalize emancipation in Virginia).

“Samuel Howell (a mulatto) v. Wade Netherland (Cumberland). The pl’s gr. gr. mother was a white wom. and had a daur. Dorothy by a negro man. Dorothy was bd. till 31 during which time she had Lucy the pl.’s moth. who never was bd. nor the pl. himself. He is 27. and claims benefit of late act. Cause set to 12th of nect ct.”–Research courtesy David T. Konig from Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 134

 

 

December 15, 1769 | Jefferson took out a writ at his own expense or pro bono in order to &quotbring suit on behalf of Samuel Howell, a servant (v. Netherland) in the General Court.&quot

“Sam. Howell v. Netherland. Issued Cap. In TAB. Dam. 100£.’ ‘TAB’ is Jefferson’s abbreviation for ‘Trespass Assault and Battery,’ which was the common law action brought in freedom suit.”–Research courtesy David T. Konig from Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 137.

 

 

January 30, 1770 | Benjamin Franklin elucidates British obstruction of the colonists' repeated attempts to end slavery. &quotseveral Laws heretofore made in our Colonies, to discourage the Importation of Slaves, by laying a heavy Duty, payable by the Importer, have been disapproved and repealed by your Government.&quot&quotseveral Laws heretofore made in our Colonies, to discourage the Importation of Slaves, by laying a heavy Duty, payable by the Importer, have been disapproved and repealed by your Government.&quot

“several Laws heretofore made in our Colonies, to discourage the Importation of Slaves, by laying a heavy Duty, payable by the Importer, have been disapproved and repealed by your Government here, as being prejudicial, forsooth, to the Interest of the African Company.…In some Colonies they are so, those particularly to which you send your Convicts. Honest hired Servants are treated as mildly in America every where as in England: But the Villains you transport and sell to us must be ruled with a Rod of Iron. We have made Laws in several Colonies to prevent their Importation: These have been immediately repealed here, as being contrary to an Act of Parliament.…We would keep your British Man-Merchants, with their detestable Ware, from coming among us: But this you will not allow us to do. And therefore I say you force upon us the Convicts as well as the Slaves.”-Benjamin Franklin, A Conversation on Slavery Printed in The Public Advertiser. Founders Online, National Archives

 

 

 

February 12, 1770 | Jefferson continued litigation at no charge on behalf of Ben Whitehead, a slave seeking freedom (see also Feb. 24, 1768)

“Ben Whitehead an Indian pauper v. Margaret Belsches an infant (Surrey) Francis Jerdone (Louisa) her guardian. Bring action of TAB. to recover freedom. Mourning Harris (Albemarle) George Thomason, John Pettis (Louisa) Susanna Bingham Dorothy Cooke (Hanover) material witnesses for pl. aged or infirm. Pl. to send affidavit to get commn.”–Research courtesy David T. Konig from Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A Bear Jr and Lucia C Stanton, Princeton University Press, 1997, page 159

 

 

March 31, 1770 | Jefferson identified a witness for Samuel Howell.

“Howell v. Netherland. Wm. Macon near N. Kent C. H. was witness to the indentures by which Lucy Howell was bound and is sd. To know whole family ab origine. Summon him as evidence”–Research courtesy David T Konig from Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A Bear Jr and Lucia C Stanton, Princeton University Press, 1997, page 168

April, 1770 | Howell’s case came to trial and Thomas Jefferson openly declared his opposition to slavery when he argued that &quotall men are born free

“Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature, because necessary for his own sustenance. The reducing the mother to servitude was a violation of the law of nature: surely then the same law cannot prescribe a continuance of the violation to her issue, and that too without end, for if it extends to any, it must to every degree of descendants…So that the position at first laid down is now proven, that the act of 1705, makes servants of the first mulatto, that of 1723, extends it to her children, but that it remains for some future legislature, if any shall be found wicked enough, to extend it to the grand-children and other issue more remote, to the ‘nati natorum et qui nascentur ab illis!…Wythe, for the defendant, was about to answer, but the court interrupted him and gave judgment in favor of his client.”–Thomas Jefferson, Reports of cases determined in the General Court of Virginia. From 1730, to 1740; and from 1768, to 1772.

May 3, 1770 | Jefferson gave money to Howell, who had just lost his freedom suit. It has been speculated that it was Jefferson's intention and that Howell used the money to run away.

“Gave pauper client 2/.”–Research courtesy David T. Konig from Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton Princeton University Press, 1997, page 203.

May 14, 1770 | Jefferson enter his defeat in the case of Howell vs. Netherland in his memorandum book, &quotHowell v. Netherland. Judgmt for def.&quot

Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton Princeton University Press, 1997, page 174.

 

 

 

December 6, 1770 | Jefferson took the case of an enslaved man, Ned Russell, at no charge.

“Ned Russell (a pauper Goochld.) v. Thomas Drumright (Goochld.). Bring suit for freedom if the decision in the Gen. court be favble. in the suits now depending of same kind. He is son of Nan Russell, daur. of Mary Russell and Indian brot. in about 1697. or 1698. Get liberty to collect evdce.”–Research courtesy David T. Konig from Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton Princeton University Press, 1997, page 198.

September 10, 1772 | Jefferson undertook the freedom suit of an enslaved woman, Sybil, &quotCharge no fee&quot.

“George Manly (Bedford) v. Richd. Callaway (Bedford). Bring action of TAB to recover freedom. He was to serve till 31. and is now 34.”–Research courtesy David T. Konig from Thomas Jefferson’s manuscript Case Books, #708, Huntington Library and Richard Dixon from Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 271…And Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, Undated.

November 1,1772 | &quotBring suit for freedom.&quot Jefferson files another freedom suit on behalf of Isaac.

“Isaac an Indian v. James Powell Cocke. (Henrico). Bring suit for freedom.”–Research courtesy Richard Dixon from Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, 1997, p.276.

November 3, 1772 | Jefferson took out the writ for Isaac’s freedom suit.

“Isaac an Indian v. James Powell Cocke (Henrico), Issd. Writ in TAB. & fals imprismt. Dam. £200.”–Research courtesy Richard Dixon Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 277.

 

February 7, 1773 | Jefferson secured the freedom of George Manly &quotVerdict and jdmt for £50 and costs in October

Research courtesy David T. Konig from Thomas Jefferson’s manuscript Case Books, #708, Huntington Library.

1773 | Jefferson employed George Manly, now a free man of color, for two years.
November 11, 1773 | Jefferson filed suit in the case of Jamey (a slave) v. Brown.

“Jamey (a slave) v. Brown (Henrico). Appear for Dr. Brown.” Note: It is unclear whether Jefferson appeared for Jamey or Brown. –Research courtesy Richard Dixon Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, Volume I, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 325

1773 | At the age of 30, Jefferson inherited 135 slaves from his father-in-law, John Wayles, that were all encumbered by debt to British creditors.
July, 1774 | Jefferson wrote, &quotThe abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire

Jefferson was unable to attend the 1774 Continental Congress due to illness so he sent instructions for the delegates from Virginia that included a scathing criticism of slavery and the British slave trade: Draft of Instructions to the Virginia Delegates in the Continental Congress, July 1774, paragraph 12.

‘The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state. But previous to the infranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa. Yet our repeated attempts to effect this by prohibitions, and by imposing duties which might amount to a prohibition, have been hitherto defeated by his majesty’s negative: thus preferring the immediate advantages of a few British corsairs to the lasting interests of the American states, and to the rights of human nature deeply wounded by this infamous practice. Nay the single interposition of an interested individual against a law was scarcely ever known to fail of success, tho’ in the opposite scale were placed the interests of a whole country. That this is so shameful an abuse of a power trusted with his majesty for other purposes, as if not reformed would call for some legal restrictions.”–Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 121-137.

July, 1774 | Jefferson recognized that prior to the incorporation of freed slaves into society, the slave trade must be abolished. Note that colonization is not a consideration at this point.

“But previous to the infranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa. Yet our repeated attempts to effect this by prohibitions, and by imposing duties which might amount to a prohibition, have been hitherto defeated by his majesty’s negative: thus preferring the immediate advantages of a few British corsairs to the lasting interests of the American states, and to the rights of human nature deeply wounded by this infamous practice.” Instructions to the Virginia Delegates in the Continental Congress, July 1774: Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 121-137.

July, 1774 | Jefferson’s Instructions to the Delegates were re-published without his knowledge as, A Summary View of the Rights of British America.

The Summary view was not written for publication. it was a draught I had prepared of a petition to the King, which I meant to propose in my place as a member of the Convention of 1774. being stopped on the road by sickness, I sent it on to the Speaker, who laid it on the table for the perusal of the members. it was thought too strong for the times & to become the act of the convention, but was printed by subscription of the members with a short preface written by one of them. if it had any merit it was that of first taking our true ground, & that which was afterwards assumed & maintained.”–Thomas Jefferson to John W. Campbell, 3 September 1809. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1809 to 15 November 1809, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004, pp. 486-488.

November 26, 1774 | James Madison voiced the colonists’ fears of a slave insurrection, in this case, instigated by the British. A minor insurrection was suppressed.

“If america & Britain should come to an hostile rupture I am afraid an Insurrection among the slaves may & will be promoted. In one of our Counties lately a few of those unhappy wretches met together & chose a leader who was to conduct them when the English Troops should arrive—which they foolishly thought would be very soon & that by revolting to them they should be rewarded with their freedom. Their Intentions were soon discovered & proper precautions taken to prevent the Infection. It is prudent such attempts should be concealed as well as suppressed.”–James Madison to William Bradford, November 26, 1774. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 1, 16 March 1751-16 December 1779, ed. William T. Hutchinson and William M. E Rachal. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962, pp. 129-131.

 

January 4, 1775 | William Bradford confirmed Madison’s fear of insurrection.

“Your fear with regard to an insurrection being excited among the slaves seems too well founded. A letter from a Gentleman in England was read yesterday in the Coffee-house, which mentioned the design of administration to pass an act (in case of a rupture) declaring [“]all Slaves & Servants free that would take arms against the Americans.” By this you see such a scheme is thought on & talked of; but I cannot beleive the Spirit of the English would ever allow them publickly to adopt so slavish a way of Conquering.”–William Bradford to James Madison, January 4, 1775. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 1, 16 March 1751-16 December 1779, ed. William T. Hutchinson and William M. E Rachal. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962, pp. 131-134.

March 24, 1775 | lans were made by the Committee to Prepare a Plan for a Militia, of which Jefferson was a member, to form a militia in case of invasion or insurrection.

Report of Committee to Prepare a Plan for a Militia. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 160–162

April 12-19, 1775 | &quotAt least 6 incidents of presumed slave unrest in Virginia.&quot

“In the week leading up to the removal of the gunpowder from Williamsburg’s Magazine, there were at least six incidents of presumed slave unrest in Virginia: in Prince Edward County a slave was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, in Chesterfield County word of the possibility of insurrection caused the slave patrols to be revived, in Northumberland County a slave set fire to her master’s home, in Norfolk County two slaves were sentenced to death for revolt, and in Williamsburg and in Surry County rumors that proved groundless kept the white population on edge. The growing rift between the mother country and the colonists increased the danger. Older colonists remembered Governor Robert Dinwiddie’s warning during the French and Indian War, twenty years earlier: any emergency that divided white Americans could give blacks the opportunity for rebellion.”–Theobald, Mary Miley, The Monstrous Absurdity: The Gunpowder Theft Examined. Colonial Williamsburg, www.history.org.

April 21, 1775 | Lord Dunmore confiscated the colonists’ gunpowder at Williamsburg, leaving them defenseless against rebellious slaves and threatened to &quotdeclare freedom to the slaves and reduce the City of Williamsburg to ashes&quot.

“Dunmore had lived in Virginia three years, long enough to learn the colony’s Achilles’ heel. When confronted by the citizens’ delegation after the Magazine raid, he threatened to “declare freedom to the slaves and reduce the City of Williamsburg to ashes” if any British official came to harm. The prospect of a British-sponsored slave uprising was more alarming to Virginians than the loss of a few barrels of gunpowder…The fear of slave insurrection was genuine in all English colonies, especially in the South, where slave numbers were greatest. In the 1760s there were risings in Loudon, Fairfax, Frederick, Stafford, and Hanover Counties, most of which involved the deaths of white overseers or owners. Though the early 1770s were relatively quiet, every white colonist knew that violence could erupt without warning.”–Theobald, Mary Miley, The Monstrous Absurdity: The Gunpowder Theft Examined. Colonial Williamsburg, www.history.org.

lord-dunmore-proclamation-loc

Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov

 

Before June, 1776 | Jefferson’s first and third drafts of a Virginia Constitution condemned the British slave trade and incitement of the slaves against the Colonists.

“by prompting our negroes to rise in arms among us; those very negroes whom by an inhuman use of his negative he hath <from time to time> refused us permission to exclude by law.”–First Draft by Jefferson, Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1809 to 15 November 1809, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004, pp. 337-347.

Before June, 1776 | Astonishingly, soon after Lord Dunsmore’s Proclamation terrified the Virginians, Jefferson called for total emancipation in his second and third drafts of the a Virginia Constitution and condemned slavery in the Declaration.
Before June, 1776 | Jefferson’s second and third drafts of a Virginia Constitution called for an end to slavery, &quotunder any pretext whatever&quot.

“No person hereafter coming into this country shall be held in slavery under any pretext whatever.”–Thomas Jefferson, Second Draft. ‘No person hereafter coming into this country shall be held within the same in slavery under any pretext whatever.”–Thomas Jefferson, Third Draft. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1809 to 15 November 1809, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004, pp. 337-347 and 356-365.

 

June 29, 1776 | Jefferson’s draft arrived late to the Virginia Constitutional convention and George Mason’s version was adopted without Jefferson’s slavery clause having been discussed.

“Thomas Jefferson wrote three drafts of a constitution for Virginia in the spring of 1776. The second and third versions called for an end to slavery “under any pretext whatever”. The version he sent to the fifth Virginia Convention arrived late, in the spring of 1776, sent from Philadelphia where he was serving in the second Continental Congress. When Jefferson’s draft arrived, George Mason’s version had already been debated by the Committee to the point of exhaustion. The legislators adopted his preamble and a few other points, but the debate on slavery was left for another time. On June 29, 1776, when the Virginia Constitution was adopted, ‘The remarkable thing under the circumstances is not that Jefferson’s advanced ideas were rejected but that, at the last moment, the Convention was willing even to consider his constitution. The fact that use was made of considerable part of it is a tribute to its excellence and to the influence of its author.”–Editorial Note, The Virginia Constitution, edited by Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1809 to 15 November 1809, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004, pp. 329-337

July 27, 1776 | George Wythe informed Jefferson that although Mason’s Virginia constitution had been accepted, non-controversial parts of Jefferson’s draft, that arrived late, were included.

“When I came here the plan of government had been committed to the whole house. To those who had the chief hand in forming it the one you put into my hands was shewn. Two or three parts of this were, with little alteration, inserted in that: but such was the impatience of sitting long enough to discuss several important points in which they differ, and so many other matters were necessarily to be dispatched before the adjournment that I was persuaded the revision of a subject the members seemed tired of would at that time have been unsuccessfully proposed. The system agreed to in my opinion requires reformation. In October I hope you will effect it.”–George Wythe to Thomas Jefferson, 27 July, 1776. (Rotunda Editor’s Note: “Wythe had carried TJ’s Third Draft of a constitution for Virginia to Williamsburg when he left Congress on 13 June; see Virginia Constitution, June 1776.-George Wythe to Thomas Jefferson, 27 July 1776. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 476–477.

April 3, 1825 (relevant to June, 1776) | Jefferson explained that the debates over the Virginia Constitution had exhausted the delegates and the more pretentious issues such as abolishing slavery were abandoned.

“Your favor of Mar. 25. has been duly recieved. the fact is unquestionable that the Bill of rights and the Constitution of Virginia were drawn originally by George Mason, one of our really great men and of the first order of greatness. the history of the preamble to the latter is as follows. I was then at Philadelphia with Congress, and knowing that the , Convention of Virginia was engaged in forming a plan of government, I turned my mind to the same subject and drew a sketch or outline of a constitution, with a preamble, which I sent to mr Pendleton, president of the Convention, on the mere possibility that it might suggest something worth incorporation into that before the Convention. he informed me afterwards by letter that he recieved it on the day on which the Committee of the whole had reported to the house the plan they had agreed to, that that had been so long in hand, so disputed inch by inch, and, the subject of so much altercation and debate, that they were worried with the contentions it had produced, and could not, from mere lassitude, have been induced to open the instrument again: but that being pleased with the preamble to mine, they adopted it in the house, by way of amendment to the report of the Committee; and thus my Preamble became tacked to the work of George Mason. the Constitution, with the preamble, was passed on the 29th of June, and the Commee of Congress had only the day before that, reported to that body the draught of the Declaration of Independance. the fact is that that preamble was prior in composition to the Declaration and both having the same object, of justifying our separation from Great Britain, they used necessarily the same materials of justification; and hence their similitude. Withdrawn by age from all other public services and attentions to public things, I am closing the last scenes of life by fostering and fashioning an establishment for the instruction of those who are to come after us. I hope it’s influence on their virtue, freedom, fame and happiness will be salutary and permanent. the form and distributions of it’s structure are original and unique, the architecture chaste and classical, and the whole well worthy of attracting the curiosity of a visit. should it so prove to yourself at any time, it will be a great gratification to me to see you once more at Monticello; and I pray you to be assured of my continued and high respect and esteem.”–Thomas Jefferson to Augustus Elias Brevoort Woodward, 3 April 1825. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series

June 11-July 4, 1776 | Jefferson lists the King’s refusal to end the slave trade and the arming of African Americans against the Colonists as one of the reasons to declare independence.

“he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”–Jefferson’s original rough draught of the Declaration of Independence. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 423-428.

June 11-July 4, 1776 | In his draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson called the slave trade an &quotassemblage of horrors,

“he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.’–Jefferson’s original rough draught of the Declaration of Independence. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 423-428.

June 7-August 1, 1776 | Jefferson explained why the passages in the Declaration of Independence condemning slavery and the slave trade were struck from the final document.

“Congress proceeded the same day to consider the declaration of Independance, which had been reported & laid on the table the Friday preceding, and on Monday referred to a commee. of the whole. the pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many. for this reason those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offence. the clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina & Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. our Northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender <on that> under those censures; for tho’ their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others. the debates having taken up the greater parts of the 2d. 3d. & 4th. days of July were, in the evening of the last closed. the declaration was reported by the commee., agreed to by the house, and signed by every member present except Mr. Dickinson. As the sentiments of men are known not only by what they receive, but what they reject also, I will state the form of the declaration as originally reported <is here subjoined>. the parts <omitted and> struck out by Congress <are> shall be distinguished by a black line drawn under them;& those inserted <are> by them shall be placed in the margin or in a concurrent column<s>.”–Notes of Proceedings in the Continental Congress. Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 299–329.

July 12-August 1, 1776 | Jefferson described the debate regarding slaves at the Continental Congress.

“On Friday July 12. the Committee appointed to draw the articles of confederation reported them and on the 22d. the house resolved themselves into a committee to take them into consideration. on the 30th. and 31st. of that month & 1st. of the ensuing, those articles were debated which determined the <manner of voting in Congress, & that of fixing the> proportion or quota<s> of money which each state should furnish to the common treasury, and the manner of voting in Congress, The first of these articles was expressed in the original draught in these words. ‘Art. xi. All charges of war & all other expences that shall be incurred for the common defence, or general welfare, and allowed by the United states assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several colonies in proportion to the number of inhabitants of every age, sex & quality, except Indians not paying taxes, in each colony, a true account of which, distinguishing the white inhabitants, shall be triennially taken & transmitted to the assembly of the United states.’ Mr. Chase moved that the quotas should be fixed, not by the number of inhabitants of every condition, but by that of the ‘white inhabitants.’ He admitted that taxation should be alwais in proportion to property; that this was in theory the true rule, but that from a variety of difficulties it was a rule which could never be adopted in practice. <that therefore it> the value of the property in every state could never be estimated justly & equally. Some other <barometer for> measur<ing> e for the wealth of the state must therefore be devised, some <measure of wealth must be> standard referred to which would be more simple. he considered the number of inhabitants as a tolerably good criterion of property, and that this might alwais be obtained. <yet numbers simply would not> he therefore thought it the best mode which we could adopt, with <some> one exception<s> only. he observed that negroes are property, and as such cannot be distinguished from the lands or personalties held in those states where there are few slaves, that the surplus of profit which a Northern farmer is able to lay by, he invests in <lands> cattle, horses &c. whereas a Southern farmer lays out that same surplus in slaves. there is no more reason therefore for taxing the Southern states on the farmer’s head, & on his slave’s head, than the Northern ones on their farmer’s heads & the heads of their cattle. that the method proposed would therefore tax the Southern states according to their numbers & their wealth conjunctly, while the Northern would be taxed on numbers only: <and> that Negroes in fact should not be considered as members of the state more than cattle & that they have no more interest in it…Mr. John Adams observed that the numbers of people were taken by this article as an index of the wealth of the state & not as subjects of taxation. that as to this matter it was of no consequence by what name you called your people, whether by that of freemen or of slaves. that in some countries the labouring poor were called freemen, in others they were called slaves; but that the difference as to the state was imaginary only. what matters it whether a landlord employing ten labourers in his farm, gives them annually as much money as will buy them the necessaries of life, or gives them those necessaries at short hand. the ten labourers add as much wealth annually to the state, increase it’s exports as much in the one case as the other. certainly 500 freemen produce no more profits, no greater surplus for the paiment of taxes than 500 slaves. therefore the state in which are the labourers called freemen should be taxed no more than that in which are those called slaves. suppose by any extraordinary operation <of law or> of nature or of law one half the labourers of a state could in the course of one night be transformed into slaves: would the state be made the poorer or the less able to pay taxes? that the condition of the labouring poor in most countries, that of the fishermen particularly of the Northern states is as <painful> abject as that of slaves. it is the number of labourers which produce the surplus for taxation, and numbers therefore indiscriminately are the fair index of wealth. that it is the use of the. word ‘property’ here, & it’s application to some of the people of the state, which produces the fallacy. how does the Southern farmer procure slaves? either by importation or by purchase from his neighbor. if he imports a slave, he adds one to the number of labourers in his country, and proportionably to it’s profits & abilities to pay taxes. if he buys from his neighbor, it is only a transfer of a labourer from one farm to another, which does not change the annual produce of the state, & therefore should not change it’s tax. that if a Northern farmer works ten labourers on his farm, he can, it is true, invest the surplus of ten men’s labour in cattle: but so may the Southern farmer working ten slaves. that a state of 100,000 freemen can maintain no more cattle than one of 100,000 slaves. therefore they have no more of that kind of property. that a slave may indeed from the custom of speech be more properly called the wealth of his master, than the free labourer might be called the wealth of his employer: but <both> as to the state both were equally it’s wealth, and should therefore equally add to the quota of it’s tax…Mr. Harrison proposed a compromise, that two slaves should be counted as one freeman. he affirmed that slaves did not do so much work as freemen, and doubted if two effected more than one. that this was proved by the price of labor, the hire of a labourer in the Southern colonies being from 8. to £12, while in the Northern it was generally £24…Mr. Wilson said that if this amendment should take place the Southern colonies would have all the benefit<s> of slaves, whilst the Northern ones would bear the burthen<s>. that slaves increase the profits of a state, which the Southern states mean to take to themselves; that they also increase the burthen of defence, which would of course fall so much the heavier on the Northern. that slaves occupy the places of freemen and eat their food. dismiss your slaves & freemen will take their places. it is our duty to lay every discouragement on the importation of slaves; but this amendment would <be> giv<ing> e the jus trium liberorum to him who would import <them> slaves. that other kinds of property were pretty equally distributed thro’ all the colonies: there were as many cattle, horses, & sheep in the North as the South, & South as the North: but not so as to slaves. that experience has shewn that those colonies have been alwais able to pay most which have the most <males> inhabitants, whether they be black or white. and the practice of the Southern colonies has alwais been to make every farmer pay poll taxes upon all his labourers whether they be black or white. he acknoleges indeed that freemen work the most; but they consume the most also. they do not produce a greater surplus for taxation. the slave is neither fed nor clothed so expensively as a freeman. again white women are exempted from labour generally, which negro women are not. in this then the Southern states have an advantage as the article now stands. it has sometimes been said that slavery is necessary because the commodities they raise would be too dear for market if cultivated by freemen; but now it is said that the labor of the slave is the dearest…Mr. Payne <desired> urged the original resolution of Congress, to proportion the quotas of the states to the number of souls…Dr. Witherspoon was of opinion that the value of lands & houses was the best estimate of the wealth of a nation, and that it was practicable to obtain such a valuation. this is the true barometer of wealth. the one now proposed is imperfect in itself, and unequal between the states. it has been objected that negroes eat the food of freemen & therefore should be taxed. horses also eat the food of freemen; therefore they also should be taxed. it has been said too that in <making> carrying slaves <enter> into the estimate of the taxes the state is to pay, we do no more than those states themselves do, who alwais <m> take slaves <enter> into the estimate of the taxes the individual is to pay. but the cases are not parallel. in the Southern colonies slaves pervade the whole colony; but they do not pervade the whole continent. that as to the original resolution of Congress to proportion the quotas according to the souls it was temporary only, & related to the monies heretofore emitted: whereas we are now entering into a new compact and therefore stand on original ground…Aug. 1. the question being put the amendment proposed was rejected by the votes of N. Hampshire, Massachusets, Rhodeisland, Connecticut, N. York, N. Jersey, & Pennsylvania, against those of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North & South Carolina. Georgia was divided.–Notes of Proceedings in the Continental Congress, 7 June-1 August 1776. Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 1760–1776, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 299–329.

May, 1777 | Virginia passed a law that Jefferson was instrumental in drafting, obligating him to accept the continental currency issued by Congress for the sale of the Wayle’s lands. This paper currency depreciated to nearly zero during the Revolutionary War, making his efforts to clear his debt futile ultimately affecting his ability to free his slaves upon his death as George Washington had.

“II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That all bills of credit emitted by authority of congress shall pass current in all payments, trade, and dealings within this commonwealth, and be deemed equal to the same nominal sum in Spanish milled dollars; and that whosoever shall offer, ask, or receive more in the said bills, or in the bills of credit emitted by authority of this commonwealth, for any gold or silver coins, or any other species of money whatsoever, than the nominal sum or amount thereof in Spanish milled dollars, or more in either of the said kinds of money for any lands, goods, or commodities whatsoever, than the same could be purchased at of the same person or persons in gold or silver, or any other species of money whatsoever, or shall offer to sell any goods or commodities for gold or silver, or any other species of money whatsoever, or shall offer to sell any any goods or commodities for gold or silver coins, or any other species of money whatsoever, and refuse to sell the same for either the said continental bills, or bills of this commonwealth, every such person shall forfeit the value of the money so exchanged, or of the house, land, or commodity, so sold or offered for sale, to be recovered with costs, by action of debt, in any court of record; the one moiety to the use of the person suing for the same, and the other moiety to the use of this commonwealth. III. And be it farther enacted, That the bills of credit issued by congress shall be a lawful tender in payment of all publick and private debts within this commonwealth, and a tender and refusal thereof, or of the bills of credit issued by authority of this commonwealth, shall operate as an extinguishment of interest from the time of such tender, and that debts payable in sterling shall be discharged with either of the above kinds of money, at the rate of thirty three and one third per centum exchange; and that the continental dollars, and dollars issued by this commonwealth, shall pass in discharge of all debts and contracts at the rate of six shillings currency per dollar.”–The Hathi Trust: The statutes at large; being a collection of all the laws of Virginia, from the first session of the legislature, in the year 1619. Published pursuant to an act of the General assembly of Virginia, passed on the fifth day of February one thousand eight hundred and eight … By William Waller Hening, Vol. 9, pages 297-298.[/descriptionmore]

June 16, 1777 | Jefferson's &quotBill to prevent slavery and the importation of slaves&quot was enacted in 1778 without Jefferson's clause making slavery illegal.

“To prevent more effectually the practice of holding persons in Slavery and importing them into this State1 Be it enacted by the General Assembly that all persons who shall be hereafter imported into this Commonwealth by Sea or by Land whether they were bond or free in their native Country upon their taking the Oath of Fidelity to this Commonwealth shall from thenceforth become free and absolutely exempted from all Slavery or Bondage to which they had been subjected in any other State or Country whatsoever. That it shall and may be lawful for any person by Deed duly executed in the presence of two or more Witnesses and acknowledged or proved and recorded in the General Court or Court of the County where he or she resides within eight Months from the making thereof or by their last Will and Testament in writing fully and absolutely to manumit and set at Liberty any Slave or Slaves to which they are entitled, But no Slave absconding from the owner who resides in any of the thirteen united States of America, or any other state in amity with them, and coming into this commonwealth, or coming with the owner to dwell here, or attending him as a Servant, or falling to any Inhabitant of this Commonwealth by Marriage Will or Inheritance and not brought to be sold, shall not become free, And if any Slave manumitted shall, within years thereafter, become chargeable to a Parish, the former owner, or his Executors or Administrators shall be compelled to reimburse the expenses of his or her maintenance, And so much of the Act of general Assembly made in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty three intitled “an act for the better government of Servants and Slaves” as is contrary to this act, is hereby declared to be repealed.–Bill to Prevent the Importation of Slaves &c. Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 2, 1777 – 18 June 1779, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 22–24.

 

 

 

 

 

October 5, 1778 | &quotAn Act for preventing the farther importation of slaves&quot was signed into law without Jefferson’s clause making slavery illegal.
1778 (written in 1821) | Jefferson wrote that the bill, &quotstopped the increase of the evil by importation, leaving to future efforts it’s final eradication&quot, indicating he fully expected slavery to be eradicated.

“this subject was not acted on finally until the year 78. when I brought in a bill to prevent their further importation. this passed without opposition, and stopped the increase of the evil by importation, leaving to future efforts it’s final eradication.” Autobiography, 1821, paragraph 20. Founders Online, The National Archives. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series.

 

 

June 1-5, 1779 | Jefferson's &quotCatalogue of Bills Prepared by the Committee of Revisors&quot lists number 51, &quotConcerning Slaves&quot.

A Catalogue of Bills prepared by the Committee for the revision of the laws. Founders Online, The National Archives. Original Source, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 2, 1777 – 18 June 1779, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 329–335.

 

June 18, 1779 | As a member of the Revisors Committee, Jefferson nearly single-handedly, re-wrote the entire code of laws for Virginia including, along with George Wythe, &quotA Bill Concerning Slaves&quot, that banned their importation.

“Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no persons shall, henceforth, be slaves within this commonwealth, except such as were so on the first day of this present session of Assembly, and the descendants of the females of them…Negroes and mulattoes which shall hereafter be brought into this commonwealth and kept therein one whole year, together, or so long at different times as shall amount to one year, shall be free.”–A Bill Concerning Slaves, Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 2, 1777 – 18 June 1779, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 470–473.

 

 

 

June 18, 1779 | Bill 51 originally had a clause calling for a gradual but full emancipation of the slaves but it was held back as an amendment to be proposed later. Jefferson was absent in Paris but explained what happened–see June 26, 1786.

“To emancipate all slaves born after passing the act. The bill reported by the revisors does not itself contain this proposition; but an amendment containing it was prepared, to be offered to the legislature whenever the bill should be taken up, and further directing, that they should continue with their parents to a certain age, then be brought up, at the public expence, to tillage, arts or sciences, according to their geniusses, till the females should be eighteen, and the males twenty-one years of age, when they should be colonized to such place as the circumstances of the time should render most proper, sending them out with arms, implements of houshold and of the handicraft arts, feeds, pairs of the useful domestic animals, &c. to declare them a free and independant people, and extend to them our alliance and protection, till they shall have acquired strength; and to send vessels at the same time to other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants; to induce whom to migrate hither, proper encouragements were to be proposed.”–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1821, courtesy The Hathi Trust.

 

 

June 18, 1779 | Jefferson advocated for the elementary education of &quotfree&quot children, without specifying race, for 3 years at public expense in his Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.

Jefferson’s proposal was radical and nothing like it regarding education, regardless of race, passed for the remaining 47 years of his life. “At every of these schools shall be taught reading, writing, and common arithmetick, and the books which shall be used therein for instructing the children to read shall be such as will at the same time make them acquainted with Græcian, Roman, English, and American history. At these schools all the free children, male and female, resident within the respective hundred, shall be intitled to receive tuition gratis, for the term of three years, and as much longer, at their private expence, as their parents, guardians or friends, shall think proper.”–79. A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 2, 1777 – 18 June 1779, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 526–535.

From the Editors of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Princeton University Press:

“TJ apparently finished the Bill late in the autumn of 1778, for on 18 Dec. 1778 he wrote to Pendleton about it (his letter is missing, but see Pendleton’s reply under date of 11 May 1779). On 15 Dec. 1778 leave was given by the House for the presentation of a Bill “for the more general diffusion of knowledge,” and Richard Parker and George Mason were ordered to prepare it; the Bill was presented by Parker on the next day, whereupon the House “Ordered, That the public printer do forthwith print and forward four copies of the said act to each county within this Commonwealth” (JHD, Oct. 1778, 1827 edn., p. 117, 120). It is very doubtful whether this order to print the Bill was actually executed; if it was, no copy of it has been found (see Edmund Pendleton to TJ, 11 May 1779 and notes thereon). The Bill was again presented on 12 June 1780, but no further action was taken until, on 31 Oct. 1785, Madison brought it up along with other bills of the Report of the Committee of Revisors. It was considered by the House 6 Dec., was amended 20 Dec., and on 21 Dec. was actually passed by the House under a new title, “An act, directing the mode of appointing aldermen.” But, on being referred to the Senate, the Bill died (JHD, May 1780, 1827 edn., p. 14, 44; same, Oct. 1785, 1828 edn., p. 12–15, 74–5, 100, 101). Madison reported a year later, when TJ’s Bill was again considered, that the system was carefully considered but not adopted because of the cost involved (Madison to TJ, 4 Dec. 1786; see also Madison to TJ, 22 Jan. 1786).

Madison did not bring in Bill No. 79 with the others reported on 1 Nov. 1786 but it was brought up two weeks later, and, as Madison reported to TJ, it “went through two readings by a small majority and was not pushed to a third one” (Madison to TJ, 15 Feb. 1787; JHD, Oct. 1786, 1828 edn., p. 44). The plan for establishing public schools was not carried to completion until 1796 when the Assembly passed an “Act to Establish Public Schools” (Shepherd, ii, 3–5) which retained some of the phraseology of TJ’s Bill, especially that providing for the election of aldermen. However, the 1796 Act provided only for primary schools, and the determination of the expediency of establishing such schools was left entirely to the aldermen of each county, borough, or corporation.”

 

 

June 30, 1779 | &quotBritish General Sir Henry Clinton issued the Philipsburg Proclamation, freeing slaves belonging to rebellious colonists, increasing the colonists’ hostility toward emancipation and dampening the spirit of the Revolution&quot.

Philipsburg Proclamation.

philipsburg-proclamation-henry-clinton-30-june-1779

Sir Henry Clinton’s Proclamation, the New York Gazette, July 21, 1779

 

 

 

September 6, 1780 | The Continental Congress requested a liberal cession of land from the existing states for the common benefit of the Union.

Journals of Congress, September 6, 1780, vol. 17, page 808. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

Journals of Congress, March 4, 1784, vol. 26, page 113. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

 

 

1781 | Jefferson wrote Notes on the State of Virginia in response to questions posed to him by Francois Barbe-Marbois, secretary to the French Ambassador. It contains some of the most eloquent denunciations of slavery ever written, as well as a plan for gradual, compensated emancipation. Jefferson not only condemned slavery but predicted a future civil war if the evil was not eradicated.

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1821, courtesy, The Hathi Trust.

1781 | Initially, Jefferson did not want Notes published as he suspected that they might harm the cause of emancipation (see May 11-September 2, 1785)
1781 | When asked about the manners of his countrymen in Query XIII, Jefferson responded they had been unhappily influenced by the existence of slavery and continued with a ringing indictment of the evil.

“Manners. “It is difficult to determine on the standard by which the manners of a nation may be tried, whether catholic, or particular. It is more difficult for a native to bring to that standard the manners of his own nation, familiarized to him by habit. There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. 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; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he sees others do. If a parent could find no motive either in his philanthropy or his self-love, for restraining the intemperance of passion towards his slave, it should always be a sufficient one that his child is present. But generally it is not sufficient. The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execration should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriae of the other. For if a slave can have a country in this world, it must be any other in preference to that in which he is born to live and labour for another: in which he must lock up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as depends on his individual endeavours to the evanishment of the human race, or entail his own miserable condition on the endless generations proceeding from him. With the morals of the people, their industry also is destroyed. For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labour. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest. — But it is impossible to be temperate and to pursue this subject through the various considerations of policy, of morals, of history natural and civil. We must be contented to hope they will force their way into every one’s mind. I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation”.–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1821, courtesy, The Hathi Trust.

 

1781 | Query XIII: &quotThere must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. 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; for man is an imitative animal.&quot

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1821, courtesy, The Hathi Trust.

1781 | Query XIII: &quot...these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever&quot.
1781 | Query XIII: &quotThe Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.&quot

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1821, courtesy, The Hathi Trust.

1781 | Query XIII: &quotI think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.&quot

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1821, courtesy, The Hathi Trust.

1781 | Query VIII: Jefferson divulged that the Colonists had attempted to stop the importation of slaves, and that the new Virginia legislature had succeeded in their attempts. He hoped this would lead to total emancipation.

“During the regal government, we had at one time obtained a law, which imposed such a duty on the importation of slaves, as amounted nearly to a prohibition, when one inconsiderate assembly, placed under a peculiarity of circumstance, repealed the law. This repeal met a joyful sanction from the then sovereign, and no devices, no expedients, which could ever after be attempted by subsequent assemblies, and they seldom met without attempting them, could succeed in getting the royal assent to a renewal of the duty. In the very first session held under the republican government, the assembly passed a law for the perpetual prohibition of the importation of slaves. This will in some measure stop the increase of this great political and moral evil, while the minds of our citizens may be ripening for a complete emancipation of human nature“.–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1821, courtesy The Hathi Trust.

 

1781 | Query VIII: &quotThis will in some measure stop the increase of this great political and moral evil, while the minds of our citizens may be ripening for a complete emancipation of human nature&quot.

–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1821, courtesy The Hathi Trust.

 

1781 | Query XIV: Jefferson noted that one of the most remarkable alterations to Virginia law proposed by the Revisors was, &quotTo emancipate all slaves born after passing the act

“To emancipate all slaves born after passing the act. The bill reported by the revisors does not itself contain this proposition; but an amendment containing it was prepared, to be offered to the legislature whenever the bill should be taken up, and further directing, that they should continue with their parents to a certain age, then be brought up, at the public expence, to tillage, arts or sciences, according to their geniusses, till the females should be eighteen, and the males twenty-one years of age, when they should be colonized to such place as the circumstances of the time should render most proper, sending them out with arms, implements of houshold and of the handicraft arts, feeds, pairs of the useful domestic animals, &c. to declare them a free and independant people, and extend to them our alliance and protection, till they shall have acquired strength; and to send vessels at the same time to other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants; to induce whom to migrate hither, proper encouragements were to be proposed. It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expence of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race”.–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIV, courtesy the Hathi Trust.

1781 | Query XIV: When asked to describe the population of Virginia, Jefferson included the slaves, but hazarded his observations as a &quotsuspicion only…lest they degrade an entire race&quot.

“…we find among them numerous instances of the most rigid integrity, and as many as among their better instructed masters, of benevolence, gratitude, and unshaken fidelity. The opinion, that they are inferior in the faculties of reason and imagination, must be hazarded with great diffidence. To justify a general conclusion, requires many observations, even where the subject may be submitted to the anatomical knife, to optical classes, to analysis by fire, or by solvents. How much more then where it is a faculty, not a substance, we are examining; where it eludes the research of all the senses; where the conditions of its existence are various and variously combined; where the effects of those which are present or absent bid defiance to calculation; let me add too, as a circumstance of great tenderness, where our conclusion would degrade a whole race of men from the rank in the scale of beings which their Creator may perhaps have given them. To our reproach it must be said, that though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history. I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. Will not a lover of natural history then, one who views the gradations in all the races of animals with the eye of philosophy, excuse an effort to keep those in the department of man as distinct as nature has formed them : This unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people”.–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia courtesy the Hathi Trust.

 

May 13, 1781 | Two judges in the case of Billy, a slave accused of treason for joining the British, argued for a reprieve from Governor Jefferson on the grounds that Billy could not commit treason as he was not a citizen.

“We set on the trial of Billy a Mulatto slave belonging to John Tayloe Esqr. who was Convicted and Condemned by the Court for High Treason by four of the Judges. We were against his Condemnation because a slave in our opinion Cannot Commit Treason against the State not being Admited to the Priviledges of a Citizen owes the State No Allegiance and that the Act declaring what shall be treason cannot be intended by the Legislature to include slaves who have neither lands or other property to forfiet and there was no Positive Proof before the Court that the said Slave went Voluntarily On board of the Enemys Vessel and took up Arms; there was Proof that he was taken in Company of Part of the Crew of the said Vessel on shore who made their Escape on being pursued by An Armed Vessel from Alexandria. On his defence he says he was taken in an Oyster boat and forced on board against his will and that he never took up Arms against the Country and no Positive Proof that he Certainly did Aid or Assist the Enemy of his own free will”.–Mann Page to Thomas Jefferson, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 5, 25 February 1781 – 20 May 1781, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 640–643.

May, 1781 | As Governor of Virginia, Jefferson granted a stay of execution to Billy, a slave accused of treason, making his eventual pardon possible.

“TJ’s reprieve was probably extended to the end of June because (1) he was not certain whether the assembly would actually meet late in May or even in June and (2), in that event, his successor as Governor would have an opportunity to extend the reprieve to the time of meeting of the legislature. As a matter of fact, it was not until 7 June 1781 that Mann Page presented to the House of Delegates a petition for the pardon of John Tayloe’s Negro slave Will. His petition was referred to the committee for courts of justice and on 9 June the following report of the committee was read and agreed to by the House: “It appears to your committee, from the record and proceedings of the court of Prince William county, that Billy, alias Will, alias William, a mulatto slave belonging to the estate of the said John Tayloe, deceased, was, before the said court, indicted for treason and sentenced to be hanged. It also appears … that upon application being made to his excellency Thomas Jefferson, Esq., the then Governor of Virginia, a reprieve was obtained for the said slave till the last day of the present month. It farther appears … that the indictment and proceedings thereon against the said slave were illegal. …… Resolved, that it is the opinion of this committee, That the petition … is reasonable”; the House thereupon ordered the committee to bring in a bill pursuant to this resolution, but apparently the matter was settled by joint resolution rather than by bill, for on 14 June the Senate agreed to the resolution of the House.–Editors’ Note, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 5, 25 February 1781 – 20 May 1781, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 640–643.

June, 1781 | Cornwallis destroyed Jefferson's crops and lievestock and carried off 30 of Jefferson's slaves. &quotHad this been to give them freedom he would have done right, but it was to consign them to...death from the small pox.&quot

“It was early in June 1781. Lord Cornwallis then proceeded to the point of fork, and encamped his army from thence all along the main James river to a seat of mine called Elkhill, opposite to Elk island and a little below the mouth of the Byrd creek. (You will see all these places exactly laid down in the map annexed to my ( on Virginia printed by Stockdale.) He remained in this position ten days, his own head quarters being in my house at that place. I had had time to remove most of the effects out of the house. He destroyed all my growing crops of corn and tobacco, he burned all my barns containing the same articles of the last year, having first taken what corn he wanted, he used, as was to be expected, all my stocks of cattle, sheep, and hogs for the sustenance of his army, and carried off all the horses capable of service: of those too young for service he cut the throats, and he burnt all the fences on the plantation, so as to leave it an absolute waste. He carried off also about 30. slaves: had this been to give them freedom he would have done right, but it was to consign them to inevitable death from the small pox and putrid fever then raging in his camp. This I knew afterwards to have been the fate of 27. of them. I never had news of the remaining three, but presume they shared the same fate. When I say that Lord Cornwallis did all this, I do not mean that he carried about the torch in his own hands, but that it was all done under his eye, the situation of the house, in which he was, commanding a view of every part of the plantation, so that he must have seen every fire. I relate these things on my own knowlege in a great degree, as I was on the ground soon after he left it. He treated the rest of the neighborhood somewhat in the same stile, but not with that spirit of total extermination with which he seemed to rage over my possessions. Wherever he went, the dwelling houses were plundered of every thing which could be carried off. Lord Cornwallis’s character in England would forbid the belief that he shared in the plunder. But that his table was served with the plate thus pillaged from private houses can be proved by many hundred eye witnesses. From an estimate I made at that time on the best information I could collect, I supposed the state of Virginia lost under Ld. Cornwallis’s hands that year about 30,000 slaves, and that of these about 27,000 died of the small pox and camp fever, and the rest were partly sent to the West Indies and exchanged for rum, sugar, coffee and fruits, and partly sent to New York, from whence they went at the peace either to Nova Scotia, or England. From this last place I believe they have been lately sent to Africa. History will never relate the horrors committed by the British army in the Southern states of America. They raged in Virginia 6. months only, from the middle of April to the middle of October 1781. when they were all taken prisoners, and I give you a faithful specimen of their transactions for 10. days of that time and in one spot only. Expede Herculem. I suppose their whole devastations during those 6. months amounted to about three millions sterling.—The copiousness of this subject has only left me space to assure you of the sentiments of esteem and respect with which I am Sir your most obedt. humble servt.,–Thomas Jefferson to William Gordon, 16 July 1788. Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 13, March–7 October 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956, pp. 362–365.

 

 

January 27, 1783 | Jefferson's &quotStatement of Losses to the British&quot in 1781 at his Cumberland holdings included slaves who later died from camp fever.

–Thomas Jefferson, Statement of Losses to the British, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 6, 21 May 1781–1 March 1784, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 224–225

 

 

1783 | By this time, Jefferson had failed to ease the terms of emancipation in the House of Burgesses, and to end slavery in the 1776 Virginia Constitution, in the Declaration of Independence, and on the Virginia Revisors Committee, yet again we see his attempt to end slavery through permanent, legal mechanisms in a new constitution for Virginia.
May-June 1783 | Jefferson suggested a new constitution for Virginia that included the gradual emancipation of slaves. It would have resulted in the abolition of slavery in that state. &quotAll persons born after that day being hereby declared free&quot.

being hereby declared free&quot.”]

The desire to end slavery had never left Jefferson’s thoughts or actions. Of his own accord, he wrote a new constitution for Virginia in 1783 that contained provisions that called for the freedom of everyone born after the year 1800, and banned the importation of slaves into Virginia. Similar to his legislative proposals, these proposals were on a constitutional level, as was his 1776 constitutional proposal. The Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1783 never met, thus Jefferson’s draft was never considered. Another attempt to address slavery in the fervor, fire and passion of the Revolution-ending in disappointment. “The General assembly shall not have to power to infringe this constitution … permit the introduction of any more slaves to reside in this state, or the continuance of slavery beyond the generation which shall be living on the 31st day of December 1800; all persons born after that day being hereby declared free…In the Summer of the Year 1783, it was expected, that the Assembly of Virginia would call a Convention for the Establishment of a Constitution. The following Draught of a Fundamental Constitution for the Commonwealth of Virginia was then prepared, with a Design of being proposed to such Convention, had it taken place.” Appended to Notes on the State of Virginia, Paris, 1785 version.–Jefferson’s Draft of a Constitution for Virginia, Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 6, 21 May 1781–1 March 1784, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 294–308

 

June 6, 1783 | Jefferson was selected to represent Virginia at the Continental Congress for one year.

The Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 26, p. 115. Courtesy the Library of Congress.

June 17, 1783 | Jefferson asked Madison not to show his draft Constitution for Virginia to anyone from Virginia as &quotI have found prejudices frequently produced against propositions handed to the world without explanation or support&quot.

“A Convention for the amendment of our Constitution having been much the topic of conversation for some time, I have turned my thoughts to the amendments necessary. The result I inclose to you. You will have opportunities during your stay in Philadelphia of enquiring into the success of some of the parts of it which tho’ new to us have been tried in other states. I shall only except against your communicating it to any one of my own country, as I have found prejudices frequently produced against propositions handed to the world without explanation or support. I trust that you will either now or in some future situation turn your attention to this subject in time to give your aid when it shall be finally discussed.”–Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, June 17, 1783, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 6, 21 May 1781–1 March 1784, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 277–278

 

September 3, 1783 | The Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War. It was proclaimed on January 14, 1784.
October 20, 1783 | The general Assembly of Virginia authorized their delegates to the Continental Congress to convey their territory northwestward of the Ohio River.

The Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 26, p. 113 courtesy the Library of Congress.

January 14, 1784 | Article IV of the Treaty of Paris mandated that debts must be paid in sterling. Jefferson’s British creditors would not accept the worthless paper money he had received in payment for the Wayles’ lands, making him obligated for the debt a second time.

Treaty of Paris, courtesy the Library of Congress.

March 1, 1784 | Pursuant to the recommendations made by Congress on September 6, 1780, and subsequent to actions taken by the Commonwealth of Virginia on January 2, 1781 and September 13, 1783, Virginia ceded &quotall of her territory, north of the Ohio River, to the United States&quot.

The Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 26, p. 113. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

March 1, 1784 | Thomas Jefferson, Jeremiah Chase and David Howell who were appointed to a committee to &quotprepare a plan for the temporary government of the western territory&quot, presented their plan.

The Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 26, p. 118. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

March 1, 1784 | Jefferson proposed that &quotthere shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude

“5. That after the year 1800 of the Christian æra, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty.”–Thomas Jefferson, III. Report of the Committee, 1 Mch. 1784, Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 6, 21 May 1781–1 March 1784, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 603–607

The Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 26, p. 118. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

 

 

April 19, 1784 | Richard Spaight, a delegate from North Carolina to the Continental Congress, moved that Jefferson’s clause prohibiting slavery or involuntary servitude in the new states be struck from the plan to govern the new territories.

The Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 26, p. 247. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

April 19, 1784 | A vote was taken, Jefferson’s effort to prohibit slavery failed by one vote, The clause was struck.

The Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 26, p. 247. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

April 25, 1784 | Jefferson related the failure of the antislavery proviso to Madison, &quot The 2d. was lost by an individual vote only. Ten states were present. The 4. Eastern states, N. York, Pennsva. were for the clause. Jersey would have been for it, but there were but two members, one of whom was sick in his chambers. South Carolina Maryland, & ! Virginia ! voted against it. N. Carolina was divided as would have been Virginia had not one of its delegates been sick in bed&quot.

“To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 25 April 1784,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-08-02-0009. [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 8, 10 March 1784 – 28 March 1786, ed. Robert A. Rutland and William M. E. Rachal. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1973, pp. 23–28.]

 

 

 

1784 Editor's note | &quotJefferson proposed to interdict slavery in all the western territory and not merely in the northwest territory as the Ordinance of 1787 did. Had it been adopted as Jefferson reported it, slavery would have died a natural death, and secession would have been impossible.&quot

“Next to the Declaration of Independence (if indeed standing second to that), this document ranks in historical importance of all those drawn by Jefferson; and, but for its being superseded by the “Ordinance of 1787,” would rank among all American State papers immediately after the National Constitution. Its importance has already been commented upon in the introduction. That it contains practically every provision which has made the later ordinance famous, has been carefully overlooked by those who have desired to give the credit of them to Northerners. Still more have these special pleaders suppressed the fact that Jefferson proposed to interdict slavery in all the western territory and not merely in the northwest territory as the Ordinance of 1787 did. Had it been adopted as Jefferson reported it, slavery would have died a natural death, and secession would have been impossible.”

 

 

See footnote to Report of Government for the Western Territory: Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 4. 3/13/2017. Courtesy The Online Library of Liberty

1784-Editor's note | &quotThis plan, with its limitation of slavery, though failing by only one vote of adoption in 1784, was unpopular at the South and increasingly so as slavery became more and more profitable and more and more a Southern institution. As early as 1790 Jefferson’s partizans were already his apologists for this document, and from that time Jefferson carefully avoided any public utterance on slavery&quot.

There is another reason, however, for the little reputation this paper has brought to Jefferson, aside from the studious suppression of its importance by the special pleaders of New England. This plan, with its limitation of slavery, though failing by only one vote of adoption in 1784, was unpopular at the South and increasingly so as slavery became more and more profitable and more and more a Southern institution. As early as 1790 Jefferson’s partizans were already his apologists for this document, and from that time Jefferson carefully avoided any public utterance on slavery. This change of attitude is alone sufficient explanation why Southerners acquiesced with the Northerners in the suppression of this paper, and of Jefferson’s drafting of it. In Jefferson’s memoranda of the services which he took pride in having rendered his country, written in 1800, he carefully omitted all mention, as also in his Autobiography, written in 1821. And thus it has been left to the Massachusetts orators to glorify King, Dane, and Cutler for clauses in the Ordinance of 1787, which the latter had in truth but taken from the Ordinance of 1784, and which they made sectional, where Jefferson had made them national.

 

See footnote to Report of Government for the Western Territory [March 22, 1784]: Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 4. 3/13/2017. Courtesy The Online Library of Liberty.

1784 Related quote | &quotThus, with the author of the Declaration of Independence, the policy of prohibiting slavery in new territory originated&quot.–Abraham Lincoln

“In order to [get?] a clear understanding of what the Missouri Compromise is, a short history of the preceding kindred subjects will perhaps be proper. When we established our independence, we did not own, or claim, the country to which this compromise applies. Indeed, strictly speaking, the confederacy then owned no country at all; the States respectively owned the country within their limits; and some of them owned territory beyond their strict State limits. Virginia thus owned the North-Western territory—the country out of which the principal part of Ohio, all Indiana, all Illinois, all Michigan and all Wisconsin, have since been formed. She also owned (perhaps within her then limits) what has since been formed into the State of Kentucky. North Carolina thus owned what is now the State of Tennessee; and South Carolina and Georgia, in separate parts, owned what are now Mississippi and Alabama. Connecticut, I think, owned the little remaining part of Ohio—being the same where they now send Giddings to Congress, and beat all creation at making cheese. These territories, together with the States themselves, constituted all the country over which the confederacy then claimed any sort of jurisdiction. We were then living under the Articles of Confederation, which were superceded by the Constitution several years afterwards. The question of ceding these territories to the general government was set on foot. Mr. Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and otherwise a chief actor in the revolution; then a delegate in Congress; afterwards twice President; who was, is, and perhaps will continue to be, the most distinguished politician of our history; a Virginian by birth and continued residence, and withal, a slave-holder; conceived the idea of taking that occasion, to prevent slavery ever going into the north-western territory. He prevailed on the Virginia Legislature to adopt his views, and to cede the territory, making the prohibition of slavery therein, a condition of the deed. Congress accepted the cession, with the condition; and in the first Ordinance (which the acts of Congress were then called) for the government of the territory, provided that slavery should never be permitted therein. This is the famed ordinance of ’87 so often spoken of. Thenceforward, for sixty-one years, and until in 1848, the last scrap of this territory came into the Union as the State of Wisconsin, all parties acted in quiet obedience to this ordinance. It is now what Jefferson foresaw and intended—the happy home of teeming millions of free, white, prosperous people, and no slave amongst them.

Thus, with the author of the Declaration of Independence, the policy of prohibiting slavery in new territory originated. Thus, away back of the constitution, in the pure fresh, free breath of the revolution, the State of Virginia, and the National congress put that policy in practice. Thus through sixty odd of the best years of the republic did that policy steadily work to its great and beneficent end. And thus, in those five states, and five millions of free, enterprising people, we have before us the rich fruits of this policy

Lincoln, Abraham, Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854 from Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler. Courtesty The National Park Service, www.nps.gov

 

Author Comment | &quotThere was nothing in the Articles of Federation that spoke to the abolition of slavery until this Ordinance&quot.–Erik S. Root
Author comment | &quotJefferson’s ordinance was designed to prevent the spread of slavery as a legal institution outside of the original states, and it would have made secession impracticable if not impossible. Only in the light of tragic history can the wisdom of his preventive measure be fully appreciated&quot.–Dumas Malone

Malone, Dumas: Jefferson and His Time, Volume I, Jefferson the Virginian, Little, Brown and Company, 1948, p. 414

July 5, 1784 | Thomas Jefferson weighed anchor from Boston for France aboard the Ceres at 4:00 AM.

See footnote:
From Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, 4 July [1784],Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-07-02-0275. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 7, 2 March 1784 – 25 February 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 363–364.]

See also, July 5 from:
Memorandum Books, 1784,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/02-01-02-0018. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series, Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, vol. 1, ed. James A Bear, Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, pp. 541–572.]

August 6, 1784 | Thomas Jefferson arrived in Paris.

See footnote:

“From Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, 4 July [1784],” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-07-02-0275. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 7, 2 March 1784 – 25 February 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 363–364.]

March 10, 1785 | Congress appointed Thomas Jefferson as the United States Minister Plenipotentiary to France.
March 16, 1785 | The proposition preventing slavery in the new states was moved to a committee by Congress. Ever the optimist, Jefferson wrote, &quotI hope the friends of the natural rights of man will continue our efforts till they succeed

The Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 28, p. 164. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

Pa. 280. ‘Et il est à desirer’ &c. On the 16th. of March 1785. it was moved in Congress that the proposition for preventing slavery in the new states should be referred to a committee, and it was accordingly referred by the vote of 8. states against 3 but I have not seen that any thing further has been done in it. I hope the friends of the natural rights of man will continue our efforts till they succeed.–Jefferson’s Observations on DeMeunier’s Manuscript, June 22, 1786. Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 22 June–31 December 1786, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, pp. 30–61.

 

May 25, 1785 | Jefferson told Adams why he had delayed the publication of Notes on Virginia for two years, &quotI am happy if you find any thing in them worthy your approbation. but my country will probably estimate them differently&quot.

Your letter of the 22d from Montreuil sur mer is put into my hands this moment, and having received information of your son and two American gentlemen being to set out for London tomorrow morning1 I seize a moment to inform you that he had arrived well at l’Orient & was well on the 20th. when the packet was still detained by contrary winds. mr̃ Barclay, who is arrived, had also seen him.2 be so good as to inform the ladies that mr̃s Hayes is arrived. I have not yet seen her, but am this moment going to perform that duty. I fear the ladies have had a more triste journey than we had calculated on. the poverty of the country & distress of the drought would of course produce this effect. I am the more convinced of this as you say they have found amusement in my notes. they presented themselves to their notice under fortunate circumstances. I am happy if you find any thing in them worthy your approbation. but my country will probably estimate them differently. a foreknowlege of this has retarded my communicating them to my friends two years.— but enough of them.— the departure of your family has left me in the dumps.–Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, May 25, 1785. Original source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 17, April–November 1785, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Amanda A. Mathews

 

May 11, 1785 | Jefferson hesitated to publish Notes on the State of Virginia, &quotthere are sentiments on some subjects which I apprehend might be displeasing to the country perhaps to the assembly or to some who lead it&quot.

“They yesterday finished printing my notes. I had 200 copies printed, but do not put them out of my own hands, except two or three copies here, and two which I shall send to America, to yourself and Colo. Monroe, if they can be ready this evening as promised. In this case you will receive one by Monsr. Doradour. I beg you to peruse it carefully because I ask your advice on it and ask nobody’s else. I wish to put it into the hands of the young men at the college, as well on account of the political as physical parts. But there are sentiments on some subjects which I apprehend might be displeasing to the country perhaps to the assembly or to some who lead it. I do not wish to be exposed to their censure, nor do I know how far their influence, if exerted, might effect a misapplication of law to such a publication were it made. Communicate it then in confidence to those whose judgments and information you would pay respect to: and if you think it will give no offence I will send a copy to each of the students of W.M.C. and some others to my friends and to your disposal. Otherwise I shall only send over a very few copies to particular friends in confidence and burn the rest. Answer me soon and without reserve. Do not view me as an author, and attached to what he has written. I am neither. They were at first intended only for Marbois. When I had enlarged them, I thought first of giving copies to three or four friends. I have since supposed they might set our young students into a useful train of thought and in no event do I propose to admit them to go to the public at large.” Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Paris, May 11, 1785. Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 8, 10 March 1784 – 28 March 1786, ed. Robert A. Rutland and William M. E. Rachal. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1973, pp. 280–282

June 7, 1785 | Again Jefferson is reticent to publish Notes, &quotthese strictures might produce an irritation which would indispose the people towards the two great objects I have in view, that is the emancipation of their slaves, and the settlement of their constitution on a firmer and more permanent basis&quot.

Paris, June 7, 1785:I have been honoured with the receipt of your letter of the 2d. instant, and am to thank you, as I do sincerely for the partiality with which you receive the copy of the Notes on my country. As I can answer for the facts therein reported on my own observation, and have admitted none on the report of others which were not supported by evidence sufficient to command my own assent, I am not afraid that you should make any extracts you please for the Journal de physique which come within their plan of publication. The strictures on slavery and on the constitution of Virginia are not of that kind, and they are the parts which I do not wish to have made public, at least till I know whether their publication would do most harm or good. It is possible that in my own country these strictures might produce an irritation which would indispose the people towards the two great objects I have in view, that is the emancipation of their slaves, and the settlement of their constitution on a firmer and more permanent basis. If I learn from thence, that they will not produce that effect, I have printed and reserved just copies enough to be able to give one to every young man at the College. It is to them I look, to the rising generation, and not to the one now in power for these great reformations. The other copy delivered at your hotel was for Monsr. de Buffon. I meant to ask the favour of you to have it sent to him, as I was ignorant how to do it. I have one also for Monsr. Daubenton: but being utterly unknown to him I cannot take the liberty of presenting it till I can do it through some common acquaintance.

… I have supposed the blackman, in his present state, might not be so. But it would be hazardous to affirm that, equally cultivated for a few generations, he would not become so…”–Thomas Jefferson  to Chastellux, June 7, 1785, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 184–186.

 

 

 

June 7, 1785 | Jefferson began to look to the younger generation to abolish slavery after repeated attempts to convince his own generation, &quotIt is to them I look, to the rising generation, and not to the one now in power for these great reformations&quot.

“If I learn from thence, that they will not produce that effect, I have printed and reserved just copies enough to be able to give one to every young man at the College. It is to them I look, to the rising generation, and not to the one now in power for these great reformations.”

 

Thomas Jefferson  to Chastellux, June 7, 1785, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 184–186.

 

 

 

 

June 17, 1785 | Jefferson informed Monroe regarding the publication of Notes, &quotI have taken measures to prevent it's publication. My reason is that I fear the terms in which I speak of slavery and of our constitution may produce an irritation which will revolt the minds of our countrymen against reformation in these two articles, and thus do more harm than good&quot.

I send you by Mr. Otto a copy of my book [Notes]. Be so good as to apologize to Mr. Thomson for my not sending him one by this conveiance. I could not burthen Mr. Otto with more on so long a road as that from here to l’Orient. I will send him one by a Mr. Williams who will go ere long. I have taken measures to prevent it’s publication. My reason is that I fear the terms in which I speak of slavery and of our constitution may produce an irritation which will revolt the minds of our countrymen against reformation in these two articles, and thus do more harm than good. I have asked of Mr. Madison to sound this matter as far as he can, and if he thinks it will not produce that effect, I have then copies enough printed to give one to each of the young men at the college, and to my friends in the country. Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, Paris, June 17, 1785, Founders Online, The National Archives.Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 227–234.

June 21, 1785 | Jefferson once more expressed his fears of publishing Notes, &quottill I hear from my friends whether the terms in which I have spoken of slavery and of the constitution of our state will not, by producing an irritation, retard that reformation which I wish instead of promoting it&quot.

“In literature nothing new: for I do not consider as having added any thing to that feild my own Notes of which I have had a few copies printed. I will send you a copy by the first safe conveyance. Having troubled Mr. Otto with one for Colo. Monro, I could not charge him with one for you. Pray ask the favor of Colo. Monroe in page 5. line 17. to strike out the words ‘above the mouth of Appamattox,’ which makes nonsense of the passage, and I forgot to correct it before I had inclosed and sent off the copy to him. I am desirous of preventing the reprinting this, should any book merchant think it worth it, till I hear from my friends whether the terms in which I have spoken of slavery and of the constitution of our state will not, by producing an irritation, retard that reformation which I wish instead of promoting it.”–Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson, Paris, June 21, 1785, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 245–246.

 

October 10, 1785 | Jefferson’s Bill 51 that banned the importation of slaves was adopted by the Virginia legislature as An Act Concerning Slaves, without the gradual emancipation clause.

Hathi Trust-An Act Concerning Slaves, Hening, Vol. 12 pages 182-183

 

October 10, 1785 | In 1821, Jefferson regretted that the public mind would not bear the proposition of emancipation in his Bill 51, but declared that, &quotNothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free&quot.

“The bill on the subject of slaves was a mere digest of the existing laws respecting them, without any intimation of a plan for a future & general emancipation. it was thought better that this should be kept back, and attempted only by way of amendment whenever the bill should be brought on. the principles of the amendment however were agreed on, that is to say, the freedom of all born after a certain day, and deportation at a proper age. but it was found that the public mind would not yet bear the proposition, nor will it bear it even at this day. Yet the day is not distant when it must bear and adopt it, or worse will follow. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them. it is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation peaceably and in such slow degree as that the evil will wear off insensibly, and their place be peri passu filled up by free white laborers. if on the contrary it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up. we should in vain look for an example in the Spanish deportation or deletion of the Moors. this precedent would fall far short of our case.”– Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, 6 Jan.-29 July 1821, 6 January 1821, Founders Online, The National Archives. This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series

 

January 24, 1786 | Jefferson assumed that Virginia would soon emancipate her slaves and that the younger generation would contribute to the effort.

18. I conjecture there are 650,000 negroes in the five Southernmost states and not 50,000 in the rest. In most of these latter, effectual measures have been taken for their future emancipation. In the former nothing is done towards that. The disposition to emancipate them is strongest in Virginia. Those who desire it, form as yet the minority of the whole state, but it bears a respectable proportion to the whole in numbers and weight of character, and it is continually recruiting by the addition of nearly the whole of the young men as fast as they come into public life. I flatter myself it will take place there at some period of time not very distant. In Maryland and N. Carolina, a very few are disposed to emancipate. In S. Carolina and Georgia not the smallest symptom of it, but, on the contrary, these two states and N. Carolina continue importations of negroes. These have been long prohibited in all the other states.–Thomas Jefferson, Answers to DeMeunier’s First Queries. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 22 June–31 December 1786, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, pp. 11–20

April 19, 1786 | Jefferson answered the concerns of British creditors regarding American debt repayment after the War, clarifying his own position and losses.

“My chief debts are to yourself and to Mr. Jones of Bristol. In the year 1776. before there was a shilling of paper money issued, I sold land for £4200 to pay these two debts. I did not receive the money till it was not worth oak leaves. I have lost the principal and interest of these debts once then in attempting to pay them. Besides this Ld. Cornwallis’s army took off 30 of my slaves burnt one year’s crop of tobacco in my houses and destroyed another in the feilds with other damages to the amount of three or four thousand pounds. Still I am renewing my efforts to pay what I justly ought; and I hope these will be more succesful. My whole estate is left in the hands of Mr. Lewis of Albemarle and Mr. Eppes of Chesterfeild to apply it’s whole profits to the paiment of my debts. Some had been necessarily contracted during the war… We deem your nation the aggressors. They took those profits which arose from your property in our hands, and inflicted on us immeasurable losses besides.” Thomas Jefferson to Alexander McCaul, 19 April 1786Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 9, 1 November 1785 – 22 June 1786, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, pp. 388–390

June 22, 1786 | Jefferson denounced the failure of his proposition to prevent slavery in the western states, yet expressed hope that slavery would be abolished, &quotThe voice of a single individual… would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country. Thus we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and heaven was silent in that awful moment! But it is to be hoped it will not always be silent and that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail&quot.

Pa. 280, line 5. ‘Huit des onze etats’ &c. Say ‘there were 10. states present. 6. voted unanimously for it, 3. against it, and one was divided: and seven votes being requisite to decide the proposition affirmatively, it was lost. The voice of a single individual of the state which was divided, or of one of those which were of the negative, would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country. Thus we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and heaven was silent in that awful moment! But it is to be hoped it will not always be silent and that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail. On the 16th. of March 1785. it was moved in Congress that the same proposition should be referred to a Committee, and it was referred by the votes of 8. states against 3. We do not hear that any thing further is yet done on it.’– Jefferson’s Observations on DeMeunier’s Manuscript, June 22, 1786, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 22 June–31 December 1786, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, pp. 30–61.

 

 

 

June 26, 1786 | Jefferson was horrified that the clause calling for a gradual but full emancipation of the slaves was left out of Bill 51.
  1. de Meusnier, where he mentions that the slave-law has been passed in Virginia, without the clause of emancipation, is pleased to mention that neither Mr. Wythe nor Mr. Jefferson were present to make the proposition they had meditated; from which people, who do not give themselves the trouble to reflect or enquire, might conclude hastily that their absence was the cause why the proposition was not made; and of course that there were not in the assembly persons of virtue and firmness enough to propose the clause for emancipation. This supposition would not be true. There were persons there who wanted neither the virtue to propose, nor talents to enforce the proposition had they seen that the disposition of the legislature was ripe for it. These worthy characters would feel themselves wounded, degraded, and discouraged by this idea. Mr. Jefferson would therefore be obliged to M. de Meusnier to mention it in some such manner as this. ‘Of the two commissioners who had concerted the amendatory clause for the gradual emancipation of slaves Mr. Wythe could not be present as being a member of the judiciary department, and Mr. Jefferson was absent on the legation to France. But there wanted not in that assembly men of virtue enough to propose, and talents to vindicate this clause. But they saw that the moment of doing it with success was not yet arrived, and that an unsuccesful effort, as too often happens, would only rivet still closer the chains of bondage, and retard the moment of delivery to this oppressed description of men. What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! Who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment or death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment be deaf to all those motives whose power supported him thro’ his trial, and inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose. But we must await with patience the workings of an overruling providence, and hope that that is preparing the deliverance of these our suffering brethren. When the measure of their tears shall be full, when their groans shall have involved heaven itself in darkness, doubtless a god of justice will awaken to their distress, and by diffusing light and liberality among their oppressors, or at length by his exterminating thunder, manifest his attention to the things of this world, and that they are not left to the guidance of a blind fatality.–To Jean Nicolas Demeunier, 26 June 1786. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 22 June–31 December 1786, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, pp. 61–64.

 

June 26, 1786 | Jefferson's anguish after learning the emanicpation amendment to Bill 51 was not proposed. &quotWhen the measure of their tears shall be full, when their groans shall have involved heaven itself in darkness, doubtless a god of justice will awaken to their distress&quot.

de Meusnier, where he mentions that the slave-law has been passed in Virginia, without the clause of emancipation, is pleased to mention that neither Mr. Wythe nor Mr. Jefferson were present to make the proposition they had meditated; from which people, who do not give themselves the trouble to reflect or enquire, might conclude hastily that their absence was the cause why the proposition was not made; and of course that there were not in the assembly persons of virtue and firmness enough to propose the clause for emancipation. This supposition would not be true. There were persons there who wanted neither the virtue to propose, nor talents to enforce the proposition had they seen that the disposition of the legislature was ripe for it. These worthy characters would feel themselves wounded, degraded, and discouraged by this idea. Mr. Jefferson would therefore be obliged to M. de Meusnier to mention it in some such manner as this. ‘Of the two commissioners who had concerted the amendatory clause for the gradual emancipation of slaves Mr. Wythe could not be present as being a member of the judiciary department, and Mr. Jefferson was absent on the legation to France. But there wanted not in that assembly men of virtue enough to propose, and talents to vindicate this clause. But they saw that the moment of doing it with success was not yet arrived, and that an unsuccesful effort, as too often happens, would only rivet still closer the chains of bondage, and retard the moment of delivery to this oppressed description of men. What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! Who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment or death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment be deaf to all those motives whose power supported him thro’ his trial, and inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose. But we must await with patience the workings of an overruling providence, and hope that that is preparing the deliverance of these our suffering brethren. When the measure of their tears shall be full, when their groans shall have involved heaven itself in darkness, doubtless a god of justice will awaken to their distress, and by diffusing light and liberality among their oppressors, or at length by his exterminating thunder, manifest his attention to the things of this world, and that they are not left to the guidance of a blind fatality. To Jean Nicolas Demeunier, 26 June 1786. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 22 June–31 December 1786, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, pp. 61–64.

 

June 26, 1786 | Jefferson Jefferson predicted divine retribution if slavery was not abolished, &quotdoubtless a god of justice will awaken to their distress, and by diffusing light and liberality among their oppressors, or at length by his exterminating thunder, manifest his attention to the things of this world, and that they are not left to the guidance of a blind fatality&quot.

de Meusnier, where he mentions that the slave-law has been passed in Virginia, without the clause of emancipation, is pleased to mention that neither Mr. Wythe nor Mr. Jefferson were present to make the proposition they had meditated; from which people, who do not give themselves the trouble to reflect or enquire, might conclude hastily that their absence was the cause why the proposition was not made; and of course that there were not in the assembly persons of virtue and firmness enough to propose the clause for emancipation. This supposition would not be true. There were persons there who wanted neither the virtue to propose, nor talents to enforce the proposition had they seen that the disposition of the legislature was ripe for it. These worthy characters would feel themselves wounded, degraded, and discouraged by this idea. Mr. Jefferson would therefore be obliged to M. de Meusnier to mention it in some such manner as this. ‘Of the two commissioners who had concerted the amendatory clause for the gradual emancipation of slaves Mr. Wythe could not be present as being a member of the judiciary department, and Mr. Jefferson was absent on the legation to France. But there wanted not in that assembly men of virtue enough to propose, and talents to vindicate this clause. But they saw that the moment of doing it with success was not yet arrived, and that an unsuccesful effort, as too often happens, would only rivet still closer the chains of bondage, and retard the moment of delivery to this oppressed description of men. What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! Who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment or death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment be deaf to all those motives whose power supported him thro’ his trial, and inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose. But we must await with patience the workings of an overruling providence, and hope that that is preparing the deliverance of these our suffering brethren. When the measure of their tears shall be full, when their groans shall have involved heaven itself in darkness, doubtless a god of justice will awaken to their distress, and by diffusing light and liberality among their oppressors, or at length by his exterminating thunder, manifest his attention to the things of this world, and that they are not left to the guidance of a blind fatality. To Jean Nicolas Demeunier, 26 June 1786. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 22 June–31 December 1786, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, pp. 61–64.

December 19, 1786 | &quotI am miserable till I shall owe not a shilling. the moment that shall be the case I shall feel myself at liberty to do something for the comfort of my slaves&quot.

“I observe in your letter of March 14. after stating the amount of the crop, and deducting Overseer’s and steward’s parts, transportation, negroes clothes, tools, medicine, and taxes, the profits of the whole estate would be no more than the hire of the few negroes hired out would amount to. Would it be better to hire more where good masters could be got? Would it be better to hire plantations and all, if proper assurance can be provided for the good usage of every thing? I am miserable till I shall owe not a shilling: the moment that shall be the case I shall feel myself at liberty to do something for the comfort of my slaves.”–Thomas Jefferson to Nicholas Lewis, 19 December 1786, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 22 June–31 December 1786, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, pp. 614–616.

 

January 4, 1787 | Jefferson attempted to negotiate the terms of his debt with his creditors.

“To the reasons against this paiment which apply in favor of the whole mass of American debtors, I added the peculiar circumstance of having already lost the debt, principal and interest, by endeavoring to pay it by the sale of lands and by the depreciation of their price: and also a second loss of an equal sum by Ld. Cornwallis’s barbarous and useless depredations.” Thomas Jefferson to Alexander McCaul, 4 January 1787, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 10–12.

 

May 9, 1787 | A plan for the governance of the Northwestern territories was considered by the Congress of the Confederation and then postponed.

Journals of Congress, 1774-1789, Volume 32, page 275. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

July 9, 1787 | A committee of five was appointed report on the temporary government of western territory consisting of Mr. Edward Carrington, Mr. Nathan Dane, Mr. Richard Henry Lee, Mr. John Kean, and Mr. Melancton Smith.

Journals of Congress, 1774-1789, Volume 32, page 310. Courtesy the Library of Congres, www.loc.gov.

 

July 6, 1787 | Dr. Manasseh Cutler petitioned the Congress of the Confederation for the purchase of a large tract of land (1.5 million acres) in the Northwest Territory on behalf of the land speculators that he represented, the Ohio Company of Associates.

The ordinance of 1787, and Dr. Manasseh Cutler as an agent in its formation Poole, William Frederick, 1821-1894.Welch, Bigelow, and Company, Cambridge, Mass, 1876.

July 11, 1787 | Dr. Manasseh Cutler was allowed to present his recommendations in writing regarding amendments to the proposed ordinance for the Northwest territories to the congressional committee appointed to develop a policy. His speculators hoped to sell land in the territories to investors from Massachusetts and desired a plan of government familiar to them, including the prohibition of slavery.

Poole, William Frederick, The ordinance of 1787, and Dr. Manasseh Cutler as an agent in its formation, Welch, Bigelow, and Company, Cambridge, Mass, 1876.

July 11, 1787 | An ordinance for the temporary government of the western territory was read for the first time at the Congress of the Confederation. It contained some provisions from Jefferson’s 1784 Ordinance, but did not contain his clause prohibiting slavery.

Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 32, p. 313. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov.

July 12, 1787 | &quotThe Ordinance for the government of the territory of the United States North west of the river Ohio was read a second time&quot. This version included Jefferson’s anti-slavery proviso as a hand-written revision allegedly inserted by Mr. Dane at the suggestion of Dr. Cutler. It was assigned for a third reading on July 13.

Broadside of second version of NW Ordinance of 1787. Courtesy the Library of Congress.

 

Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 32, p. 333. Courtesy the Library of Congress www.loc.gov.

July 13, 1787 | &quotThe Ordinance for the government of the territory of the United States North West of the river Ohio was read a third time and passed as follows&quot.

Eight states voted in the affirmative to pass the ordinance including the anti-slavery clause.

 

Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume 32, p. 343. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov

Broadside of Ordinance of 1787, courtesy The Library of Congress, www.loc.gov

July 14, 1787 | &quotIt seemed now to be pretty well understood that the real difference of interests lay, not between the alrge & small but between the N. and Southn. States. The institution of slavery & its consequences formed the line of discrimination. There were 5 states on the South 8 on the NOrhtn. Side of this line. Should a proportl. Representation take place it was true, the N. side would outnumber the other: but not in the same degree, at this time; and every day would tend towards an equilibrium&quot.

Farrand’s Records, Volume 2, page 10. Courtesy the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov

 

July 14, 1787 | Jefferson congratulated South Carolina for suspending the importation of slaves, and Edward Rutledge for &quotendeavoring to prevent it forever. This abomination must have an end. And there is a superior bench reserved in heaven for those who hasten it&quot.

I congratulate you, my dear friend, on the law of your State, for suspending the importation of slaves, and for the glory you have justly acquired by endeavoring to prevent it forever. This abomination must have an end. And there is a superior bench reserved in heaven for those who hasten it.–Thomas Jefferson to Edward Rutledge, Paris, July 14, 1787. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 587–589.

 

July 16, 1787 | &quotWhen I drew the ordinance which passed (in a few words excepted) as I originally formed it, I had no idea the States would agree to the sixth Art. prohibiting Slavery; as only Massa. of the Eastern States was present; and therefore omitted it in the draft; but finding the House favourably disposed on this subject, after we had completed the other parts I moved the art; which was agreed to without opposition&quot.

“Dear Sir New York July 16. 1787.
I am obliged to you for yours of the 11th inst. With pleasure I communicate to you what we are doing in Congress—;not so much from a consciousness that what we do is well done, as from a desire that you may be acquainted with our proceedings. We have been much engaged in business for ten or twelve days past for a part of which we have had 8 States. There appears to be a disposition to do business, and the arrival of R. H. Lee is of considerable importance. I think his character serves, at least in some degree, to check the effects of the feeble habits and lax modes of thinking in some of his Countrymen. We have been employed about several objects—;the principal ones of which have been the Government inclosed and the Ohio purchase.(1) The former you will see is completed and the latter will be probably completed tomorrow. We tried one day to patch up M—;s(2) Systems of W. Governt.—; Started new Ideas and committed the whole to Carrington, Dane, R. H. Lee, Smith, & Kean—;we met several times and at last agreed on some principles at least Lee, Smith & myself. We found ourselves rather pressed, the Ohio Company appeared to purchase a large tract of the federal lands, about 6 or 7 million of acres—;and we wanted to abolish the old system and get a better one for the Government of the Country—;and we finally found it necessary to adopt the best system we could get. All agreed finally to the inclosed except A. Yates—;he appeared in this Case, as in most other not to understand the subject at all. I think the number of free Inhabitants 60,000, which are requisite for the admission of a new State into the Confederacy is too small, but having divided the whole territory into 3 States, this number appeared to me to be less important, each State in the Common Course of things must become important soon after it shall have that number of Inhabitants. The eastern State of the 3 will probably be the first, and more important than the rest—;and, will no doubt be settled cheifly by Eastern people, and there is, I think, full an equal chance of it’s adopting Eastern politics. When I drew the ordinance which passed (in a few words excepted) as I originally formed it, I had no idea the States wouldagree to the sixth Art. prohibiting Slavery—;as only Massa. of the Eastern States was present—;and therefore omitted it in the draft—;but finding the House favourably disposed on this subject, after we had completed the other parts I moved the art—;which was agreed to without opposition. We are in a fair way to fix the terms of our Ohio sale, &c. We have been upon it three days Steadily. The magnitude of the purchase makes us very cautious about the terms of it, and the security necessary to ensure the performance of them.”

Nathan Dane to Rufus King, July 16, 1787, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788. Courtesy the Library of Congress.

 

| &quotWhat effect might have been produced on the future of our country, had Mr. Jefferson’s measure, applying the prohibition of slavery to all of our territory north of the 31st degree of latitude, succeeded, is interesting matter for speculation&quot.

The true history of the Missouri compromise and its repeal, by Mrs. Archibald Dixon, Cincinnati, The Robert Clarke company, 1898, p. 34. Courtesy the Hathi Trust.

| The antislavery clause in the Northwest Ordinance was Jefferson’s. Mr. Dane noted in his letter of May 12, 1831, to the Indiana Historical Society, &quotIt will be observed that provisions 4, 5, and 6, some now view as oppressive to the West, were taken from Mr. Jefferson's plan&quot.

The ordinance of 1787, and Dr. Manasseh Cutler as an agent in its formation Poole, William Frederick, 1821-1894.Welch, Bigelow, and Company, Cambridge, Mass, 1876, p. 33. Courtesy the Hathi Trust.

1787 | At this point, Jefferson was still hopeful about paying off his debt and devised a plan to lease his lands and slaves.
July 29, 1787 | Jefferson attempted to settle the inherited Wayles debt that also encumbered his inherited slaves, and eventually ease their situation. &quotI am governed solely by views to their happiness which will render it worth their while to use extraordinary cautions for some time to enable me to put them ultimately on an easier footing, which I will do the moment they have paid the debts&quot.

Nor would I willingly sell the slaves as long as there remains any prospect of paying my debts with their labour. In this I am governed solely by views to their happiness which will render it worth their while to use extraordinary cautions for some time to enable me to put them ultimately on an easier footing, which I will do the moment they have paid the debts due from the estate, two thirds of which have been contracted by purchasing them. I am therefore strengthened in the idea of renting out my whole estate; not to any one person, but in different parts to different persons, as experience proves that it is only small concerns that are gainful, and it would be my interest that the tenants should make a reasonable gain. The lease I made to Garth and Moseley would be a good model. I do not recollect whether in that there was reserved a right of distraining on the lands for the whole rent. If not, such a clause would be essential, especially in the present relaxed state of the laws. I know there was in that no provision against paper money. This is still more essential. The best way of stating the rent would be in ounces of silver. The rent in that lease, tho expressed in current money, was meant to be 11.£ sterling a titheable. When we consider the rise in the price of tobacco, it should balance any difference for the worse which may have taken place in the lands in Albemarle, so as to entitle us there to equal terms. In Cumberland, Goochland, Bedford, where the lands are better, perhaps better terms might be expected. Calculating this on the number of working slaves, it holds up to us a clear revenue capable of working off the debts in a reasonable time. Think of it, my dear Sir, and if you do not find it disadvantageous be so good as to try to execute it, by leases of 3, 4, or 5 years: not more, because no dependance can be reposed in our laws continuing the same for any length of time. Indeed 3. years might be the most eligible term. The mill should be separated from the lease, finished, and rented by itself. All the lands reserved to my own use in Garth and Mousley’s lease should still be reserved, and the privileges of that lease in general. House negroes still to be hired separately. The old and infirm, who could not be hired, or whom it would be a pity to hire, could perhaps be employed in raising cotton, or some other easy culture on lands to be reserved; George still to be reserved to take care of my orchards, grasses &c. The lands in Albemarle should be relieved by drawing off a good number of the labourers to Bedford, where a better hire might be expected and more lands be opened there. I feel all the weight of the objection that we cannot guard the negroes perfectly against ill usage. But in a question between hiring and selling them (one of which is necessary) the hiring will be temporary only, and will end in their happiness; whereas if we sell them, they will be subject to equal ill usage, without a prospect of change. It is for their good therefore ultimately, and it appears to promise a relief to me within such a term as I would be willing to wait for. I do not mention the rate of hire with a view to tie you up to that, but merely to shew that hiring presents a hopeful prospect. I should rely entirely on your judgment for that, for the choice of kind and hopeful tenants, and for every other circumstance.–Thomas Jefferson to Nicholas Lewis, July 29, 1787, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 639–642.

July 29, 1787 | &quotI feel all the weight of the objection that we cannot guard the negroes perfectly against ill usage. But in a question between hiring and selling them (one of which is necessary) the hiring will be temporary only, and will end in their happiness; whereas if we sell them, they will be subject to equal ill usage, without a prospect of change&quot.

Thomas Jefferson to Nicholas Lewis, July 29, 1787, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 639–642.

July 30, 1787 | &quotmy debts once cleared off, I shall try some plan of making their situation happier&quot.

Thomas Jefferson to Francis Eppes, 30 July 1787. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 650–654.

July 30, 1787 | Jefferson worried about the treatment of his slaves under a lease arrangement while he was away in France, and asked his custodian to look for kind tenants and to retain &quotrigorously the clauses which had for their object the good treatment of my slaves, particularly that which denied a diminution of rent on the death of a slave; otherwise it would be their interest to kill all the old and infirm by hard usage&quot.

Jones has never sent me a copy of his account current. All I know of it is from memory. I think the balance on the account rendered us after Mr. Wayles’s debt was about 9000? sterling. I think after the date of that account there were in his hands about 300 hhds. of tobacco made the year preceding Mr. Wayles’s death and the year of his death, that is 1772 and 1773, or perhaps 1773 and 1774. and moreover 120 hhds. or thereabouts shipped by us separately the first year after the division. Stating this tobacco only at the ordinary price and deducting it from the 9000?, and stopping the interest at Apr. 19. 1775. and not recommencing it till Apr. 19. 1783. the debt should not be so very formidable. On the information I received from Mr. Lewis in his letter of Mar. 14. 1786. that the bonds due and the crops to the end of 1785. would pay all my debts except that to my sister Nancy, and those to Jones and McCaul, I made propositions to them for commencing the paiment of their debts. The conditions were 1. To pay to Jones two thirds of the profits of my estate and to McCaul one third annually; or if they should prefer it, 400? sterl. to the former and 200? sterl. to the latter annually. [2.] To pay no interest between Apr. 19. 1775. and Apr. 19. 1783. 3. That the crop of 1787. should begin the paiment. 4. That their accounts, notwithstanding these paiments, should be open to settlement and rectification. McCaul has acceded, and the matter is so far settled with him. To Jones I added two other articles, viz. that the paiment I made into the treasury should not affect him at all, and that in proportion as I should proceed paying my third of the just balance, I should be discharged from the remaining two thirds. This last article I thought we should all wish to make with him, that, the estate being now divided the debt should also be divided and our families be left clear of all responsibility but for themselves. Jones answered that he could not decide till he should hear from his agent in Virginia. He neither approved nor disapproved the conditions, except that of the release as to the two thirds, saying he apprehended if he released any part of the estate it would release the whole; but he said he would answer me finally when he should hear from his agent. I rather believe he will accept my conditions. But I am quite thrown off the hinges by your information that notwithstanding the state of things from Mr. Lewis in March 1786. that all would be paid, you had found on an estimate in Sep. 1786. there would yet be a balance of 1200? to pay. When I consider the quantity of tobacco to be counted on, the charges to come out of that, it appears evident that the debts can not be paid in this way. I am decided against selling my lands. They are the only sure provision for my children, and I have sold too much of them already. I am also unwilling to sell negroes, if the debts can be paid without. This unwillingness is for their sake, not my own; because my debts once cleared off, I shall try some plan of making their situation happier, determined to content myself with a small portion of their labour. I think it better for them therefore to be submitted to harder conditions for a while in order that they may afterwards be put into a better situation.” I hired my estate in Albemarle once for 11.₤ sterl. for every titheable hand. Tobacco is since risen, and the lands of Goochland, Cumberland, and Bedford are more profitable. I may hope therefore a good rent may be obtained for the whole estate, letting it out in small parcels to different tenants known to be kind and careful in their natures. I propose my former lease to Garth and Mousley as the model, reserving all the advantages and privileges reserved in that, as also the lands reserved in that to my own use; inserting a clause for distraining on the lands for the whole hire, which I believe was not in that, and which, so far as concerned the hire of the slaves, would not result from the general provisions of the law, unless expressly provided for; guarding also against paper money by stating the rent in ounces of silver, restraining the leases to three years, or at any rate not more than five; retaining rigorously the clauses which had for their object the good treatment of my slaves, particularly that which denied a diminution of rent on the death of a slave; otherwise it would be their interest to kill all the old and infirm by hard usage. Supposing there are about 90 titheable slaves, a reasonable rent on them, my lands and stocks, the tenants paying every tax and charge of every kind, will make a nett annual sum which may clear off the debts within such a term of years as I should be willing to wait for. It will substitute certain calculation for incertainty, and relieve my friends from the perplexity of my affairs added to their own. The only objection is the difficulty of guarding my negroes against ill usage. I put it in all its force, and I shall go through the operation, as a man does that of being cut for the stone, with a view to relief. I have therefore written to Mr. Lewis to pray him to put my affairs on this footing immediately, in which I know your goodness will aid him. It is taking one great trouble in the lump, to be relieved from it in the detail. It may be lessened too by each undertaking the part to which he is convenient. When this arrangement shall be taken, I shall feel like a person on shore, escaped from shipwreck.”–Thomas Jefferson to Francis Eppes, 30 July 1787. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 650–654.

May 25-September 17, 1787 | Thomas Jefferson was still serving in Paris as America’s Ambassador to France when the federal Constitutional Convention took place.
May 25-September 17, 1787 | Slavery was the most contentiously debated issue at the Constitutional Convention and threatened to destroy the Union.

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 edited by Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Courtesy The Hathi Trust.

August 22, 1787 | James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention contain several references to the possibility of the Union dissolving over slavery.

p. 373. Mr Williamson stated the law of N. Carolina on the subject, to wit that it did not directly prohibit the importation of slaves. It imposed a duty of £5. on each slave imported from Africa. £10. on each from elsewhere, & £50 on each from a State licensing manumission. He thought the S. States could not be members of the Union if the clause should be rejected, and that it was wrong to force any thing down, not absolutely necessary, and which any State must disagree to.

p. 374: Mr. Randolph was for committing in order that some middle ground might, if possible, be found. He could never agree to the clause as it stands. He wd. sooner risk the constitution —He dwelt on the dilemma to which the Convention was exposed. By agreeing to the clause, it would revolt the Quakers, the Methodists, and many others in the States having no slaves. On the other hand, two States might be lost to the Union. Let us then, he said, try the chance of a commitment.

p. 374. Mr. Sherman said it was better to let the S. States import slaves than to part with them, if they made that a sine qua non. He was opposed to a tax on slaves imported as making the matter worse, because it implied they were property. He acknowledged that if the power of prohibiting the importation should be given to the Genl. Government that it would be exercised. He thought it would be its duty to exercise the power.

p. 375: Mr. Elsworth was for taking the plan as it is. This widening of opinions has a threatening aspect. If we do not agree on this middle & moderate ground he was afraid we should lose two States, with such others as may be disposed to stand aloof, should fly into a variety of shapes & directions, and most probably into several confederations and not without bloodshed.

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 edited by Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911, vol. 2. Courtesy The Hathi Trust.

 

August 22, 1787 | Madison recorded arguments about whether the regulation of slavery was an issue to be handled at the state level, or the federal level.

p. 372. Mr. Gerry thought we had nothing to do with the conduct of the States as to Slaves, but ought to be careful not to give any sanction to it.

p. 372. Mr. Dickenson considered it as inadmissible on every principle of honor & safety that the importation of slaves should be authorized to the States by the Constitution. The true question was whether the national happiness would be promoted or impeded by the importation, and this question ought to be left to the National Govt. not to the States particularly interested.

p. 371: Mr. Pinckney: He wd. himself as a Citizen of S. Carolina vote for it. An attempt to take away the right as proposed will produce serious objections to the Constitution which he wished to see adopted. General Pinkney declared it to be his firm opinion that if himself & all his colleagues were to sign the Constitution & use their personal influence, it would be of no avail towards obtaining the assent of their Constituents. S. Carolina & Georgia cannot do without slaves. As to Virginia she will gain by stopping the importations. Her slaves will rise in value, & she has more than she wants. It would be unequal to require S. C. & Georgia to confederate on such unequal terms. He said the Royal assent before the Revolution had never been refused to S. Carolina as to Virginia. He contended that the importation of slaves would be for the interest of the whole Union. The more slaves, the more produce to employ the carrying trade.

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 edited by Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911, vol. 2. Courtesy The Hathi Trust.

August 22, 1787 | Madison’s notes also express expectations that slavery would be abolished.

p. 369. Mr. Sherman was for leaving the clause as it stands. He disapproved of the slave trade: yet as the States were now possessed of the right to import slaves, as the public good did not require it to be taken from them, & as it was expedient to have as few objections as possible to the proposed scheme of Government, he thought it best to leave the matter as we find it. He observed that the abolition of slavery seemed to be going on in the U. S.

 

p. 371. Mr. Elsworth. As he had never owned a slave could not judge of the effects of slavery on character. He said however that if it was to be considered in a moral light we ought to go farther and free those already in the Country. —As slaves also multiply so fast in Virginia & Maryland that it is cheaper to raise than import them, whilst in the sickly rice swamps foreign supplies are necessary, if we go no farther
than is urged, we shall be unjust towards S. Carolina & Georgia — Let us not intermeddle. As population increases; poor laborers will be so plenty as to render slaves useless. Slavery in time will not be a speck in our Country. Provision is already made in Connecticut for abolishing it. And the abolition has already taken place in Massachusetts. As to the danger of insurrections from foreign influence, that will become a motive to kind treatment of the slaves.

 p. 371. Mr. Pinkney— If slavery be wrong, it is justified by the example of all the world. He cited the case of Greece Rome & other antient States; the sanction given by France England, Holland & other modern States. In all ages one half of mankind have been slaves. If the S. States were let alone they will probably of themselves stop importations.

James Madison’s Notes from the Convention, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 edited by Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911, vol. 2, p. 369. Courtesy The Hathi Trust.

August 22, 1787 | McHenry’s notes from the Constitutional Convention concur with Madison’s, &quotThe 4 sect promitting the importation of Slaves gave rise to much desultory debate&quot.

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 edited by Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911, vol. 2 p. 378. Courtesy The Hathi Trust.

August 25, 1787 | A ban on the importation of slaves was debated at the Constitutional Convention.

–The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 edited by Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911, vol. 2 p. 378. Courtesy The Hathi Trust.

September 17, 1787 | The U.S. Constitution was signed by 38 of 41 delegates present, although it was not legally ratified until June 21, 1788. Article I, Section 9 prohibited Congress from banning the importation of slaves into the United States for 20 years, or until January 1, 1808.

Section 9: Limits on Congress

The ninth section of Article One places limits on Congress’ powers:

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Observing Constitution Day, The National Archives.

January 22, 1788 | In The Federalist Papers: No 42, James Madison discussed the power conferred by the Constitution regarding foreign commerce, including the abolition of the slave trade. &quotIt were doubtless to be wished, that the power of prohibiting the importation of slaves had not been postponed until the year 1808, or rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation. But it is not difficult to account, either for this restriction on the general government, or for the manner in which the whole clause is expressed. It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate forever, within these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the barbarism of modern policy; that within that period, it will receive a considerable discouragement from the federal government, and may be totally abolished&quot. Madison sent copies of The Federalist Papers to Jefferson in Paris.

To the People of the State of New York:

“THE SECOND class of powers, lodged in the general government, consists of those which regulate the intercourse with foreign nations, to wit: to make treaties; to send and receive ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls; to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations; to regulate foreign commerce, including a power to prohibit, after the year 1808, the importation of slaves, and to lay an intermediate duty of ten dollars per head, as a discouragement to such importations. This class of powers forms an obvious and essential branch of the federal administration. If we are to be one nation in any respect, it clearly ought to be in respect to other nations. The powers to make treaties and to send and receive ambassadors, speak their own propriety. Both of them are comprised in the articles of Confederation, with this difference only, that the former is disembarrassed, by the plan of the convention, of an exception, under which treaties might be substantially frustrated by regulations of the States; and that a power of appointing and receiving “other public ministers and consuls,” is expressly and very properly added to the former provision concerning ambassadors…

The regulation of foreign commerce, having fallen within several views which have been taken of this subject, has been too fully discussed to need additional proofs here of its being properly submitted to the federal administration. It were doubtless to be wished, that the power of prohibiting the importation of slaves had not been postponed until the year 1808, or rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation. But it is not difficult to account, either for this restriction on the general government, or for the manner in which the whole clause is expressed. It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate forever, within these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the barbarism of modern policy; that within that period, it will receive a considerable discouragement from the federal government, and may be totally abolished, by a concurrence of the few States which continue the unnatural traffic, in the prohibitory example which has been given by so great a majority of the Union. Happy would it be for the unfortunate Africans, if an equal prospect lay before them of being redeemed from the oppressions of their European brethren! Attempts have been made to pervert this clause into an objection against the Constitution, by representing it on one side as a criminal toleration of an illicit practice, and on another as calculated to prevent voluntary and beneficial emigrations from Europe to America. I mention these misconstructions, not with a view to give them an answer, for they deserve none, but as specimens of the manner and spirit in which some have thought fit to conduct their opposition to the proposed government.”

The Federalist Papers: No. 42, The Powers Conferred by the Constitution Further Considered From the New York Packet. Tuesday, January 22, 1788. Courtesy The Avalon Project, Documents in law, History and Diplomacy, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

June 20, 1788 | Hamilton’s remarks to the New York ratifying convention of the Constitution note that a compromise was made regarding slavery or there would not have been a Union. Jefferson was still in Paris.

It became necessary, therefore, to compromise; or the Convention must have dissolved without affecting any thing. Would it have been wise and prudent in that body, in this critical situation, to have deserted their country? No. Every man who hears me—every wise man in the United States, would have condemned them. The Convention were obliged to appoint a Committee for accommodation: In this Committee, the arrangement was formed, as it now stands; and their report was accepted. It was a delicate point; and it was necessary that all parties should be indulged. Gentlemen will see, that if there had not been a unanimity, nothing could have been done: For the Convention had no power to establish, but only to recommend a government. Any other system would have been impracticable. Let a Convention be called to-morrow. Let them meet twenty times; nay, twenty thousand times; they will have the same difficulties to encounter; the same clashing interests to reconcile.

 

The first thing objected to, is that clause which allows a representation for three fifths of the negroes. Much has been said of the impropriety of representing men, who have no will of their own. Whether this be reasoning or declamation, I will not presume to say. It is the unfortunate situation of the Southern States, to have a great part of their population, as well as property in blacks. The regulation complained of was one result of the spirit of accommodation, which governed the Convention; and without this indulgence, no union could possibly have been formed. But, Sir, considering some peculiar advantages which we derive from them, it is entirely just that they should be gratified. The Southern States possess certain staples, tobacco, rice, indigo, &c. which must be capital objects in treaties of commerce with foreign nations; and the advantage which they necessarily procure in these treaties, will be felt throughout all the States. But the justice of this plan will appear in another view. The best writers on government have held that representation should be compounded of persons and property. This rule has been adopted, as far as it could be, in the Constitution of NewYork. It will however by no means be admitted, that the slaves are considered altogether as property. They are men, though degraded to the condition of slavery. They are persons known to the municipal laws of the states which they inhabit, as well as to the laws of nature. But representation and taxation go together—and one uniform rule ought to apply to both. Would it be just to compute these slaves in the assessment of taxes; and discard them from the estimate in the apportionment of representatives? Would it be just to impose a singular burthen, without conferring some adequate advantage?”–New York Ratifying Convention. Remarks (Francis Child’s Version), June 20, 1788, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 5, June 1788 – November 1789, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 16–26.

See also, See also, Debate in the Virginia Convention, Records of the Federal Convention edited by Max Farrand, vol. 3, p. 334.

See the Congressional Globe, June 13, 1864 p. 2912, for more examples of comments regarding slavery and Union.

 

 

July 11, 1788 | Thomas Jefferson protected his leased slaves through contract from abusive tenants. As mentioned earlier, Jefferson hoped to lease his lands and slaves while he was in France in order to satisfy his inherited and self-incurred debts before he could &quotmake their situation happier&quot.

“The check on the tenants against abusing my slaves was, by the former lease, that I might discontinue it on a reference to arbitrators. Would it not be well to retain an optional right to sue them for ill usage of the slaves or to discontinue it by arbitration, whichever you should chuse at the time?”

… One word more on my leases. I think the term should not exceed three years. The negroes too old to be hired, could they not make a good profit by cultivating cotton? Much enquiry is made of me here about the cultivation of cotton; and I would thank you to give me your opinion how much a hand would make cultivating that as his principal crop instead of tobacco. Great George, Ursula, Betty Hemings not to be hired at all, nor Martin nor Bob otherwise than as they are now.”–Thomas Jefferson to Nicholas Lewis, 11 July 1788, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 13, March–7 October 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956, pp. 339–344.

September 26, 1789 | Thomas Jefferson’s mission as United States Minister Plenipotentiary to France ended.
December 23, 1789 | When Jefferson returned to Monticello from France, his slaves, &quotreceived him in their arms and bore him into the house, crowding round, and kissing his hands and feet-some blubbering and crying-others laughing. It seemed impossible to satisfy their anxiety to touch, and kiss the very earth which bore him. These were the first ebullitions of joy for his return, after a long absence, which they would of course feel; but perhaps it is not out of place to add here, that they were at all times very devoted in their attachment to him. They believed him to be one of the greatest, and they knew him to be one of the best of men and kindest of masters&quot.

“The negroes discovered the approach of the carriage as soon as it reached Shadwell, and such a scene I never witnessed in my life. They collected in crowds round it, and almost drew it up the mountain by hand. The shouting, etc., had been sufficiently obstreperous before, but the moment it arrived on the top it reached the climax. When the door of the carriage was opened, they received him in their arms and bore him into the house, crowding round, and kissing his hands and feet-some blubbering and crying-others laughing. It seemed impossible to satisfy their anxiety to touch, and kiss the very earth which bore him. These were the first ebullitions of joy for his return, after a long absence, which they would of course feel; but perhaps it is not out of place to add here, that they were at all times very devoted in their attachment to him. They believed him to be one of the greatest, and they knew him to be one of the best of men and kindest of masters. They spoke to him freely, and applied confidingly to him in all their difficulties and distresses; and he watched over them in sickness and health-interested himself in all their concerns-advising them, showing esteem and confidence in the good, and indulgence to all. I believe I have nothing that they would not unhesitatingly confirm, if asked.”

Wormley, the aged slave already referred to in this work, was between nine and ten years old when Mr. Jefferson returned from France, and when we talked with him in 1851, had a distinct recollection of the reception scene described above, and he gave us, partly from recollection and ‘partly from the statements of his fellows, several minor touches of the story. Two or three days before reaching home, Mr. Jefferson had sent an express directing his overseer to have his house made ready for his reception by a specified day. The overseer mentioned this, and the news flew like wildfire over the different farms which it is customary to mention collectively as Monticello. The slaves could hardly attend to their work. They asked leave to make his return a holiday and of course received permission. Bright and early were all up on the appointed day, washed clean of the stains of labor, and attired in their “ Sunday best.” They first determined to receive him at the foot ofthe mountain; and the women and children refusing to be left behind, down they marched in a body. Never dragged on hours so slowly! Finally, the men began to straggle onward—the women and children followed—and the swarm did not settle again until they reached the confines of the estate, perhaps two miles from the house. By and by a carriage and four horses was seen rapidly approaching. The negroes raised a shout. The postilions plied their whips, and in a moment more, the carriage was in their midst. Martha’s description of what ensued is sufficiently accurate until the summit of the notch between Monticello and Carter’s Mountain was attained. She says, the carriage was almost drawn up by hand. We consider old W’ormley’s authority the best on this point! He pointed out the very spot soon after the carriage had turned off from the highway, when in spite of the entreaties and commands (not however, we imagine, very sternly uttered!) of the “old master,” the horses were detached and the shouting crowd pushed and dragged the heavy vehicle at no snail’s pace up the further ascent, until it reached the lawn in front of the house. Mr. Jefferson had no idea whatever of being “toted” (Africanice for “carried ”) from the carriage door into his house—riding on men not being to his taste. But who can control his destiny? Not a word could be heard in the wild uproar, and when he stepped from the carriage he unexpectedly landed on a cluster of swarthy arms, and amidst the oriental salutations described by Martha, was borne once more under his own roof-tree. The crowd respectfully broke apart for the young ladies, and as the stately, graceful Martha and the little fairy-like Maria advanced between the dark lines, escorted by “Jack Eppes,” shouts rent the sky and many a curly-headed urchin was held aloft to catch a look of what their mothers and sisters were already firmly persuaded could not be paralled in the Ancient Dominion!–Henry S. Randall: The life of Thomas Jefferson, Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, 1858, vol. 1, pp. 552-3.

Henry S. Randall: The life of Thomas Jefferson, Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, 1858, vol. 1, pp 552, 553.

Martha Jefferson

March 22, 1790 | Thomas Jefferson became the first Secretary of State under George Washington.
June 27, 1790 | Jefferson proposed the adoption of maple over cane sugar to render slavery obsolete.

Though large countries within our Union are covered with the Sugar maple as heavily as can be concieved, and that this tree yeilds a sugar equal to the best from the cane, yeilds it in great quantity, with no other labor than what the women and girls can bestow, who attend to the drawing off and boiling the liquor, and the trees when skilfully tapped will last a great number of years, yet the ease with which we had formerly got cane sugar, had prevented our attending to this resource. Late difficulties in the sugar trade have excited attention to our sugar trees, and it seems fully believed by judicious persons, that we can not only supply our own demand, but make for exportation. I will send you a sample of it if I can find a conveyance without passing it through the expensive one of the post. What a blessing to substitute a sugar which requires only the labour of children, for that which it is said renders the slavery of the blacks necessary..–Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Vaughan, 27 June 1790, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 16, 30 November 1789–4 July 1790, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961, pp. 578–580.

October 27, 1790 | Jefferson informed the Governor of Georgia that Spain would not permit enslaved persons to introduce themselves as free in the province of Florida. Georgia had been complaining of this for some time.

“I have just recieved a letter from the Governor of East Florida dated St. Augustine Aug. 18. 1790. wherein he notifies me that he has recieved the king’s order not to permit, under any pretext, that persons held in slavery within the United states introduce themselves as free persons into the province of Florida. The dispositions which the Governor expresses on this, as he had done on a former occasion, to cultivate the friendship of the United states, give reason to hope he will carry this order into exact execution, and thus put an end to a grievance which had been a subject of complaint from the citizens of Georgia and of remonstrance from the general government to that of Spain. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most perfect respect & esteem Your Excellency’s most obedient & most humble servt.,”.,–Thomas Jefferson, To the Governor of Georgia, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 17, 6 July–3 November 1790, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965, p. 638.

 

January 12, 1791 | The Governor of Georgia contacted Jefferson regarding fugitive slaves in Florida. Since Florida was owned by the Spanish the issue was international and fell under Jefferson’s jurisdiction as Secretary of State.

“I have been favored with your address of the 27th. October last, notifying the King of Spain’s orders “not to permit, under any pretext, persons held in slavery within the United States” to “introduce themselves as free persons into the province of Florida.” The early attention, in this particular, paid to the protection of the property of the Citizens of this State, residing on and near the southern frontiers, will be contemplated with much pleasure and satisfaction, especially as it gives room to anticipate, future measures will be taken by which every existing difficulty relative to the perfect security of that species of property already alluded to, may be removed. I have now before me a concurred Resolution of the General Assembly, requesting that “the utmost influence with the President be used to procure a restoration of the negroes who have taken refuge in the Spanish provinces of East and west Florida since the peace of 1783” and, here it may be observed, that the General Assembly were deeply impressed with the importance of this very interesting measure, in as much as they have instructed the State representation to extend that influence, and report thereon to the Government of this State; due representations to His most Catholic Majesty on the Subject of restitution, will no doubt have the desired effect: a respectable galley of considerable force being stationed in the River St. Mary, appears to be one of the best expedients for the prevention of future grievances of this nature and at the same time might in some degree prevent abuses in the revenue of the United States.

Were a conference held with the Governor of East Florida, it might perhaps appear that his power so far extends as to suffer, in the future the Citizens of the United States, to claim, recover and remove within the limits of the said states any persons held in Slavery on satisfactory proof of ownership being produced. I have the honor to be Sir Your most Obedt. Servt.”–Edward Telfair to Thomas Jefferson, January 12, 1791, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 18, 4 November 1790 – 24 January 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971, pp. 491–492.

March 26, 1781 | Jefferson intimated to the Governor of Georgia that it might be prudent to restrain efforts to recover fugitive slaves from the Spanish province of Florida.

“Your favour of the 2d. of January was received the 4th. instant. The dispositions expressed by the Governour of Florida give reason to hope he will execute with good faith the orders of his sovereign to prevent the future reception within his province of slaves flying from the United States. How far he may think himself authorised to give up those who have taken refuge there heretofore is another question. I observe that the orders he announces to have recieved say nothing of the past. It is probable therefore that an application from us to give them retrospective effect, may require his asking new orders from his court. The delay which will necessarily attend the answer, the doubts what that answer may be, and, if what we wish, the facility of evading the execution if there be a disposition to evade it, are circumstances to be weighed beforehand, as well as the probable amount of the interest which it would be possible to recover. If this last be small, it may be questionable how far the government ought in prudence to commit itself by a demand of such dilatory and doubtful effect. As the President will be at Augusta in the course of the tour in which he is now engaged, you will have an opportunity of explaining to him the extent of the losses complained of, and how far they could probably be recovered, even were the dispositions of your neighbors favourable to the recovery, and what those dispositions may actually be. I have the honour to be with the most perfect respect your Excellency’s most obedt. & most hble. servt.”–II Secretary of State to Edward Telfair, 26 March 1791, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, p. 519.

May 8, 1791 | Jefferson acknowledges that he was crippled by the Wayles debt and that he must again sell lands to cover it. This further reduced his ability to free his slaves.

My unfortunate losses of property and particularly by the paper-money for which my lands were sold with a view to pay off Mr. Wayles’s debt, leave this work to be done over again, and all my tobaccos mortgaged as it were for that object. It consequently cripples all my wishes and endeavors to be useful to others, and obliges me to carry on every thing starvingly.–Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, May 8, 1791, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 20, 1 April–4 August 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982, pp. 378–379.

August-September, 1791 | The Haitian Revolution began, fueling the Americans’ fear of a slave uprising in the United States and increasing Jefferson’s speculation that the two races could not live together.

History of Haiti, 1492-1805, by Kona Shen, Brown University.

January 5, 1792 | The news from Hispaniola reinforced Jefferson’s views on Colonization, &quotWe receive with deep regret daily information of the progress of insurrection and devastation in St. Domingo. Nothing indicates as yet that the evil is at it’s height&quot.

Thomas Jefferson to William Short, January 5, 1792, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 23, 1 January–31 May 1792, ed. Charles T. Cullen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 26–27.

March 27, 1792 | Thomas Mann Randolph informed Jefferson that the new overseer at Monticello is able to govern the slaves without punishment and that contentment reigned.

“The skill and activity of Clarkson are sufficiently manifested allready to make us hope that your affairs in Albemarle will be better conducted than they have ever been. I know it will give you real pleasure to hear that he has a valuable art of governing the slaves which sets aside the necessity of punishment allmost entirely. Contentment reigns among them, and that order which Goodness itself unaccompanied with firmness and vigor could not maintain.”–Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. to Thomas Jefferson, March 27, 1792, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 23, 1 January–31 May 1792, ed. Charles T. Cullen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, p. 347

April 19, 1792 | &quotMy first wish is that the labourers may be well treated&quot.

Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., April 19, 1792, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 23, 1 January–31 May 1792, ed. Charles T. Cullen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 435–436.

April 19, 1792 | Jefferson hoped to replace his failed maple trees as they were &quottoo hopeful an object to be abandoned

“I am sorry to hear my sugar maples have failed. I shall be able however to get here any number I may desire, as two nurserymen have promised to make provision for me. It is too hopeful an object to be abandoned. Your account of Clarkson’s conduct gives me great pleasure. My first wish is that the labourers may be well treated, the second that they may enable me to have that treatment continued by making as much as will admit it. The man who can effect both objects is rarely to be found.” –Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., April 19, 1792, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 23, 1 January–31 May 1792, ed. Charles T. Cullen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 435–436.

 

June 16, 1792 | Jefferson suggested to Lafayette that the French set aside a part of Saint-Domingue to accommodate rebellious slaves similar to British action in Jamaica in 1739.

“What are you doing for your colonies? They will be lost if not more effectually succoured. Indeed no future efforts you can make will ever be able to reduce the blacks. All that can be done in my opinion will be to compound with them as has been done formerly in Jamaica. We have been less zealous in aiding them, lest your government should feel any jealousy on our account.”–Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, June 16, 1792, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 24, 1 June–31 December 1792, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 85–86.

 

“TJ’s suggestion that the French compound with the rebellious slaves on Saint-Domingue recalled the example of British officials who in 1739 set aside a remote part of the island of Jamaica as an autonomous region for rebelling slaves they had been unable to subdue. In return, the former bondsmen agreed to help the British to suppress future insurrections and to return fugitive slaves to their owners. TJ’s proposal, ventured in this private communication, did not represent and had no impact on the Washington administration’s established policy of financing efforts by the French planters on Saint-Domingue to suppress the historic slave revolt on that island. For a discussion of that policy, see Timothy M. Matthewson, “George Washington’s Policy Toward the Haitian Revolution,” Diplomatic History, iii [1979], 325–33.”

March 22, 1792 | Jefferson expressed his ideas on treason vs. tyranny and exile as opposed to death for persons convicted of treason. He applied these ideas when responding to Governor Monroe after Gabriel’s rebellion, urging leniency for the rebellious slaves.

Now in what case would this Difference be so important as to overweigh even the single Inconvenience of multiplying compacts?

1st. Treason. This, when real, merits the highest punishment.

But most Codes extend their definitions of treason to acts not really against one’s country.

They do not distinguish between acts against the government, and acts against the oppressions of the Government.

 

The latter are virtues: yet have furnished more victims to the Executioner than the former.

 

Because real Treasons are rare: Oppressions frequent.

 

The unsuccessful strugglers against Tyranny have been the chief martyrs of Treason laws in all countries.

 

Reformation of government with our neighbors, as much wanting now as Reformation of religion is or ever was anywhere.

We should not wish then to give up to the Executioner the Patriot who fails, and flies to us.

Enclosure II: Considerations on a Convention with Spain, 22 March, 1792, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 23, 1 January–31 May 1792, ed. Charles T. Cullen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, pp. 328–332.

 

 

 

Treasons then, taking the simulated with the real, are sufficiently punished by Exile.

December 17, 1792 | The laws of Virginia concerning slaves were consolidated and tightened. Among other provisions, the clause that emancipated slaves could be taken to satisfy the debts of a former owner was re-inserted. Jefferson could not risk freeing his slaves as he was still in debt and they could be sold to total strangers who might not treat them well.
  1. It shall be lawful for any person by his or her last will and testament, or by any other instrument in writing, under his or her hand and seal, attested and proved in the county or corporation court by two witnesses, or acknowledged by the party in the court of the county where he or she resides, to emancipate and set free his or her slaves, or any of them, who shall thereupon be entirely and fully discharged from the performance of any contract entered into during servitude, and enjoy as full freedom as if they had been particularly named and freed by this act.

 

  1. Provided nevertheless, That all slaves so emancipated, shall be liable to be taken by execution, to satisfy any debt contracted by the person emancipating them before such emancipation is made.
  2. Provided always, That all slaves so set free, not being in the judgment of the court of sound mind and body, or being above the age of forty-five years, or being males under the age of twenty-one, or females under the age of eighteen years, shall respectively be supported and maintained by the person so liberating them, or by his or her estate; and upon neglect or refusal so to do, the court of the county or corporation where such neglect or refusal may be, is hereby empowered and required upon application to them made, to order the sheriff or other officer to distrain and sell so much of the person’s estate, as shall be sufficient for that purpose.

 

–The statutes at large of Virginia : from October session 1792, to December session 1806 [i.e. 1807], inclusive, in three volumes, (new series,) being a continuation of Hening … / By Samuel Shepherd. Vol. I, page 128

December 17, 1792 | The Virginia “Act to reduce into one, the several acts concerning slaves, free negroes and mulattoes” reflected fears of a slave rebellion. Socializing was restricted and insurrection was punishable by death.
  1. Riots, routs, unlawful assemblies, trespasses and seditious speeches by a slave or slaves, shall be punished with stripes, at the discretion of a justice of the peace, and he who will, may apprehend and carry him, her or them, before such justice.

 

  1. No person shall permit the slaves of others to remain on his plantation.

 

  1. Punishment of persons present at unlawful meetings of slaves, or harbouring others’ slaves.

 

  1. Duty of justices, sheriffs, and other officers, in suppressing unlawful meetings.

 

  1. If any negro or other slaves at any time consult, advise, or conspire to rebel or, or make insurrection, or shall plot or conspire the murder of any person or persons whatsoever, every such consulting, plotting, or conspiring, shall be adjudged and deemed felony, and the slave or slaves convicted thereof in manner herein after directed, shall suffer death, and be utterly excluded all, benefit of clergy.

 

–The statutes at large of Virginia : from October session 1792, to December session 1806 [i.e. 1807], inclusive, in three volumes, (new series,) being a continuation of Hening … / By Samuel Shepherd, vol. I, pp. 123-125. Courtesy the Hathi Trust.

February 18, 1793 | Attempting to eliminate his debt, Jefferson proposed to rent his lands for 7 years but his slaves, &quotfrom year to year only, so that I may take them away if ill treated&quot.

“I am in hopes of procuring tenants in Maryland for all my lands on the Shadwell side of the river at a quarter of a dollar the acre, to be rented for 7. years, and to hire the negroes on the same lands for 25. dollars averaged, from year to year only, so that I may take them away if ill treated. The business is not yet concluded, and therefore I would wish it to be not at all known. I mention it to you, because I think you have sometimes expressed a disposition to rent Edgehill, in which if you still are, and like these terms, perhaps it might be possible for me to engage a further number of tenants. As soon as Congress is over I shall go, if I have time, into the neighborhood (at the head of Elk) where the business is on the carpet, and try to conclude for myself. I propose to parcel the lands in tenements of from 200 to 400. acres each. If I succeed in this, I should expect to be able to extend the same system to Bedford. The husbandry about the head of Elk is in wheat and grazing: little corn, and less pork. This I think is what would suit us best, for which reason I turned my attention to that quarter, and also because the labour there being performed by slaves with some mixture of free labourers, the farmers there understand the management of negroes on a rational and humane plan.”–Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., February 18, 1793, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 25, 1 January–10 May 1793, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 230.

September 15 1793 | Jefferson expressed a desire to befriend his slave, James Hemings, and agreed to free him if he would return to Monticello from Philadelphia with him and train a replacement cook.

“Having been at great expence in having James Hemings taught the art of cookery, desiring to befriend him, and to require from him as little in return as possible, I do hereby promise and declare, that if the said James shall go with me to Monticello in the course of the ensuing winter, when I go to reside there myself, and shall there continue until he shall have taught such person as I shall place under him for that purpose to be a good cook, this previous condition being performed, he shall be thereupon made free, and I will thereupon execute all proper instruments to make him free. Given under my hand and seal in the county of Philadelphia and state of Pennsylvania this 15th. day of September one thousand seven hundred and ninety three.”

Agreement with James Hemings, 15 September 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-27-02-0127. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 27, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, pp. 119–120.]

December 23, 1793 | Jefferson communicated to South Carolina Governor Moultrie information regarding rumors of a slave insurrection fomented by the Brissotine party in Paris as a sequel to the insurrection in St. Domingo.

“It is my duty to communicate to you a piece of information, altho’ I cannot say that I have confidence in it myself. A French gentleman, one of the refugees from St. Domingo, informs me that two Frenchmen, from St. Domingo also, of the names of Castaing, and La Chaise, are about setting out from this place for Charleston with a design to excite an insurrection among the negroes. He says that this is in execution of a general plan formed by the Brissotine party at Paris, the first branch of which has been carried into execution at St. Domingo. My informant is a person with whom I am well acquainted, of good sense, discretion and truth, and certainly believes this himself. I enquired of him the channel of his information. He told me it was one which had given them many pre-admonitions in St. Domingo, and which had never been found to be mistaken. He explained it to me; but I could by no means consider it as a channel meriting reliance: and when I questioned him what could be the impulse of these men, what their authority, what their means of execution, and what they could expect in result; he answered with conjectures which were far from sufficient to strengthen the fact. However, were any thing to happen, I should deem myself inexcusable not to have made the communication. Your judgment will decide whether injury might not be done by making the suggestion public, or whether it ought to have any other effect than to excite attention to these two persons should they come into S. Carolina. Castaing is described as a small dark mulatto, and La Chaise as a Quarteron, of a tall fine figure. I have the honor to be with great respect your Excellency’s most obedt. & most humble servt”–Thomas Jefferson to William Moultrie, December 23, 1793, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 27, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 614.

December 24, 1794 | Jefferson freed Robert Hemings, son of Betty Hemings.

This indenture witnesseth that I Thomas Jefferson of the county of Albemarle have manumitted and made free Robert Hemings, son of Betty Hemmings: so that in future he shall be free and of free condition, with all his goods and chattels and shall be discharged of all obligation of bondage or servitude whatsoever: and that neither myself, my heirs executors or administrators shall have any right to exact from him hereafter any services or duties whatsoever. In witness whereof I have put my seal to this present deed of manumission. Given in Albemarle this twenty fourth day of December one thousand seven hundred and ninety four.

Deed of Manumission for Robert Hemings, 24 December 1794,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-28-02-0165. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 28, 1 January 1794 – 29 February 1796, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000, pp. 222–223.]

May 26, 1788 | George Mason mailed Jefferson, who was in Paris, a copy of his objections to the Constitution and informed him that a majority at the constitutional convention &quotwas obtained by a Compromise between the Eastern, and the two Southern States, to permit the latter to continue the Importation of Slaves for twenty odd Years; a more favourite Object with them than the Liberty and Happiness of the People&quot.

To Thomas Jefferson from George Mason, 26 May 1788,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 13, March–7 October 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956, pp. 204–207.]

February 5, 1796 | The deed of manumission for James Hemings was signed and witnessed.

“This indenture made at Monticello in the county of Albemarle and commonwealth of Virginia on the fifth day of February one thousand seven hundred and ninety six witnesseth that I Thomas Jefferson of Monticello aforesaid do emancipate, manumit and make free James Hemings, son of Betty Hemings, which said James is now of the age of thirty years so that in future he shall be free and of free condition, and discharged of all duties and claims of servitude whatsoever, and shall have all the rights and privileges of a freedman. In witness whereof I have hereto set my hand and seal on the day and year abovewritten, and have made these presents double of the same date, tenor and indenture one whereof is lodged in the court of Albemarle aforesaid to be recorded, and the other is delivered by me to the said James Hemings to be produced when and where it may be necessary.”

Deed of Manumission for James Hemings, 5 February 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-28-02-0468. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 28, 1 January 1794 – 29 February 1796, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 605.]

February 26, 1796 | Jefferson recorded in his Memorandum Books that he, &quotgave James Hemings his emancipation&quot and thirty dollars.

Memorandum Books, 1796,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/02-02-02-0006. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series, Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, vol. 2, ed. James A Bear, Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, pp. 935–951.]

June 1, 1796 | Robert Pleasants consulted Jefferson regarding the education of slaves and noted his sympathy for their cause.

“Concieving the Instruction of black Children to be a duty we owe to that much degraded part of our fellow Creatures, and probably would tend to the spiritual and temporal advantage of that unhappy race, as well as to the Community at large, in fitting them for freedom, which at this enlightened day is generally acknowledged to be their right, I have much desired to see some sutable steps taken to promote such work; And believing thee to be a real friend to the cause of liberty, and endowed with ability and influence in regulating and promoting sutable plans for such a purpose, I take the liberty by my Friend Richard Dobs of sending thee a rough Essay for thy consideration, with a request, that should thou approve the subject, thou wilt please to make such alterations or amendments as may appear to thee more likely to answer the desired purpose, and to give it such other incouragement as thou may think right—I hope thou will excuse the freedom I have now taken, and believe me to be with sincere respect & Esteem Thy Friend”

Robert Pleasants to Thomas Jefferson, June 1, 1796, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 29, 1 March 179631 December 1797, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 120.

 

August 27, 1796 | Thomas Jefferson proposed that the education of slave children be patterned after his 1778 Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.

“The establishment of the plan of emancipation if it should precede I am not prepared to decide. If it should precede, I would refer to your consideration whether the plan you propose is adequate to the object. I apprehend that private liberalities will never be equal but to local and partial effects. I venture therefore to suggest what alone can, in my opinion, accomplish the general object. Among the laws proposed in what was called the Revised code printed in 1784. was a bill entitled ‘for the more general diffusion of knowledge.’ This bill was much approved, [and] was taken from [the] bundle and printed for public consideration when it was first reported. I believe that it would now be [as] generally approved, and needs only to be brought into view again to be adopted. This might be effected by petitions from the several counties to the assembly to take that bill into consideration. Very small alterations would make it embrace the object of your paper, it’s effect would be general, and the means for carrying it on would be certain and permanent. Permit me therefore to suggest to you the substitution of that as a more general and certain means of providing for the instruction of the slaves, and more desireable as they would in the course of it be mixed with those of free condition. Whether, for their happiness, it should extend beyond those destined to be free, is questionable. Ignorance and despotism seem made for each other.–Thomas Jefferson to Robert Pleasants, August 27, 1796, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 29, 1 March 1796 – 31 December 1797, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002, pp. 177–178.

 

December, 1796 | &quotNot until December 1796 did the legislature approve an act providing for primary schools offering basic instruction in &quotreading, writing and common arithmetic&quot on the model of TJ’s bill of 1778. Neither the bill nor the act refers directly to race, but instruction in both cases was confined to free children. Though but a remnant of TJ’s original proposals, little actually became of the 1796 act because it relied on local funding and left implementation to the discretion of county courts&quot.

See Editor’s Notes, Robert Pleasants to Thomas Jefferson, February 8, 1797, Founder Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 29, 1 March 179631 December 1797, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002, pp. 287–288.

 

 

December 22, 1796 | An ACT to establish public schools. &quotand all the free children, male and female, resident within the respective sections, shall be entitled to receive tuition gratis&quot.

An ACT to establish public schools.
6. At every of these schools shall be taught reading, writing and common arithmetic; and all the free children, male and female, resident within the respective sections, shall be entitled to receive tuition gratis, for the term of three years, and as much longer at their private expense, as their parents, guardians or friends shall think proper. The said aldermen shall from time to time appoint a teacher to each school, and shall remove him as they see cause. They or some one of them, shall visit every school once in every half year, at the least, examine the scholars, and superintend the conduct of the teacher in every thing relative to his school.
The statutes at large of Virginia : from October session 1792, to December session 1906 [i.e. 1807], inclusive, in three volumes, (new series,) being a continuation of Hening … / By Samuel Shepherd, vol. II, p. 5, courtesy The Hathi Trust.

February 8, 1797 | Robert Pleasants expressed fear that children of Colour might be exempted, by prevailing prejudices, from the recently-passed act that called for the education of &quotfree children&quot, advocated by Jefferson in his Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge.

“I hope thou wilt excuse my not acknowledging before now thy acceptable favor of the 27th. Augt. last, on the subject of free schools. I am not insensible of the superior advantages which might reasonably be expected from Institutions of that sort, Established by law, and conducted in a proper Manner, but as I had no expectation at the time I wrote to thee, that such a law was likely to be obtained, I concluded it might at least be right to endeavour to do what might be practicable on a smaller Scale for the benifit of that oppressed and much neglected part of the human race among us; I was therefore much pleased to understand it had been the subject of thy consideration and endeavours, to promote so necessary a work on so extensive a plan; and from the incouragement thou gave of promoting applications to the Assembly, I took some pains to endeavour to get a sight of the Bill, which thou mentions to have been prepared, and to be found in the propos’d Code of 1784. with an intention (could I have found it) to have consulted some of the leading members of the Assembly, and to have done as thou recommended to bring the matter before the House; but I have never yet been able to find it, either in the printed Copy of those revised laws or in the hands of those who I thought most likely to have it so that nothing was done by way of Petition. I find however by the laws past the last Session, that the subject of free schools was taken up, and an Act is passed for that purpose, but Confined to free Children; and though those of Colour are not exempted from the benifit of such schools, yet I can’t help fearing that the prevailing prejudices against that unfortunate race of people, will be an obstruction to an equal participation of the proposed benifit: It seems also doubtful, from the too general inattention to Institutions of a public nature, that this law may not be attended with all the good consequences which the importance of the subject requires. I am with great Esteem & respect Thy assured Friend.” Robert Pleasants to Thomas Jefferson, 8 February 1797. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 29, 1 March 179631 December 1797, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002, pp. 287–288.

March 4, 1797 | Thomas Jefferson became Vice President of the United States.
January 25, 1798 | The Virginia legislature enacted laws that made inciting slave insurrection punishable by death, disqualified members of emancipation societies from serving on juries in freedom suits, and regulated slave movement.

An ACT to amend the act, intituled, “An act to amend the act, intituled, ‘An act to reduce into one, the several acts concerning slaves, free negroes and mulattoes.’” Shepherd, Samuel H. : The statutes at large of Virginia: from October session 1792, to December session 1906 [i.e. 1807], inclusive, in three volumes (new series,) being a continuation of Hening…vol. 2, page 77

After September 2, 1800 | In summarizing his public service, Jefferson wondered, &quotwhether my country is the better for my having lived at all? I do not know that it is. I have been the instrument of doing the following things; but they would have been done by others; some of them perhaps a little later&quot.

–Thomas Jefferson: Summary of Public Service, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 1800 – 16 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 122–125.

After September 2, 1800 | Jefferson listed his 1778 Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves as one of the major accomplishments of his life.

Summary of Public Service

[after 2 Sep. 1800]

I have sometimes asked myself whether my country is the better for my having lived at all? I do not know that it is. I have been the instrument of doing the following things; but they would have been done by others; some of them perhaps a little later.

The Rivanna river had never been used for navigation. scarcely an empty canoe had ever passed down it. soon after I came of age, I examined it’s obstructions, set on foot a subscription for removing them, got an act of assembly past & the thing effected, so as to be used completely & fully for carrying down all our pro[duce.]
1776.    The declaration of independance
1776.    I proposed the demolition of the church establishment, and the freedom of religion. it could only be done by degrees. towit 1776. c. 2. exempted dissenters from contributions to the church & left the church clergy to be supported by voluntary contributions of their own sect. continued from year to year & made perpetual 1779. c. 36. I prepared the act for religious freedom in 1777. as part of the revisal, which was not reported to the assembly till 1779. and that particular law not passed till 1785. and then1 by the efforts of mr Madison.
1776.    c. 2. the act putting an end to entails.
1778.    c. 1. the act prohibiting the importation of slaves.
1779.    c. 55. the act concerning citizens & establishing the natural right of man to expatriate himself at will.
   the act changing the course of descent and giving the inheritance to all the children &c equally I drew, as part of the revisal
   the act for apportioning crimes & punishments, part of the same work, I drew. when proposed to the legislature by mr Madison in 1785 it failed by a single vote. G. K. Taylor afterwards in 1796 proposed the same subject, made & printed a long speech from which any person would suppose his propson was original & that the thing had never been mentd. before: for he takes care not to glance at what had been done before and he drew his bill over again, carefully avoiding the adoption of any part of the diction of mine. yet the text of mine had been studiously drawn in the technical terms of the law, so as to give no occasion for new questions by new expressions. when I drew m[ine] public labor was thought the best punishment to be substituted for death. but while I was in France I heard of a society in England who had successfully introdu[ced] solitary confinement, and saw the drawing of a prison at Lyons in France formed on the idea of solitary confinement. and being applied to by the Govr. of Virginia for a plan of a Capitol a[nd] prison, I sent them the Lyons plan, accompanying it with a drawing on a smaller scale better adapted to their use. this was in June 1786. mr Taylor very judiciously adopted this idea (which had now been acted on in Philadelphia, probably from the English model) & substituted labor in confinement to the public labour proposed by the commee of revisal; which themselves would have done had they been to act on the subject again. the public mind was ripe for this in 1796 when mr Taylor proposed it, and ripened chiefly by the experiment in Philada, whereas in 1785 when it had been before proposed to our assembly they were not quite ripe for it.

In 1789. & 1790. I had a great number of olive plants of the best kind sent from Marseilles to Charleston for S. Carola & Georgia. they were planted & are flourishing: & though not yet multiplied, they will be the germ of that culture in those states.

In 1790. I got a cask of the heavy upland rice from the river Denbigh in Africa, about Lat. 9 H. 30’ North, which I sent to Charleston, in hopes it might supercede the culture of the wet rice which renders S. Carola & Georgia so pestilential through the summer. it was divided, & a part sent to Georgia. I know not whether it has been attended to in S. Carola; but it has spread in the upper parts of Georgia so as to have become almost general, & is highly prized. perhaps it may answer in Tennissee & Kentucky. the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to it’s culture; especially a bread grain. next in value to bread is oil.

Whether the act for the more general diffusion of knowlege will ever be carried into complete effect, I know not. It was recd by the legislature with great enthusiasm at first. and a small effort was made in 1796. by the act to establish public schools, to carry a part of it into effect, viz. that for the establishmt of free English schools. but the option given to the courts has defeated the intention of the act.

 

I have been drawn to this subject by a publication in Pleasant’s paper of Sep. 2. 1800. wherein are some inaccuracies. viz. my father gave me an education in the languages, which was not quite compleat when he died. after compleating it, I went to the Coll. of W. & M—the Summary view was written14 but not publd by me; but by some members of the convention. I was sick on the road.—I married Jan. 1. 1772. mrs Jefferson died in 1782.—I did not draw the Declaration of rights of Virginia. I believe George Mason drew it. I was absent at Congress. I drew a scheme of a constitution which arrived after the Convention had nearly finished theirs. they adopted the preamble of mine, & some new principles.—the writer speaks of one false return & the suppression of another preventing my being declared President. I know not on what this is founded. the return of 2. electors on the republican ticket of Pensva was delayed artfully so that two from the Federal ticket, who were in truth not elected at all, gave their votes. one of these however voted for me, so that I lost but one vote by the maneuvre. this made an apparent difference of 2. viz. 68. & 71. when the real vote was 69. & 70. so that mr Adams was duly elected by a majority of a single voice. these are the inaccuracies I note in that publicn.
Summary of Public Service, Thomas Jefferson,After September 2, 1800, Founder Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 1800 – 16 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 122–125.

September 9, 1800 | Virginia Governor James Monroe informed Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, of a slave insurrection in Richmond, Virginia, that was quelled before it was to take place on August 30.

Governor James Monroe informed Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, of a slave insurrection in Richmond, Virginia, that was quelled before it was to take place on August 30.

 

“There has been great alarm here of late at the prospect of an insurrection of the negroes in this city and its neighbourhood wh. was discovered on the day when it was to have taken effect. Abt. 30 are in prison who are to be tried on Thursday, and others are daily discovered and apprehended in the vicinity of the city. I have no doubt the plan was formed and of tolerable extensive combination, but hope the danger is passed. The trial will commence on thursday, and it is the opinion of the magistrates who examined those committed, that the whole very few excepted will be condemned. The trial may lead to further discoveries of wh. I will inform you. We have nothing new from abroad. very sincerely I am yr. friend and servt.”–James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, September 9, 1800, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 1800 – 16 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 131–132.

 

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 12 Sep. and so recorded in SJL.

Monroe had spent much of August traveling between Albemarle County, where his young son was seriously ill, and Richmond, where he and the Council of State took steps to quarantine Norfolk for yellow fever. In Richmond on the afternoon of Saturday, 30 Aug., he received information that an insurrection by slaves in the surrounding area would strike the city that night. He communicated with the mayors of Richmond and Petersburg and called out militia to protect the capitol building and public stores of arms and ammunition. Heavy rainfall that made roads and bridges impassable forestalled the beginning of the revolt that night, but Monroe soon received information to convince him that the plan for rebellion was still in place. The legislature was not in session, but with the concurrence of the council on Tuesday, 2 Sep., the governor alerted all Virginia militia regiments and strengthened the guard on key locations in and around the capital city. He also communicated with local civil officials. The evening of 2 Sep. the first group of suspects was brought to Richmond from the vicinity of the Henrico County plantation of Thomas H. Prosser, whose slave Gabriel had been named as the primary leader of the intended revolt. Under Virginia law of more than a century’s standing, the trial of a slave accused of committing a capital offense was to take place without a jury before a court of oyer and terminer assembled for the purpose. According to a 1786 statute, which was a modified version of a bill in the great revision of the state’s law code that TJ and others had drafted some years earlier, a slave could only be condemned to death by unanimous decision of the court of oyer and terminer, and the state would compensate the owner for the value of the executed slave. The first executions for participation in the conspiracy occurred on Friday, 12 Sep. (Monroe, Writings, 3:201–3, 216, 234–8, 242; CVSP, 9:134; Ammon, Monroe, 185–7; Philip J. Schwarz, Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705–1865 [Baton Rouge, 1988], 17–18, 25; Vol. 2:616–17).

The magistrates who first collected information from the slaves taken into custody were Gervas Storrs and Joseph Selden. Earlier in the year Storrs, a member of the Virginia Republicans’ general committee, had been elected to the House of Delegates from Henrico County, to take his seat when the assembly convened in December. Selden, who in 1800 was on the Republican corresponding committee for Henrico County, would join Storrs in the assembly in 1803 (CVSP, 9:77–8, 138; James Sidbury, Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia, 1730–1810 [New York, 1997], 123; Leonard, General Assembly, 219–20, 232; Monroe to TJ, 23 Apr. 1800).

 

September 13, 1800 | James Callender who was serving his sentence for sedition after criticizing the Adams administration wrote from the Richmond jail regarding Gabriel’s insurrection, &quotNothing is talked of here but the recent conspiracy of the negroes&quot.

“Nothing is talked of here but the recent conspiracy of the negroes. One Thomas Prosser, a young man, who had fallen heir, some time ago, to a plantation within six miles of the city, had behaved with great barbarity to his slaves. One of them, named Gabriel, a fellow of courage and intellect above his rank in life, laid a plan of revenge. Immense numbers immediately entered into it, and it has been kept with incredible Secrecy for several months. A number of Swords were made in a clumsy enough manner out of rough iron; others by breaking the blade of a Scythe in the middle, which thus made two Swords of a most formidable kind. They were well fastened in proper handles, and would have cut of a man’s limb at a single blow. The conspirators were to have met in a wood near Prosser’s house, upon Saturday before last, after it was dark. Upon that day, or some very short time before it, notice was received from a fellow, who being invited, somewhat unguardedly, to go to the rendezvous, refused, and immediately Informed his master’s overseer. No ostensible preparations were, however, made until the afternoon preceding the night of the rendezvous; and as the militia are in a State of the most contemptible disorganization, as the blacks are numerous, robust and desperate, there must have been bloody work. But upon that very evening, just about Sunset, there came on the most terrible thunder storm, accompanied with an enormous rain, that I ever witnessed in this State. Between Prosser’s, and Richmond; there is a place called Brook Swamp, which runs across the high road, and over which there was a bridge. By this, the africans were of necessity to pass, and the rain had made the passage impracticable. Besides, they were deprived of the junction and assistance of their good friends in this city, who could not go out to join them.1 They were to have Attacked the Capitol and the penitentiary. They could hardly have failed of success; for after all, we only could muster four or five hundred men, of whom not more than thirty had Muskets. This was our stile of preparation, While several thousand stands of arms were piled up in the Capitol and Penitentiary. I do not pretend to blame the executive Council, for I really am not2 sufficiently Master of the circumstances to form an opinion. Five fellows were hung this day; and many more will share the same fate. Their plan was to Massacre all the whites, of all ages, and sexes; and all the blacks who would not Join them; and then march off to the Mountains, with the plunder of the City. Those wives who should refuse to accompany their husbands were to have been butchered along with the rest; an idea truly wor[thy] of an African heart! It consists with my knowledge that many of these wretches, who were, or would have been partners in the plot, had been treated with the utmost tenderness by their owners, and more like children than slaves.”

–James Callender to Thomas Jefferson, September 13, 1800, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 1800 – 16 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 136–138.

September 15, 1800 | Monroe asked for Jefferson’s advice and contemplated &quotwhere to arrest the hand of the executioner&quot in the cases of the condemned conspirators of Gabriel’s insurrection and whether &quotmercy or severity is the better policy”&quot

“We have had much trouble with the negroes here. The plan of an insurrection has been clearly proved, & appears to have been of considerable extent. 10. have been condemned & executed, and there are at least twenty perhaps 40. more to be tried, of whose guilt no doubt is entertained. It is unquestionably the most serious and formidable conspiracy we have ever known of the kind: tho’ indeed to call it so is to give no idea of the thing itself. While it was posible to keep it secret, wh. it was till we saw the extent of it, we did so. But when it became indispensably necessary to resort to strong measures with a view to protect the town, the publick arms, the Treasury and the Jail, wh. were all threatened, the opposit course was in part tak[en.] We then made a display of our force and measures of defence with a view to intimidate those people. Where to arrest the hand of the Executioner, is a question of great importance. It is hardly to be presumed, a rebel who avows it was his intention to assassinate his master &ca if pardoned will ever become a useful servant. and we have no power to transport him abroad—Nor is it less difficult to say whether mercy or severity is the better policy in this case, tho’ where there is cause for doubt it is best to incline to the former council. I shall be happy to have yr. opinion on these points.
–James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, September 15, 1800, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 1800 – 16 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 144–145.

September 20, 1800 | Jefferson urged leniency in the case of the enslaved insurgents, stating that the world &quotcannot lose sight of the rights of the two parties, & the object of the unsuccessful one&quot.

“Where to stay the hand of the executioner is an important question. those who have escaped from the immediate danger, must have feelings which would dispose them to extend the executions. even here, where every thing has been perfectly tranquil, but where a familiarity with slavery, and a possibility of danger from that quarter prepare the general mind for some severities, there is a strong sentiment that there has been hanging enough. the other states & the world at large will for ever condemn us if we indulge a principle of revenge, or go one step beyond absolute necessity. they cannot lose sight of the rights of the two parties, & the object of the unsuccessful one. our situation is indeed a difficult one: for I doubt whether these people can ever be permitted to go at large among us with safety. to reprieve them and keep them in prison till the meeting of the legislature will encourage efforts for their release. is there no fort & garrison of the state or of the Union, where they could be confined, & where the presence of the garrison would preclude all ideas of attempting a rescue. surely the legislature would pass a law for their exportation, the proper measure on this & all similar occasions? I hazard these thoughts for your own consideration only, as I should be unwilling to be quoted in the case; you will doubtless hear the sentiments of other persons & places, and will thence be enabled to form a better judgment on the whole than any of us singly & in a solitary situation. Health, respect & affection.”

– From Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 20 September 1800,” Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 1800 – 16 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 160–161.

October 2, 1800 | Following Jefferson’s advice for leniency toward the rebellious slaves, Governor Monroe began pardoning condemned slaves from Gabriel’s insurrection, before they were hung.

“On the last day of the month the court still faced a full docket, but the will of Jefferson had been made clear, for the desire to shed more blood began to wane. Jacob and Dick, slaves of Thomas Woodfin and Jesse Smith, appeared in turn before the bar. Both were found guilty of conspiring to become free men and sentenced to death, but the court deemed them, like Abraham, “fit Objects[s] for mercy.” The governor pardoned both on October 2, well before their scheduled execution on October 10. The last slave to appear was Solomon, “the property of the Estate of Joseph Lewis.” He too was found guilty and sentenced to hang. But all five justices who heard his case “respectfully recommend[ed] that Solomon be pardoned. Again Monroe assented.”

Egerton, Douglas R., Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Consipiracies of 1800 and 1802. University of North Carolina Press, 1993, page 94.

September 30, 1800 | Thomas Boylston Adams described Gabriel’s insurrection as a &quotpractical illustration of those seducing theories–the equal rights of all men&quot. Insurrections of a similar nature had taken place in Charleston, SC, and were feared in North Carolina and Maryland.

“The most remarkable domestic occurrence, since the date of my last, is the discovery of a pretty extensive combination among the Slaves in the Southern States, for the purpose of a practical illustration of those seducing theories—the equal rights of all men, which they have been accustomed to hear discussed, with great zeal, for several years past, at the tables of their owners. The perpetration of the plot was alone prevented by an intervention, almost supernatural. A black cloud arose in the afternoon, preceding the night when the general Massacre of the white inhabitants of Richmond & its vicinity, was to have taken place, & a flood of rain, which soon burst from it, so deluged the Country, as to render the execution, for that night, impracticable; the Sudden overflow of a small Stream, cut off the communication of some of the principal conspirators, from the place of rendezvous; in the mean time, the plot was revealed or detected, and many of the principal actors were Seized & sent to prison—They have been tried in a Summary manner & publicly executed; the particulars, which transpired at their trials, were of a nature to Shock insensibility itself—The enterprise was boldly conceived—arms were provided & the whole Country might have been, at this moment, a scene of carnage & desolation, but for the providential discovery—An insurrection of a similar nature has broken out in the neighborhood of Charleston SC. and though less formidable than at first represented, it forebodes much danger. Even in North Carolina & Maryland apprehensions are entertained. It is said, upon what authority I have been unable to discover that frenchmen were the Secret instigators of the Virginia revolt, and in the examinations of some of the detected blacks, it appeared in evidence, that the white french inhabitants were to have been spared in the general massacre. The leader of the whole band, has hitherto escaped although a considerable reward has been offered by proclamation for his head—It is hoped that this warning to the Southern proprietors, will produce a favorable effect upon their conduct & alter the Style of their inflamatory language on Subjects of government: But if they Should prefer paying their debts, by having their throats cut, they will yet persevere in despite of all this.”

From Thomas Boylston Adams to Joseph Pitcairn, 30 September 1800,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, This is an Early Access document from The Adams Papers

November 8, 1800 | Jefferson urged Monroe to assign a guard to the armory in New London, Virginia following the insurgency, and requested more information regarding the

“I wished to learn something of the excitements, the expectations & extent of this negro conspiracy, not being satisfied with the popular reports. I learnt with concern in Bedford that the important deposit of arms near New London is without even a centinel to guard it. there is said to be much powder in it. we cannot suppose the federal administration takes this method of offering arms to insurgent negroes: yet some in the neighborhood of the place suspect it. would it not be justifiable in you to suggest to them the importance of a guard there? in truth that deposit should be removed to the river.”

From Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 8 November 1800,Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 1800 – 16 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 248–249.

December 9, 1800 | William Short informed Jefferson that Gabriels insurrection was reported in the French gazettes and noted that slavery is &quota matter of so much importance & delicacy in our Southern States&quot.

“The French gazettes have copied from the British a report of the Negroes having been on the eve of an insurrection at Richmond, & of its having been prevented—no particulars are given—of course we know little or nothing on the subject. Yet it appears to me that whatever relates to those people is a matter of so much importance & delicacy to our Southern States, that I never think on it & cast my view forward without some uneasiness as you will have seen by several of my former letters. I have thought a great deal on it; but I am not sure that I see what is for the best; & if I did, there is no reason to suppose that in this case more than in most others the best possible, be the practicable. I feel that it is a delicate subject to be touched on in the situation of the Southern States, & yet their Legislatures as it seems to me, cannot with prudence abandon the subject entirely to time & chance.”

To Thomas Jefferson from William Short, 9 December 1800,Founders Online, National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 1800 – 16 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 291–297.

December 20, 1800 | Jefferson asked Monroe for any information he could provide on Gabriel's &quotconspiracy&quot as he would like to understand it.

“I will thank you for any information you can give me on the subject of the conspiracy, as I have never understood it, and perhaps I may be placed in a situation which may render it not amiss that I should understand it.”–Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, Dec. 20, 1800, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 180016 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, p. 330.

December 31, 1800| Following Gabriel’s conspiracy, in a secret session the Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution requesting Governor Monroe to correspond with President Jefferson regarding colonization of the rebellious slaves.

“Resolved, That the Governor [Monroe] be requested to correspond with the President of the United States, on the subject of purchasing land without the limits of this State, whither persons obnoxious to the laws, or dangerous to the peace of society, may be removed.”

American State Papers, Miscellaneous, Vol. I p. 464. Courtesy The Hathi Trust.

January 2, 1801 | The Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution directing Governor Monroe to write President Jefferson about the possibility of purchasing federal lands beyond Virginia to which the slaves convicted in the aftermath of Gabriel’s Insurrection could be transported.

Editors’ Note: “On 2 Jan. 1801 the Virginia Senate endorsed a House of Delegates resolution directing the governor to write to the president about the possibility of purchasing federal lands beyond Virginia to which the slaves convicted in the aftermath of Gabriel’s Insurrection could be transported. Monroe complied by writing to Jefferson in mid-June, volunteering his misgivings about the proposal, and in a November letter he reminded the president of the need to reply to the legislature when it reconvened in early December. Jefferson answered that the colony would be undesirable in the Northwest Territory and probably unwelcome in the northern Indian or the southwestern Spanish lands. The West Indies was a “more probable & practicable” location, particularly Saint-Domingue, which was a de facto black nation and unlikely to grow large enough to constitute a threat to Southern slavery. Africa, the president concluded, would be “a last & undoubted resort, if all others more desirable should fail us”(Journal of the Virginia Senate, Dec. 1800 [Shaw and Shoemaker 1586], pp. 49, 51; Jefferson to Monroe, 24 Nov. 1801, Ford, Writings of Jefferson, 8:103–6; Monroe to Jefferson, 15 June and 17 Nov. 1801 [DLC: Jefferson Papers]; Robert McColley, Slavery and Jeffersonian Virginia [Urbana, Ill., 1964], pp. 110–11).–Editors’ Note, Founders Online, The National Archives.

 

January 15, 1801 | The Virginia legislature authorized Gov. Monroe to sell and deport, rather than execute, slaves convicted of conspiracy, insurrection, or other crimes, following Gabriel’s Insurrection. Owners would be compensated.

An ACT to empower the overnor to tranport slaves condemned,
when it shall be deemed expedient.[Passed January 15, 1801.] I. Be it enacted by the general assembly, That the governor with the advice of council, be, and is hereby authorized, when it shall be deemed expedient, to contract and agree with any person or persons for the sale and purchase of all those slaves who now are or hereafter may be under sentence of death, for conspiracy, insurrection, or other crimes. The person or persons, at the time of making such purchase, shall enter into bond, with sufficient security, in the penalty of five hundred dollars for each slave, payable to the governor and his successors, for the use of the commonwealth, with condition that he or they will carry out of the United
States all the slaves by him or them purchased, who are now, or who hereafter may be under sentence of death; and the sale and disposal of every such slave shall amount to a reprieve of him or them from such sentence of death: Provided always, That if any slave, sold pursuant to this act‘, shall return into this state, he shall be apprehended and executed under the condemnation of the court, as if no reprieve had taken place. And in all cases where any slave or slaves shall be tried and convicted for any crime which may affect life, the court before whom such trials shall be had, shall cause the testimony for and against every such slave to be entered of record, and a copy of the whole proceedings to be transmitted
forthwith to the executive.
2. The owners of all slaves so sold or transported shall be paid in the same manner as for slaves executed.
3. This act shall commence and be in force from the passing thereof.

Shepherd, Samuel H. : The statutes at large of Virginia: from October session 1792, to December session 1906 [i.e. 1807], inclusive, in three volumes (new series,) being a continuation of Hening…vol. 2, page 279

 

January 18, 1801 | &quotOur assembly has done little business since its meeting. They made a series of experiments to unite in some measure to prevent or suppress future negro conspiracies, without effect. I think it will adjourn in a few days&quot.

James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, January 18, 1801, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 1800 – 16 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 481–482

January 18, 1801 | A bill &quotTo prohibit free negroes and mulattoes from residing in or near certain towns,&quot which the Virginia House of Delegates dropped on 16 Jan., may have been part of the legislature’s series of experiments.

Editors’ note: A bill “To prohibit free negroes and mulattoes from residing in or near certain towns,” which the Virginia House of Delegates dropped on 16 Jan., may have been part of the legislature’s series of experiments.

The General Assembly had passed, in the days just before Monroe wrote the letter above, an act for the transportation of convicted slaves (see Monroe to TJ, 15 Sep. 1800) and another that empowered justices of the peace to call out patrols, provided for reorganization of the militia and patrol in Petersburg, and allowed a tax to pay for the guard in Fredericksburg. A few days after Monroe wrote, the assembly passed an act “to amend the act, intituled ‘An act, to reduce into one the several acts, concerning slaves, free negroes and mulattoes.’” Along with measures to prevent slaves from hiring themselves out, the statute contained provisions allowing the testimony of blacks in some court cases, restricting the bringing of slaves into Virginia from elsewhere, requiring each commissioner of the revenue to make an annual registry of “all free negroes or mulattoes within his district, together with their names, sex, places of abode, and particular trades, occupation or calling,” and allowing magistrates to declare as a vagrant any free person of color who moved from one county to another without having employment in the new location. As the legislative session waned during January the General Assembly also passed acts to arm the militia of towns and establish a guard force in Richmond (Acts Passed at a General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond, on Monday the First Day of December One Thousand Eight Hundred [Richmond, 1801], 21, 24, 34–5, 37–9; JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Dec. 1800-Jan. 1801, 70).– James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, January 18, 1801, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 1 June 180016 February 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 481–482.

January 21, 1801 | The Virginia legislature tightened slave laws after Gabriel’s Rebellion (Gabriel had hired himself out in Richmond and fraternized with both free and enslaved persons).

These included prohibiting slaves to hire themselves out, allowing “negro or mulatto, bond or free” to testify against “negro or mulattoes, bond or free”, slaves and “free negroes and mulattoes” prohibited from migrating into the commonwealth, registering all free negroes and mulattoes,

 

Shepherd, Samuel H. : The statutes at large of Virginia: from October session 1792, to December session 1906 [i.e. 1807], inclusive, in three volumes (new series,) being a continuation of Hening…vol. 2, page 300.

January 24, 1801 | Like Jefferson, John Adams assumed that slavery was fast diminishing, that the abolition of slavery must be gradual, and &quotthat that the condition, of the common Sort of White People in Some of the Southern States particularly Viginia, is more oppressed, degraded and miserable that that of the Negroes&quot.

“Although I have never Sought popularity by any animated Speeches or inflammatory publications against the Slavery of the Blacks, my opinion against it has always been known, and my practice has been so conformable to my Sentiment that I have always employd freemen both as Domisticks and Labourers, and never in my Life did I own a Slave. The Abolition of Slavery must be gradual and accomplished with much caution and Circumspection. Violent means and measures would produce greater violations of Justice and Humanity, than the continuance of the practice. Neither Mr Mifflin nor yourselves, I presume would be willing to venture on Exertions which would probably excite Insurrections among the Blacks to rise against their Masters and imbue their hands in innocent blood.

There are many other Evils in our Country which are growing, (whereas the practice of Slavery is fast diminishing,) and threaten to bring Punishment in our Land, more immediately than the oppression of the blacks. That sacred regard to Truth in which you and I were educated, and which is certainly taught and enjoined from on high, Seems to be vanishing from among Us. A general Relaxation of Education and Government. A general Debauchery as well as dissipation, produced by pestilential phylosophical Principles of Epicures infinitely more than by Shews and theatrical Entertainment. These are in my opinion more Serious and threatening Evils, than even the Slavery of the Blacks, hatefull as that is. I might even Add that I have been informed, that the condition, of the common Sort of White People in Some of the Southern States particularly Viginia, is more oppressed, degraded and miserable that that of the Negroes.

These Vices and these Miseries deserve the serious and compassionate Consideration of Friends as well as the Slave Trade and the degraded State of the blacks.

I wish you Success in your benevolent Endeavours to relieve the distresses of our fellow Creatures, and shall always be ready to cooperate with you, as far as my means and Opportunities can reasonably be expected to extend.”

 

– From John Adams to George Churchman, 24 January 1801,” Founders Online, National Archives, [This is an Early Access document from The Adams Papers. It is not an authoritative final version.]

 

February 22, 1801 | Jefferson asked William Evans to send for his former servant, James Hemings, to come to Washington and serve as chef. He understood that Hemings organized his engagements so that he could come to Jefferson if needed.
February 27, 1801 | Evans informed Jefferson that James Hemings would not go to Jefferson unless Jefferson himself wrote to him.
March 31, 1801 | Jefferson assumed that James Hemings’ unwillingness to come was due to an attachment in Baltimore and nothing against Jefferson. He decided not to repeat the invitation in respect of James’ wishes.
June 15, 1801 | Governor James Monroe, as directed by the Virginia legislature, contacted President Jefferson on the subject of deporting rather than executing rebellious slaves.

“I enclose you a resolution of the General Assembly of this Commonwealth, of the last session, by which it is made my duty to correspond with you on the subject of obtaining by purchase lands without the limits of this state, to which persons obnoxious to the laws or dangerous to the peace of society may be removed. This resolution was produced by the conspiracy of the slaves which took place in this city and neighborhood last year, and is applicable to that description of persons only. The idea of such an acquisition was suggested by motives of humanity, it being intended by means thereof to provide an alternate mode of punishment for those described by the resolution, who under the existing law might be doomed to suffer death. It was deemed more humane, and it is hoped would be found in practice not less expedient, to transport such offenders beyond the limits of the state.

It seems to be the more obvious intention of the Legislature, as inferred from the resolution, to make the proposed acquisition of land, in the vacant western territory of the United States, but it does not appear to me to preclude one without the limits of the Union. If a friendly power would designate a tract of country within its jurisdiction, either on this continent or a neighboring Island, to which we might send such persons, it is not improbable the Legislature might prefer it. In any event an alternative could not otherwise than be desirable, since after maturely weighing the conditions, and advantages of each position the Legislature might still prefer that which appeared to it most eligible.

It is proper to remark that the latter part of the resolution which proposes the removal of such persons as are dangerous to the peace of society may be understood as comprizing many to whom the preceding member does not apply. Whether the Legislature intended to give it a more extensive import, or rather whether it contemplated removing from the Country any but culprits who were condemned to suffer death, I will not undertake to decide. But if the more enlarged construction of the resolution is deemed the true one, it furnishes in my opinion, a strong additional motive, why the Legislature, in disposing of this great concern should command an alternative of places. As soon as the mind emerges, in contemplating the subject, beyond the contracted scale of providing a mode of punishment for offenders, vast and interesting objects present themselves to view. It is impossible not to revolve in it, the condition of those people, the embarrassment they have already occasioned us, and are still likely to subject us to. We perceive an existing evil which commenced under our colonial system, with which we are not properly chargeable, or if at all not in the present degree, and we acknowledge the extreme difficulty of remedying it. At this point the mind rests with suspense, and surveys with anxiety obstacles which become more serious as we approach them. It is in vain for the Legislature to deliberate on the subject, in the extent of which it is capable, with a view to adopt the system of policy which appears to it most wise and just, if it has not the means of executing it. To lead to a sound decision and make the result a happy one, it is necessary that the field of practicable expedients be opened to its election, on the widest possible scale.

Under this view of the subject I shall be happy to be advised by you whether a tract of land in the Western territory of the United States can be procured for this purpose, in what quarter, and on what terms? And also whether any friendly power will permit us to remove such persons within its limits, with like precision as to the place and conditions? It is possible a friendly power may be disposed to promote a population of the kind referred to, and willing to facilitate the measure by co-operating with us in the accomplishment of it. It may be convenient for you to sound such powers especially those more immediately in our neighborhood, on the subject, in all the views which may appear to you to be suitable.

You will perceive that I invite your attention to a subject of great delicacy and importance, one which in a peculiar degree involves the future peace, tranquility and happiness of the good people of this Commonwealth. I do it however in a confidence, you will take that interest in it, which we are taught to expect from your conduct through life, which gives you so many high claims to our regard.

with great respect I have the honor to be your most obt. servant

Jas. Monroe

RC (DLC); in clerk’s hand; closing and signature in Monroe’s hand; endorsed by TJ as received 18 June and so recorded in SJL with notation “place for transportn.” FC (Vi: Executive Letter-book); in the same clerk’s hand; at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States.” Enclosure: Resolution of the Virginia House of Delegates, 31 Dec. 1800, “that the Governor be requested to correspond with the president of the United States on the subject of puchasing lands without the limits of this State, whither persons obnoxious to the laws or dangerous to the peace of society may be removed” (Tr in DLC: TJ Papers, 119:20520; in hand of William Wirt, signed by him as clerk of the House of Delegates, and mistakenly dated by him 31 Dec. 1801; at foot of text: “Jany. 3. 1801. Passed the Senate”; endorsed by Wirt: “Resolution relative to the purchase of lands”).

In January 1801, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law authorizing the eviction, by sale, of condemned slaves. That measure required the purchaser to give bond guaranteeing that the slave would be transported outside the United States; see Vol. 32:145n.”

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 15 June 1801,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-34-02-0274. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 34, 1 May–31 July 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007, pp. 345–347.]

 

 

July 21, 1801 | Jefferson acknowledged that finding a place for insurgents was a difficult subject and hoped to discuss it in person with Monroe.

From Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 21 July 1801,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-34-02-0469. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 34, 1 May–31 July 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007, p. 614.]

November 1, 1801 | Jefferson asked William Evans to verify a rumor that James Hemings, the second slave freed by Jefferson, had committed suicide.

From Thomas Jefferson to William Evans, 1 November 1801,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-35-02-0449. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 35, 1 August–30 November 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008, pp. 542–543.]

 

November 5, 1801 | Evans verified that James Hemings committed suicide after being delirious for several days from drinking too freely.

To Thomas Jefferson from William Evans, 5 November 1801,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-35-02-0460. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 35, 1 August–30 November 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008, pp. 569–570.]

November 17, 1801 | Monroe reminded Jefferson that he was waiting for an answer regarding the purchase of lands for the insurgent slaves.

“To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 17 November 1801,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-35-02-0521. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 35, 1 August–30 November 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 683.]

November 22, 1801 | The Virginia legislature contacted President Jefferson about the possibility of deporting slaves convicted in the aftermath of Gabriel’s Insurrection.

The Virginia resolution inclosed was, I am sure, in full confidence that you would contribute your counsel as well as myself. I have only relieved you from the labour of the premier ebauche. I must you to consider the subject thoroughly, and either make the inclosed what it should be, or a new draught. It should go on without delay, because I shall desire Monroe, if there is any thing in it he does not like, to send it back for alteration. And a fortnight is the whole time allowed for this. Best wishes & affections.

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 22 November 1801,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-35-02-0544. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 35, 1 August–30 November 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 712.

See entry on January 2, 1801:

On 2 Jan. 1801 the Virginia Senate endorsed a House of Delegates resolution directing the governor to write to the president about the possibility of purchasing federal lands beyond Virginia to which the slaves convicted in the aftermath of Gabriel’s Insurrection could be transported. Monroe complied by writing to Jefferson in mid-June, volunteering his misgivings about the proposal, and in a November letter he reminded the president of the need to reply to the legislature when it reconvened in early December. Jefferson answered that the colony would be undesirable in the Northwest Territory and probably unwelcome in the northern Indian or the southwestern Spanish lands. The West Indies was a “more probable & practicable” location, particularly Saint-Domingue, which was a de facto black nation and unlikely to grow large enough to constitute a threat to Southern slavery. Africa, the president concluded, would be “a last & undoubted resort, if all others more desirable should fail us” (Journal of the Virginia Senate, Dec. 1800 [Shaw and Shoemaker 1586], pp. 49, 51; Jefferson to Monroe, 24 Nov. 1801, Ford, Writings of Jefferson, 8:103–6; Monroe to Jefferson, 15 June and 17 Nov. 1801 [DLC: Jefferson Papers]; Robert McColley, Slavery and Jeffersonian Virginia [Urbana, Ill., 1964], pp. 110–11).

November 22, 1801 | President Jefferson solicited Madison’s advice on the Virginia resolution.

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 22 November 1801,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-35-02-0544. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 35, 1 August–30 November 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 712.]

November 24, 1801 | Jefferson informed Monroe that both he and Madison collaborated on the enclosed letter regarding the resettlement of insurgents.

From Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 24 November 1801,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-35-02-0549. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 35, 1 August–30 November 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 718.]

November 24, 1801 | President Jefferson weighed options for the resettlement rather than execution of participants in Gabriel’s Insurrection and wrote to Monroe that the humanity of transporting slaves convicted of rebellion to St. Domingo outweighed the danger of their forming an attack on the United States once resettled. There, the rebellious slaves’ acts might seem meritorious. Sending them to Africa would be a last resort.

“I had not been unmindful of your letter of June 15, covering a resolution of the House of Representatives of Virginia, and referred to in your’s of the 17th. inst. the importance of the subject, and the belief that it gave us time for consideration till the next meeting of the legislature have induced me to defer the answer to this date. you will percieve that some circumstances, connected with the subject, & necessarily presenting themselves to view, would be improper but for your’s & the legislative ear. their publication might have an ill effect in more than one quarter. in confidence of attention to this, I shall indulge greater freedom in writing.

Common malefactors, I presume, make no part of the object of that resolution. neither their numbers, nor the nature of their offences, seem to require any provisions beyond those practised heretofore, & found adequate to the repression of ordinary crimes. Conspiracy, insurgency, treason, rebellion, among that description of persons who brought, on us the alarm, and on themselves the tragedy, of 1800, were doubtless within the view of every one: but many perhaps contemplated, and one expression of the resolution might comprehend, a much larger scope. respect to both opinions makes it my duty to understand the resolution in all the extent of which it is susceptible.

The idea seems to be to provide for these people by a purchase of lands; and it is asked Whether such a purchase can be made of the US. in their Western territory? a very great extent of country, North of the Ohio, has been laid off into townships, and is now at market, according to the provisions of the acts of Congress, with which you are acquainted. there is nothing which would restrain the state of Virginia either in the purchase or the application of these lands. but a purchase, by the acre, might perhaps be a more expensive provision than the H. of Representatives contemplated. questions would also arise whether the establishment of such a colony, within our limits, & to become a part of our Union, would be desireable to the state of Virginia itself, or to the other states, especially those who would be in it’s vicinity?

Could we procure lands beyond the limits of the US. to form a receptacle for these people? on our Northern boundary, the country not occupied by British subjects, is the property of Indian nations, whose title would be to be extinguished, with the consent of Great Britain; & the new settlers would be British subjects. it is hardly to be believed that either Great Britain or the Indian proprietors have so disinterested a regard for us as to be willing to relieve us by recieving such a colony themselves; and as much to be doubted whether that race of men could long exist in so rigorous a climate. on our Western & Southern frontiers, Spain holds an immense country; the occupancy of which however is in the Indian nations; except a few insulated spots possessed by Spanish subjects. it is very questionable indeed Whether the Indians would sell? whether Spain would be willing to recieve these people? and nearly certain that she would not alienate the sovereignty. the same question to ourselves would recur here also, as did in the first case: should we be willing to have such a colony in contact with us? however our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, & cover the whole Northern, if not the Southern continent with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, & by similar laws: nor can we contemplate, with satisfaction, either blot or mixture on that surface.   Spain, France, and Portugal hold possessions on the Southern continent, as to which I am not well enough informed to say how far they might meet our views. but either there, or in the Northern continent, should the constituted authorities of Virginia fix their attention, of preference, I will have the dispositions of those powers sounded in the first instance.

The West Indies offer a more probable & practicable retreat for them. inhabited already by a people of their own race & colour; climates congenial with their natural constitution; insulated from the other descriptions of men; Nature seems to have formed these islands to become the receptacle of the blacks transplanted into this hemisphere. whether we could obtain from the European sovereigns of those islands leave to send thither the persons under contemplation, I cannot say: but I think it more probable than the former propositions, because of their being already inhabited more or less by the same race. the most promising portion of them is the island of St. Domingo, where the blacks are established into a sovereignty de facto, & have organised themselves under regular laws & government. I should conjecture that their present ruler might be willing, on many considerations, to recieve even that description which would be exiled for acts deemed criminal by us, but meritorious perhaps by him. the possibility that these exiles might stimulate & conduct vindictive or predatory descents on our coasts, & facilitate concert with their brethren remaining here, looks to a state of things between that island & us1 not probable on a contemplation of our relative strength, and of the disproportion daily growing: and it is over-weighed by the humanity of the measures proposed, & the advantages of disembarrassing ourselves of such dangerous characters.   Africa would offer a last & undoubted resort, if all others more desireable should fail us. Whenever the legislature of Virginia shall have brought it’s mind to a point, so that I may know exactly what to propose to foreign authorities, I will execute their wishes with fidelity & zeal. I hope however they will pardon me for suggesting a single question for their own consideration. when we contemplate the variety of countries & of sovereigns towards which we may direct our views, the vast revolutions & changes of circumstance which are now in a course of progression, the possibilities that arrangements now to be made with a view to any particular place may, at no great distance of time, be totally deranged by a change of sovereignty, of government, or of other circumstances, it will be for the legislature to consider Whether, after they shall have made all those general provisions which may be fixed by legislative authority, it would be reposing too much confidence in their executive to leave the place of relegation to be decided on by him, & executed with the aid of the Federal executive? these could accomodate2 their arrangements to the actual state of things, in which countries or powers may be found to exist at the day; and may prevent the effect of the law from being defeated by intervening changes. this however is for them to decide. our duty will be to respect their decision.”

From Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 24 November 1801,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-35-02-0550. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 35, 1 August–30 November 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008, pp. 718–722.]

December 7, 1801 | Monroe addressed the Virginia legislature regarding a location outside Virginia where insurgents could be transported.

“On 7 Dec., in his message on the opening of the legislative session, Monroe stated that in “a future and early communication” he would send the General Assembly his correspondence with TJ pursuant to the assembly’s resolution of 31 Dec. 1800, the intent of which was to find a location outside the limits of Virginia “whither persons obnoxious to the laws or dangerous to the peace of society” could be transported.”

NOTE: See footnotes to: “To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 21 December 1801,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-36-02-0104. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 36, 1 December 1801–3 March 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 185–187.]

December 8, 1801 | Monroe suggested changes to Jefferson’s response to the legislature to accommodate the &quotjealousy and suspicion with some holding slaves&quot.

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 8 December 1801,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-36-02-0042. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 36, 1 December 1801–3 March 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, p. 76.]

December 21, 1801 | Monroe informed Jefferson that on the following day, the Virginia legislature would consider the transportation of insurgents behind closed doors.

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 21 December 1801,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-36-02-0104. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 36, 1 December 1801–3 March 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 185–187.]

December 21, 1801 | Monroe sent his correspondence with Jefferson on the subject of transporting insurgents to the Virginia Speaker of the House.

“I have the pleasure to communicate to the General Assembly a copy of my correspondence with the President of the United States, in compliance with the resolution of the 31st of December last, relative to the purchase
of lands without the limits of the State, to which persons obnoxious to its laws or dangerous to the peace of society may be removed. As it was known that the United States had lands for sale in the territory lying between the Ohio and the Mississippi, a proposition to make the acquisition by purchase conveyed the idea of a preference for a tract in that quarter; but as such preference was not declared, and a liberal construction of the resolution admitted a greater scope, I thought it my duty to open the subject in that light to the President. His reply has stated fully and ably the objections which occur to such an establishment within the limits of the United States. He also presents to view all the other places on this continent, and elsewhere, which furnish alternatives, with the advantages and disadvantages attending each; and assures us of the promptitude and zeal with which he will co-operate in carrying into effect whatever plan the Legislature may adopt in reference to the object contemplated. It remains, therefore, for the General Assembly to explain more fully the description of persons who are to be thus transported, and the place to which it is disposed to give the preference. As soon as its sense is declared on those points, I shall hasten to communicate the same to the President, and shall not fail to lay the result before you at your next session. It is proper to add, that it is the wish of the President that the communication beconsidered as confidential.

I am, sir, with great respect and esteem, your very humble servant,
JAS. MONROE.

American State Papers, Misc., Vol. I 1834, p. 466. Courtesy the Hathi Trust.

January 16, 1802 | Virginia lawmakers resolved that Governor Monroe should correspond with President Jefferson regarding the procurement of lands to be used to resettle the conspirators in Gabriel’s insurrection of 1800. &quotin procuring the lands, to prefer the continent of Africa, or any of the Spanish or Portugal settlements in South America&quot.

In the House of Delegates, Saturday, January 16, 1802

The Legislature of this commonwealth, by their resolution- of December last, having authorized the Governor to correspond with the President of the United States relative to the purchase of lands without the limits of this State, to which persons obnoxious to the laws or dangerous to the peace of society might be removed, from which general expressions a difference of construction has prevailed; to reconcile which, recourse must be had to the actual state of things which produced the resolution: therefore,
     Resolved, That as the resolution was not intended to embrace offenders for ordinary crimes, to which the laws have been found equal, but only those for conspiracy, insurgency, treason, and rebellion, among those particular persons who produced the alarm in this State in the fall of 1800, the Governor be requested, in carrying the said resolution into effect upon the construction here given, to request of the President of the United States, in procuring the lands, to prefer the continent of Africa, or any of the Spanish or Portugal settlements in South America.
     Resolved, also, That the Governor be requested to correspond with the President of the United States, for the purpose of obtaining a place, without the limits of the same, to which free negroes or mulattoes, and such negroes or mnlattoes as may be emancipated, may be sent, or choose to remove as a place of asylum; and that it is not the wish of the Legislature to obtain, on behalf of those who may remove or be sent thither, the sovereignty of such place.
     Resolved, also, That the Governor lay before the next General Assembly the result of his communications, to be subject to their control.

American State Papers, Miscellaneous, Vol. I, Washington, Gales and Seaton, 1834, page 466. Courtesy, The Hathi Trust.

 

January 22, 1802 | Joseph Anthony presented an emancipation plan and acknowledged that President Jefferson recognized the need to end slavery but could not do more than his fellow citizens would allow, &quotI know thou art one of those who are deeply impressed with our unfortunate situation in relation to slavery&quot.

We once felt the yoke of oppression ourselves, we saw that freedom was good and we determined to possess it. we asserted our rights, we established our principles and we enforced our demands, in short we were free to make laws for ourselves & to regulate our own concerns in a way that suited us this was perhaps the first oppertunity we had of applyin a remedy for the cure of one of the greatest of our internal defects, that of domestic Slavery; It might have been happier for us if we could have laid the Ax to the root of the tree at this period thou was among the number of those who saw it at the time but thou embraced all that was then fit to be embraced for the most enlightened Philosopher although he may see and lament yet he cannot act, or put in motion more than there is a concurent disposition in his fellows to receive & forward Considering the matter in this way perhaps it is right to conclude that all was done towards it that could be done & that we attained all at that time which was within our power to attain & for it let us claim all the congratulation due to an enlightened & growing people advancing as I trust and am willing to believe to that state of perfection, which earthly beings are qualefied to attain, yet we might have done more by this time than we have. Virtue has not kept pace with knowledge (at least in the bulk of the nation) or we might have approached nearer to such a state than we have, one among the complaints against Great Brittain brought forward as an excuse for withdrawing our affections from our Mother country was that they imposed Slaves upon us contrary to our will it was certainly a good reason for asserting the right of judgeing and acting for ourselves, but how have we acted? we established our right of Self Government but the law of our Strength we made the measure of our justice in as much as we refused to dispence that to men in a station below us which we claimed for ourselves from men (who said they were) above us—Happy Country! its a charming sound charming indeed! and superlatively blessd must be that people who are tenants of a place deserving of the title but might we not have deserved it by this time if we had at the time of obtaining our countries emancepation from the Yoke of foreign oppression laid the foundation upon which to build up an entire free people and gradually to have done away an evil of so great a magnitude as that of domestic Slavery. If we might not have deserved it by this time convinced, I am, that we might at least have had a much better prospect for it. Compare such a situation as might have been ours ere now, with a state of continual uneasiness under oppression on one hand and apprehensions for Safety on the other and let this urge us though late to begin the Work, for delay can only make things worse and put the remedy farther out of our power—as for the work of emancepation itself—it has been begun the natural force of things will impel it forward and it is not in the power of Human contrivance to prevent it—perhaps it goes on as fast as it ought; but a disposition should be cherished to receive it by the white people upon this score it appears to me we are greatly behind hand. for bare emancipation from a particular master is not all, they must have a prospect of other previledges also, a bare discharge from the Yoke and to be like oxen, driven away from their masters crib to roam the barren Heath for food will not do—the laws must relax a little for amendment of their condition they must at least enjoy a prospect of arriveing at some future day to a better destiny, but how is their condition to be amended without risqueing the peace of Society? this is the common enquiry even among those who are willing to admit the equity of their claim the thing is desireable but how is it to be come at—Upon this subject let me hazard a few Suggestions in the first place we say are the Africans to be doomed to perpetual Bondage or are they to be free and we answer without hesitation—they are to be unquestionably free. in the next we enquire what is to become of them must they be driven out like wild beasts to roam in the wilderness without food and without raiment to cover them from the Cold? although perhaps the prime of their days have been spent in labouring for another whose board is now covered with the fruits of his earning & whose body is now warm from the Flocks of his feeding. afflicted christianity recoils at the Idea—Well, must they remain among us and be incorporated with the Whites so as to become a motley multitude of dissonant figures. Pride and deep rooted prejudices, says, no, I forbid it. the only alternative then which is left us, is that a place must be provided to send them to where they may have a Government of their choice and consequently laws of their own makeing—laws of their own makeing because those laws which a people enact for themselves are generally best obeyed—the most respected the best understood and therefore the best adapted to their Capacities and inclinations all these things are necessary to a Well Ordered Society of any people let their condition in other respects be what it may.

I know thou art one of those who are deeply impressed with our unfortunate situation in relation to slavery not merely as it regards the poor oppressed African but as it regards also the Welfare, nay, the verry existance of order and happiness in some of the States consider what would have been our situation had thou not been elected president.

To Thomas Jefferson from Joseph Anthony, 22 January 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-36-02-0260. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 36, 1 December 1801–3 March 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 409–414.]

 

January 29, 1802 | After Gabriel’s insurgence during which slaves traversed waterways to communicate, the Virginia legislature enacted laws regarding slaves aboard vessels and the purchase of commodities from slaves on the Sabbath.
February 13, 1802 | Monroe clarified the details of the request of the legislature for deporting convicted slaves and asked Jefferson to promote their views noting that they were &quotfounded in a policy equally wise and humane, with respect to ourselves, and the people who are the object of it&quot.

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 13 February 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-36-02-0379. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 36, 1 December 1801–3 March 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 576–577.]

 

February 15, 1802 | David Lummis wrote President Jefferson recognizing that slavery is a national misfortune that should be abolished and advising resettlement in the West Indies in his proposed emancipation plan.

To Thomas Jefferson from David Lummis, 15 February 1802,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-36-02-0385. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 36, 1 December 1801–3 March 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 582–586.]

March 20, 1802 | Noting the danger of rebellions spreading from the West Indies, Tench Coxe submitted to President Jefferson that the &quotmilitia, the naturalization rule, the cotton business, and every other topic, which can be made to subserve the great end of checking, counterbalancing, and diffusing the blacks, should be wisely, humanely, and promptly resorted to&quot.

To Thomas Jefferson from Tench Coxe, 20 March 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-37-02-0071. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 37, 4 March–30 June 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 92–93.]

 

March 31, 1802 | Jefferson explained to Monroe, &quotI have not written to you on the resolutions of the assembly respecting slaves, because it does not press, and the issue of the affairs of St. Domingo may influence the question. I would rather too refer it till we can have a conversation and concur in the tract to be pursued&quot.

From Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 31 March 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-37-02-0127. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 37, 4 March–30 June 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 153–154.]

April, 1802 | Norfolk Virginia faced a new slave insurrection.

See footnotes:

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 3 November 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-38-02-0565. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 38, 1 July–12 November 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 632–634.]

April 25, 1802 | Monroe informed Jefferson of another slave rebellion in Norfolk, Virginia.

“I returned on friday from Albemarle without having accomplished the object of my trip by the sale of my land above Charlottesville. In my absence an alarm took place at Norfolk relative to the negroes, wh. was felt here, but which seems to have little foundation for it. Such is the state of things that it is hasardous for me, in regard to the publick opinion, to be absent from this place at any time.

 

The ALARM IN NORFOLK was sparked by reports of an alleged slave conspiracy to burn the city on the Monday after Easter. The episode was part of a broader insurrection panic that swept much of Virginia in 1802, resulting in the arrest, trial, and conviction of slaves in a number of urban and rural locales. In the Norfolk case, two slaves, Jerry (Jeremiah) and Ned, were convicted on the questionable testimony of another slave and sentenced to death. Unconvinced of their guilt, Monroe granted them a temporary reprieve and succeeded in having Ned’s sentence mitigated to sale and transportation. Acquiescing to the demands of Norfolk mayor John Cowper, however, Monroe allowed Jerry to be executed (Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South [New York, 1982], 426–34; Ammon, Monroe, 199–201; Monroe, Writings, 3:346–7, 350–1; CVSP, 9:263–304).”

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 25 April 1802,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-37-02-0265. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 37, 4 March–30 June 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 335–337.]

May 7, 1802 | Henry Dearborn asked that the arms stored in New London be moved and guarded following rumors of slave insurrections in the vicinity.

“To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Dearborn, 7 May 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-37-02-0344. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 37, 4 March–30 June 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, p. 426.]

May 17, 1802 | Monroe cautioned Jefferson that the slave conspiracy trials in several parts of the state and growing applications for pardon made a decision regarding resettlement locations and methods imperative.

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 17 May 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-37-02-0379. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 37, 4 March–30 June 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 468–469.]

June 3, 1802 | Jefferson confirmed that the Virginia legislature preferred a site in Africa or South America to resettle rather than execute slave insurgents. He recommended Sierra Leone where slaves could only be sent as free persons.

I observe that the resolution of the legislature of Virginia, of Jan. 23. in desiring us to look out for some proper place to which insurgent negroes may be sent, expresses a preference of the continent of Africa, or some of the Spanish or Portuguese settlements in S. America: in which preference, & especially as to the former I entirely concur. on looking towards Africa for our object, the British establishment at Sierra Leone at once presents itself. you know that that establishment was undertaken by a private company, & was first suggested by the suffering state of the blacks who were carried over to England during the revolutionary war, and who were perishing with want & misery in the streets of London. a number of benevolent persons subscribed for the establishment of a company who might carry these people to the coast of Africa, & there employ them usefully for themselves, and indemnify the company by commercial operations: Sierra Leone was fixed on as the place; the blacks then in England were carried thither, and a vessel or vessels sent to Nova Scotia which carried to the same place the blacks who had gone to that country. the settlement is consequently composed of negroes, formerly inhabitants of the Southern states of our union. having asked a conversation on this subject with mr Thornton, the British Chargé des affaires here, he informs me the establishment is prosperous, and he thinks there will be no objection on the part of the company to recieve blacks from us, not of the character of common felons, but guilty of insurgency only, provided they are sent as free persons, the principles of their institution admitting no slavery among them. I propose therefore, if it meets your approbation, to write to mr King our minister in London to propose this matter to the Sierra Leone company who are resident in London; and if leave can be obtained to send black insurgents there, to enquire further whether the regulations of the place would permit us to carry or take there any mercantile objects which, by affording some commercial profit might defray the expences of the transportation. as soon as I can be favoured with your sentiments on this proposition & your approbation of it, I will write to mr King that we may have the matter finally arranged. should any mercantile operation be permitted to be combined with the transportation of these persons, so as to lessen or to pay the expence, it might then become eligible to make that the asylum for the other description also, to wit the freed negroes and persons of colour. if not permitted, so distant a colonisation of them would perhaps be thought too expensive. but while we are ascertaining this point we may be making enquiry what other suitable places may be found in the West Indies, or the Southern continent of America, so as to have some other resource provided, if the one most desireable should be unattainable. in looking out for another place we should prefer placing them with whatsoever power is least likely to become an enemy, and to use the knolege of these exiles in1 predatory expeditions against us. Portugal, and Holland would be of this character. but I wish to have your sentiments on both branches of the subject before I commit it by any actual step. Accept assurances of my affectionate and high esteem & respect.

 

ADMITTING NO SLAVERY AMONG THEM: prominent British abolitionists including Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce initiated the incorporation of the Sierra Leone Company in 1791. The act of Parliament that incorporated the company prohibited any connection to the slave trade or slavery “in any manner whatever” (An Account of the Colony of Sierra Leone, from its First Establishment in 1793 [London, 1795], 5; James W. St. G. Walker, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783–1870 [New York, 1976], 101–2).

From Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 3 June 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-37-02-0430. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 37, 4 March–30 June 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 531–533.]

June 11, 1802 | Monroe conveyed to Jefferson that it was not the Virginia legislature’s intention to free and thus reward the insurgent slaves by sending them to Sierra Leone (where they would be free upon landing).

“By the information of mr. Thornton the British Chargé des affaires which you have been so kind as to communicate, it appears that Slavery is prohibited in that Settlement [Sierra Leone], hence it follows that we cannot expect permission to send any who are not free to it. In directing [by Jefferson] our attention to Africa for an assylum for insurgents, it is strongly implied that the legislature intended they should be free when landed there, as it is not known that there exists any market on that coast for the purchase of Slaves from other Countries. Still I am persuaded that such was not the intention of the legislature, as it would put culprits in a better condition than the deserving part of those people. This opinion is further supported by a law still in force, which authorizes the Executive to sell, subject to transportation, all Slaves who are guilty of that Crime. I submit this idea to your consideration, not with a view to prevent your application to the Company for its assent to the Settlement of insurgents within its limits, but as a motive, in case you concur with me in the above construction of the resolution, why you should more particularly seek an establishment for them in the Portuguese, Dutch or Spanish Settlements in America. In obtaining permission to send our Negroes to that Settlement we may avail ourselves of it, on the principles of the company, as far as it suits our interest and policy. If the legislature intends that insurgents shall enjoy their liberty on landing there, the accommodation would be general; but if they are excluded & the door is opened on favorable conditions to such only as are or may hereafter become free, it will nevertheless be important, as it will give the legislature an opportunity to deliberate on, and perhaps provide a remedy for an evil which has already become a serious one.”

Editors’ notes: “a Virginia act approved 15 Jan. 1801, in the aftermath of the aborted slave insurrection of the previous year, empowered the governor and council, “when it shall be deemed expedient, to contract and agree with any person, or persons, for the sale and purchase of all those slaves who now are or hereafter may be under sentence of death, for conspiracy, insurrection, or other crimes.” The purchaser of a slave under the terms of the law was to give bond to guarantee that the slave would be transported out of the United States. Nothing in the act anticipated any change in the convicted person’s status as a slave. If a person removed from Virginia under the act should ever return to the state, “he shall be apprehended and executed under the condemnation of the court, as if no reprieve had taken place” (Acts Passed at a General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond, on Monday the First Day of December One Thousand Eight Hundred [Richmond, 1801], 24; Vol. 32:145n). “

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 11 June 1802,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-37-02-0474. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 37, 4 March–30 June 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 588–589.]

July 13, 1802 | As authorized by the Virginia legislature, Jefferson inquired about asylum in Sierre Leone from the British for slave insurgents, expressing his regret that the laws had not provided for a milder alternative. He noted that Virginia law obliged that they be treated as criminals although the insurgents only wanted their freedom &quottheir feelings may represent in a far different shape&quot.

To the U. S. Minister to Great Britain (Rufus King)

Washington

July 13, 1802

Dear Sir,

—The course of things in the neighbouring islands of the West Indies appears to have given a considerable impulse to the minds of the slaves in different parts of the U. S. A great disposition to insurgency has manifested itself among them, which, in one instance, in the state of Virginia, broke out into actual insurrection. This was easily suppressed: but many of those concerned, (between 20. and 30. I believe) fell victims to the law. So extensive an execution could not but excite sensibility in the public mind, and beget a regret that the laws had not provided, for such cases, some alternative, combining more mildness with equal efficacy. The legislature of the state, at a subsequent meeting, took the subject into consideration, and have communicated to me through the governor of the state, their wish that some place could be provided, out of the limits of the U. S. to which slaves guilty of insurgency might be transported; and they have particularly looked to Africa as offering the most desirable receptacle. We might for this purpose, enter into negociations with the natives, on some part of the coast, to obtain a settlement, and, by establishing an African company, combine with it commercial operations, which might not only reimburse expenses but procure profit also. But there being already such an establishment on that coast by the English Sierre Leone Company, made for the express purpose of colonizing civilized blacks to that country, it would seem better, by incorporating our emigrants with theirs, to make one strong rather than two weak colonies. This would be the more desirable because the blacks settled at Sierre Leone, having chiefly gone from these states would often receive among those we should send, their acquaintances and relations. The object of this letter, therefore, is to ask the favor of you to enter into conference with such persons private and public as would be necessary to give us [385] permission to send thither the persons under contemplation. It is material to observe that they are not felons, or common malefactors, but persons guilty of what the safety of society, under actual circumstances, obliges us to treat as a crime, but which their feelings may represent in a far different shape. They are such as will be a valuable acquisition to the settlement already existing there, and well calculated to cooperate in the plan of civilization.

As the expense of so distant a transportation would be very heavy, and might weigh unfavorable in deciding between the modes of punishment, it is very desirable that it should be lessened as much as is practicable. If the regulations of the place would permit these emigrants to dispose of themselves, as the Germans and others do who come to this country poor, by giving their labor for a certain term to some one who will pay their passage; and if the master of the vessel could be permitted to carry articles of commerce from this country and take back others from that which might yield him a mercantile profit sufficient to cover the expenses of the voyage, a serious difficulty would be removed. I will ask your attention therefore to arrangements necessary for this purpose.

The consequences of permitting emancipations to become extensive, unless a condition of emigration be annexed to them, furnish also matter of solicitude to the legislature of Virginia, as you will perceive by their resolution inclosed to you. Although provision for the settlement of emancipated negroes might perhaps be obtainable nearer home than Africa, yet it is desirable that we should be free to expatriate this description of people also to the colony of Sierre Leone, if considerations respecting either themselves or us should render it more expedient. I pray you therefore to get the same commission extended to the reception of these as well as those first mentioned. Nor will there be a selection of bad subjects; the emancipations for the most part being either of the whole slaves of the master, or of such individuals as have particularly deserved well. The latter is most frequent.

The request of the legislature of Virginia having produced to me this occasion of addressing you, I avail myself of it to assure you of my perfect satisfaction with the manner in which you have conducted the several matters confided to you by us; and to express my hope that through your agency we may be able to remove every thing inauspicious to a cordial friendship between this country & the one in which you are stationed: a friendship dictated by too many considerations not to be felt by the wise & the dispassionate of both nations. it is therefore with the sincerest pleasure I have observed on the part of the British government various manifestations of just and friendly disposition towards us. we wish to cultivate peace & friendship with all nations, believing that course most conducive to the welfare of our own. it is natural that these friendships should bear some proportion to the common interests of the parties. the interesting relations between Great Britain and the US. are certainly of the first order; & as such are estimated, & will be faithfully cultivated by us. these sentiments have been communicated to you from time to time in the official correspondence of the Secretary of state: but I have thought it might not be unacceptable to be assured that they perfectly concur with my own personal convictions, both in relation to yourself and the country in which you are. I pray you to accept assurances of my high consideration & respect.

From Thomas Jefferson to Rufus King, 13 July 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-38-02-0052. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 38, 1 July–12 November 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 54–57.]

 

August 31, 1802 | Monroe presumed that Rufus King had sounded out the Royal Africa Company regarding transporting insurgent slaves to Sierra Leone.

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 31 August 1802,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-38-02-0287. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 38, 1 July–12 November 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 325–326.]

September 2, 1802 | Jefferson expressed to Monroe the hope that Rufus King’s answer regarding a safe-haven for insurgents in Sierra Leone would arrive in time for the next session of the Virginia legislature.

I have written to mr King on the subject of our blacks, and hope to have his answer in time to communicate to you for the next session of the legislature: but will certainly send you a copy of my letter. As I shall not leave this for three weeks yet, I shall certainly see you here, and converse more fully on the subjects of this letter. Accept my friendly and respectful salutations.

From Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 2 September 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-38-02-0297. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 38, 1 July–12 November 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 336–338.]

October 10, 1802 | In Rufus King’s absence, Christopher Gore commented on Jefferson’s &quotwise, and humane plan…of opening a path for the emancipation of the Blacks, on such terms, as may prove beneficial to themselves, & not injurious to others&quot but explained British reticence regarding their resettlement in Sierra Leone.

To Thomas Jefferson from Christopher Gore, 10 October 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-38-02-0434. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 38, 1 July–12 November 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 473–476.]

November 24, 1802 | Jefferson asked that Rufus King’s response to resettling the participants in Gabriels Rebellion be communicated as soon as received. He noted that the rebellions in the French West Indies precluded resettlement there.

From Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 24 November 1802,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-39-02-0057. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 39, 13 November 1802–3 March 1803, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 67–68.]

May 12, 1803 | Rufus King informed Jefferson that the British Sierra Leone Company denied permission to receive the insurgent slaves.

“I have not been able to obtain the consent of the Sierra Leone Company to receive the Slaves which the State of Virginia might be willing to send to that settlement. My Correspondence on this Subject has been closed by a Letter from the Chairman Mr. Thornton which states that the Company are in Treaty with Government to receive the Colony under its exclusive control.

The fact I understand to be that the Negroes who have been sent thither are so refractory and ungovernable, and the expense and trouble of maintaining the settlement so great, that the Company have determined to abandon their plan, and the application to Government is with the view of disembarrassing themselves of the Settlement.”

To Thomas Jefferson from Rufus King, 12 May 1803,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-40-02-0271. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 40, 4 March–10 July 1803, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013, pp. 363–364.]

January 1, 1804 | After 13 years, Haiti became the first independent black republic through a bloody process, increasing fears of an American slave rebellion and strengthening arguments for colonization rather than local settlement of the slaves.

Kona Shen, Brown University, The History of Haiti, 1492-1805.

July 23, 1804 | Jefferson purchased a slave, John, who would work for eleven years and then receive his freedom.

“Bill of Sale Recorded in Liber V. No. 21 folio 30 One of the Land Records of Washington County in the District of Columbia—

Wherein the said William Baker sells to the said Thomas Jefferson for the consideration of four hundred dollars a negro man named John for and during the term of Eleven years from the date of the said Bill of Sale, which date is the [twenty] third day of July 1804. which said Bill of Sale is acknowledged before John Oakley a Justice of the Peace—

At the bottom of which Bill of Sale is the following—

This is to certify and declare that this paper contains true Copies of two deeds, the Originals of which are in my possession which deeds are hereby assented to ratified and Confirmed, and the said negro man John therein named is hereby declared to be entitled to his freedom on the 22nd day of July which shall be in the year One thousand eight hundred and fifteen given under my hand this 6th day of October 1804—

Th: Jefferson

Witness

William A. Burwell

District of Columbia County of Washington SC

I hereby certify that the within extract of a Bill of sale from Wm. Baker to Thomas Jefferson is correctly taken from the Land Record within mentioned, and, that the certificate signed Thomas Jefferson is correctly taken from the said Record—and I further certify, that the Bearer here of John a black man about forty six years of age five feet seven inches high, straight and well made, with two small scars on his forehead, no other perceivable marks or scars, very pleasing countenance, has been proved to me by John H. Baker to be the same man mentioned in the within extract and Certificate—

In Testimony whereof I hereto Subscribe my name and affix the seal of the Circuit Court of the District and County aforesaid this 22d. day of October 1827.—”

Certificate of Sale and Manumission of John Freeman, 23 July 1804,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-0131. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

September 18, 1804 | William Claiborne notified Jefferson of the threat of slave insurrection in New York.

To Thomas Jefferson from William C. C. Claiborne, 18 September 1804,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-0378. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

September 21, 1804 | Claiborne enclosed to Jefferson’s Secretary of Sate, James Madison, a petition testifying to the 16 September 1804 discovery of an insurrection among the slaves.

“To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne, 21 September 1804 (Abstract),” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-08-02-0073. [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 8, 1 September 1804 – 31 January 1805 and supplement 1776 – 23 June 1804, ed. Mary A. Hackett, J. C. A. Stagg, Mary Parke Johnson, Anne Mandeville Colony, Angela Kreider, Jeanne Kerr Cross, and Wendy Ellen Perry. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007, p. 76″

November 25, 1804 | Louisiana Territorial Governor William C. C. Claiborne lamented to President Jefferson that he was unable to stop the slave trade without the authority of law.

Of those Offices, which I cou’d safely confide to Citizens indiscriminately, much the greater portion, has been conferr’d on French Men, or Native Louisianians. The late Admission of foreign Negroes has also been a Subject of Complaint against me.—

The Searcher of all Hearts, knows, how little I desire, to see another of that wretched race, set his foot on the Shores of America! how, from my Heart, I detest the Rapacity, that wou’d transport them to us!—but on this point, the People here have United as one Man!—there seem’d to be but one sentiment throughout the Province—they must import more Slaves, or the Country was ruin’d for ever.—the most respectable Characters, cou’d not, even in my presence, suppress the Agitation of their Tempers, when a check to that Trade, was suggested!—Under such Circumstances, it was not for me; without the Authority of previous Law, or the Instructions of my Government to prohibit the Importation of Slaves.—To give security to the Province, and Quietude to the Citizens, I gave Orders for the exclusion of St. Domingo Negroes, and that took every precautionary measure to enforce them; but I entertain’d little hopes of success.—Nothing but a general Exclusion, cou’d have counteracted the Evasions and frauds that were sometimes practis’d, by West India Slave Traders.—

To Thomas Jefferson from William C. C. Claiborne, 25 November 1804,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

November 26, 1804 | James Oldham informed Jefferson that Gabriel Lilly had punished James Hemings (Critta Hemings' son) with utmost barbarity that nearly killed him.

“The Barbarity that he maid use of with Little Jimmy was the moast cruel. to my noledge Jimmy was sick for thre nights and the moast part of the time I raly thot he would not of Livd, he at this time slepd in the room with me, I informd Lilly the boy was not able to worke and Begd him not to punnish him, but this had no affect he whipd him three times in one day, and the boy was raly not able to raise his hand to his Head?”

To Thomas Jefferson from James Oldham, 26 November 1804,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-0722. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final

 

December 2, 1804 | Without referring to race, and indicating that the rebellious slaves should be afforded the protection of the law, Jefferson advised Governor Claiborne that &quotif particular individuals continue to endeavor to excite insurrection with you, the energies of the law must lay hold of them&quot.

From Thomas Jefferson to William C. C. Claiborne, 2 December 1804,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

December 3, 1804 | The Virginia General Assembly resolved that their United States Senators and Representatives be instructed to obtain from the Government, &quot a competent portion of territory, in the country of Louisiana, to be appropriated to the residence of such people of color as have been or shall be emancipated in Virginia, or may hereafter become dangerous to the public safety&quot.

“Resolved, That the Senators of this State in the Congress of the United States be instructed and the Representatives be requested, to exert their best efforts for the obtaining from the General Government a competent portion of territory in the country of Louisiana, to be appropriated to the residence of such people of color as have been, or sall be, emancipated or may herafter become dangerous to the public safety,”

American State Papers, Miscellaneous, Vol. I, Washington, Gales and Seaton, 1834, page 466. Courtesy, The Hathi Trust.

January 15, 1805 | Jefferson advised Thomas Paine that meddling in St. Domingo might offend any of the parties involved, including our French allies, our merchants, U.S. citizens and the insurgents seeking freedom.

From Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 15 January 1805,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-1000. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

January 18, 1805 | William Burwell informed Jefferson that bills to prevent the importation of slaves and to prevent their emancipation were being considered by the Virginia legislature. Burwell offered an amendment to provide for emancipation if the person would leave Virginia within 6 months, &quotto prevent the multiplication of that middle Sort. of persons in this Commonwealth, from whom we may expect, to experience the evils of insurrection, carnage, & civil war&quot.

“Two Bills have been before the House this Session, upon the subject of the Slaves; the first to prevent under all circumstances the introduction of Slaves, as well from neighbouring States as the W. Indies, or Africa; This measure is certainly politic unless. one supposes countervailing regulations will be adopted by the States South. & west of Virginia, Because without receiving any addition to the present Stock from abroad, it would be much lessen’d by Sales, emigration &c; It seems to me, there is no reason to apprehend the Salutary operation of this law will be frustrated, until the country to the S. & W. it shall be filld by a number which will render Such policy necessary—The present inconvenience & alarm arises less from the actual number of Black persons compar’d with the Whites, than the unequal distribution of them through the State; while the inhabitants on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge are balanced by an equal number of Blacks. those on the western side stand in a Ratio 10 to 1: If however a supply of Slaves could be obtain’d only from the Eastern side, the present disparity would be constantly disappearing; while the increasing intercourse between those two parts of the State. & Assimilation of Interest would beget an harmony too little felt at present—This Bill I fear will be lost—by some absurd amendment proposed in the Senate—The Second to prevent Emancipation—to that Bill I offerd an Amendment, which appeard to me highly necessary, providing for emancipations as heretofore, if the persons thus liberated leave the State within Six months & besides, that this Amendment reconciled those most averse to interfere—with this Right; I thought it best to make its exercise subservient to the Interest of the community; I am not disposed to check Emtn. because of hostility to that miserable class of beings, but to prevent the multiplication of that middle Sort. of persons in this Commonwealth, from whom we may expect, to experience the evils of insurrection, carnage, & civil war, already have we witnessd the restive temper of these people, from them the Slaves have imbibed the Seeds of disaffection which had well nigh Germinated in 1800—I have said thus much upon this Subject, knowing that with myself you feel acutely, the necessity of adopting some plan which will save Va. from ruin—at present it is vain to propose anything Radical, the avarice of the people is invincible, & their sense of Danger [. . . .] unfortunate for our country this last Bill has been lost, & by a principle of false humanity we suffer to multiply, nay cherish a population which from the nature of things must continue our bitterest foes; already they amount 25000.”

To Thomas Jefferson from William Armistead Burwell, 18 January 1805,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-1011. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

January 28, 1805 | Jefferson was discouraged that emancipation would not come sooner and predicted inevitable defeat by insurgents if the slaves were not freed, &quotI have long since given up the expectation of any early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us&quot.

“I have long since given up the expectation of any early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us. there are many virtuous men who would make any sacrifices to effect it. many equally virtuous who persuade themselves either that the thing is not wrong, or that it cannot be remedied. and very many with whom interest is morality. the older we grow, the larger we are disposed to believe the last party to be. but interest is really going over to the side of morality. the value of the slave is every day lessening; his burthen on his master dayly increasing. interest is therefore preparing the disposition to be just; and this will be goaded from time to time by the insurrectionary spirit of the slaves. this is easily quelled in it’s first efforts; but from being local it will become general, and whenever it does it will rise more formidable after every defeat, until we shall be forced, after dreadful scenes & sufferings to release them in their own way which, without such sufferings we might now model after our own convenience. Accept my affectionate salutations.”

From Thomas Jefferson to William Armistead Burwell, 28 January 1805,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-1057. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]”

 

May 7, 1805 | Thomas Branagan acknowledged Jefferson’s sentiments against slavery and solicited an endorsement for his &quotpreliminary Essay on Slavery&quot.

“It is with great diffidence as it respects myself, and with distinguished deference to you, that I take the liberty to send you a copy of my “preliminary Essay on Slavery;” being well convinced that the subject matter of it, will attract your attention, and perhaps; prove a stimulus to your encouraging the “Tragical Poem” which the inclosed Essay is merely intended as an introduction to…

May heaven bless & prosper you and as you have been may you ever continue to be a pattern to a World of despots and the means of not only keeping the glowing taper of republicanism from being extinguished but fanning it to a flame which will illuminate the benighted minds of the enslaved the wreched the degraded Sons of europe Asia and Africa. While I feel an implacable disgust & sovereign contempt for the villians who rob their fellow Creatures of all that is sacred to them I feel an ardent affection for such Characters as Who by actions as well as words prove friends to the liberties of the people…”

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Branagan, 7 May 1805,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-1689. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

Branagan, Thomas: A Preliminary Essay on the Oppression of the Exiled Sons of Africa Consisting of Animadversions on the Impolicy and Barbarity of the Deleterious Commerce and Subsequent Slavery of the Human Species. John W. Scott, Philadelphia, 1804. Courtesy The Hathi Trust.

May 11, 1805 | Jefferson noted through George Logan that the anti-slavery cause in which Branagan embarked was holy, expressing both pain regarding his silence on the matter and his willingness to act &quot it would be injurious, even to his views, for me to commit myself on paper by answering his letter. I have most carefully avoided every public act or manifestation on that subject. should an occasion ever occur in which I can interpose with decisive effect, I shall certainly know & do my duty with promptitude and zeal&quot.

“I recieved last night a letter from mr Thomas Brannagan 163. S. Waterstreet Philadelphia, asking my subscription to the work announced in the inclosed paper. the cause in which he embarks is so holy, the sentiments he expresses in his letter so friendly that it is highly painful to me to hesitate on a compliance which appears so small. but that is not it’s true character, and it would be injurious, even to his views, for me to commit myself on paper by answering his letter. I have most carefully avoided every public act or manifestation on that subject. should an occasion ever occur in which I can interpose with decisive effect, I shall certainly know & do my duty with promptitude and zeal. but in the mean time it would only be disarming myself of influence to be taking small means. the subscription to a book on this subject is one of those little irritating measures which, without advancing it’s end at all, would, by lessening the confidence & good will of a description of friends composing a large body, only lessen my powers of doing them good in the other great relations in which I stand to the publick. yet I cannot be easy in not answering mr Brannagan’s letter unless he can be made sensible that it is better I should not answer it; & I do not know how to effect this, unless you would have the goodness, the first time you go to Philadelphia, to see him and to enter into an explanation with him. I see with infinite pain the bloody schism which has taken place among our friends in Pensylvania & New York, & will probably take place in other states. the main body of both sections mean well, but their good intentions will produce great public evil. the minority, whichever section shall be the minority, will end in coalition with the federalists, and some compromise of principle; because these will not sell their aid for nothing. republicanism will thus lose, & royalism gain some portion of that ground which we thought we had rescued to good government. I do not express my sense of our misfortunes from any idea that they are remediable. I know that the passions of men will take their course, that they are not to be controuled but by despotism, & that this melancholy truth is the pretext for despotism. the duty of an upright administration is to pursue it’s course steadily, to know nothing of these family dissensions, and to cherish the good principles of both parties. the war ad internecionem which we have waged against federalism has filled our latter times with strife and unhappiness. we have met it, with pain indeed, but with firmness, because we believed it the last convulsive effort of that Hydra which, in earlier times, we had conquered in the field. but if any degeneracy of principle should ever render it necessary to give ascendancy to one of the rising sections over the other, I thank my god it will fall to some other to perform that operation. the only cordial I wish to carry into my retirement is the undivided good will of all those with whom I have acted. present me affectionately to mrs Logan, and accept my salutations & assurances of constant friendship and respect.”

From Thomas Jefferson to George Logan, 11 May 1805,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-1709. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

June 5, 1805 | In looking for a new overseer for Monticello, Jefferson stipulated a humane approach, &quotI love industry & abhor severity&quot.

From Thomas Jefferson to John Strode, 5 June 1805,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-1851. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

July 16, 1805 | James Hemings (Critta's son) is placed under Oldham’s care to avoid further mistreatment by Lilly until Jefferson could be informed. Although happy to serve Jefferson, Hemings did not wish to be subjected to Lilly’s cruelty.

To Thomas Jefferson from James Oldham, 16 July 1805,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-2105. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

 

July 20, 1805 | Jefferson pardoned James Hemings for running away as, &quotthe follies of a boy&quot, paid his stage passage to return, and directed that he be placed with John Hemings during Jefferson’s future absences.

“I am informed that James Hemings my servant has put himself under your superintendance until he can hear from me on the subject of his return. I can readily excuse the follies of a boy and therefore his return shall ensure him an entire pardon. during my absence hereafter I should place him with Johnny Hemings and Lewis at house-joiner’s work. if you will get him a passage in the Richmond stage I will get mr Higginbotham to pay his fare on his arrival at Milton. accept my best wishes”

From Thomas Jefferson to James Oldham, 20 July 1805,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-2119. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

 

July 23, 1805 | James Hemings broke his promise to James Oldham and ran away again.

I am sorry to inform you James Hemings has not acted agreeable to his promis. On Saterday morning Last he ast me to let him go as far as his Unkel Roberts and he would return in fifteen minits, in the corse of one Hour afterwards as he had not retur’d I Stopd over to Robert Hemings and found he had not bin to se him. have not hearn any worde of him more than on Sunday Morning he past thro the Lox in a boat. and I think it very Probabel he has gon on to Linch-burge or bent creek: his being so much affected at the thots of being plaisd in confinment and exposing so grait a desir to return volentaryly Home was the onley inducement to me to befriend him, I surmise but Little good will ever become of him.

To Thomas Jefferson from James Oldham, 23 July 1805,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-2143. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

September 2, 1805 | Secretary of State Madison learned of an attempted slave insurrection in New Orleans.

To James Madison from John Graham, 2 September 1805 (Abstract),” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-10-02-0261. [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 10, 1 July 1805–31 December 1805, ed. Mary A. Hackett, J. C. A. Stagg, Mary Parke Johnson, Anne Mandeville Colony, and Katherine E. Harbury. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014, p. 277.]

September 9, 1805 | Madison was notified that the people of New Orleans were alarmed by the planned insurrection and required a military force.

To James Madison from John Graham, 9 September 1805,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-10-02-0290. [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 10, 1 July 1805–31 December 1805, ed. Mary A. Hackett, J. C. A. Stagg, Mary Parke Johnson, Anne Mandeville Colony, and Katherine E. Harbury. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014, pp. 311–312.]

November 17, 1805 | Thomas Branagan sent Jefferson a copy of his anti-slavery work, Avenia, or, A tragical poem, on the oppression of the human species; and infringement on the rights of man.

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Branagan, 17 November 1805,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-2653. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

Branagan, Thomas: Avenia, or, A tragical poem, on the oppression of the human species; and infringement on the rights of man. In five books. With notes explanatory and miscellaneous. Written in imitation of Homer’s Iliad. J. Cline, Philadelphia. Courtesy The Hathi Trust

July 5, 1806 | William Claiborne suggested the maintenance of a regular force in New Orleans to &quotguard against insurrections on the part of that unfortunate Race of Men&quot.

To Thomas Jefferson from William C. C. Claiborne, 5 July 1806,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-3959. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

December 2, 1806 | Jefferson’s second inaugural address urged Congress to end the slave trade although the Constitution did not allow the passage of a law prohibiting the trade until 1808, &quotI congratulate you, fellow Citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority Constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights, which have been so long continued on the unoffending Inhabitants of Africa&quot.

Second Inaugural Address:

“I congratulate you, fellow Citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority Constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights, which have been so long continued on the unoffending Inhabitants of Africa, & which the morality, the reputation, & the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe. Although no law you may pass can take prohibitory effect till the first day of the year one thousand eight hundred & eight, yet the intervening period is not too long to prevent, by timely notice, expeditions which cannot be compleated before that day.”
From Thomas Jefferson to United States Congress, 2 December 1806,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-4616. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

See also: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-4615

March 2, 1807 | In his last official act regarding slavery, Thomas Jefferson signed the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves into law. It took effect on January 1, 1808.
April 9, 1807 | Lydia Broadnax, the freed slave of Jefferson’s deceased friend, George Wythe, sent a plea for financial assistance,

“I beg leave to trouble you with these lines, hoping you will lay such favorable constructions as the nature of my distressed situation shall appear & at present require.

You must know Sir, that since the death of my dear old Master (Judge Wythe) I have, already labored under many tedious difficulties, and what is more unfortunate my eyesight has almost failed me, I believe it is owing to the dreadful complaint the whole family was afflicted with at the decease of my poor Master—supposed to be the effect of poison.—It is true I have a tolerable & comfortable house to live in, but being almost intirely deprived of my eyesight, together with old age and infirmness of health I find it extremely difficult in procuring merely the daily necessaries of life—and without some assistance I am fearful I shall sink under the burden. This being my situation I am compelled to resort to this crisis from the old and intimate acquaintance, and Knowing your benevolence do now appeal to you for some charitable aid, which I have no doubt your generous hands will not refuse when considering my embarrassed circumstances—and be well assured that nothing but this, and this alone sires me with fortitude to make my supplications Known to you. If this should meet your approbation—and such charity as you shall think proper to bestow to me, you will please inclose in a letter directed to me by the Mail to [me] at this City—and the favor will ever be remembered by Your Obt. & humble Servant”

To Thomas Jefferson from Lydia Broadnax, 9 April 1807,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-5430. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

 

 

April 18, 1807 | Immediately upon receiving Ms. Broadnax’s plea for financial assistance, Jefferson instructed his cousin, George Jefferson to send $50. George Wythe, Jefferson’s mentor and friend freed Lydia in 1787 and she remained his cook until he was poisoned in 1806 by his grand nephew.

“I have recieved a letter from Lydia Broadnax, the freed woman of my deceased friend mr Wythe, stating that she is in considerable embarrasment for the daily necessaries of life, & asking some charity. I cannot from hence make any remittance, but will thank you to inform her that you are authorised to pay her 50. D. out of the monies you are to recieve for me.”

From Thomas Jefferson to George Jefferson, 18 April 1807,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-5474. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

Between 1806 and 1822 | &quotNo servants ever had a kinder master than Mr. Jefferson’s. He did not like slavery…He thought it a bad system&quot.–Captain Edmund Bacon, Jefferson’s overseer

–Pierson, Rev. Hamilton W., Jefferson at Monticello. From entirely new materials, Scribner, New York, 1862 page 111.

Between 1806 and 1822 | Jefferson, &quotcould not bear to have a servant whipped&quot. Edmund Bacon described how Jefferson’s kind discipline changed the life of Jim Hubbard who had stolen a large quantity of nails.

could not bear” open=”off” title=”Between 1806 and 1822 | &quotHe [Jefferson] could not bear to have a servant whipped&quot. Edmund Bacon described how Jefferson’s kind discipline changed the life of Jim Hubbard who had stolen a large quantity of nails.”]

Jefferson’s overseer, Captain Edmund Bacon, gave the following account:

“He [Jefferson] could not bear to have a servant whipped, no odds how much he deserved it. I remember one case in particular. Mr. Jefferson gave written instructions that I should always sell the nails that were made in his nailery. We made from sixpenny to twentys penny nails, and always kept a supply of each kind on hand. I went one day to supply an order, and
the eight-penny nails were all gone, and there was a full supply of all the other sizes. Of course they had been stolen. I soon became satisfied that Jim Hubbard, one of the servants that worked in the nailery, had stolen them, and charged him with it. He denied it powerfully. I talked with Grady, the overseer of the nailery, about it, and finally I said, ‘Let us drop it. He has hid them somewhere, and if we say no more about it, we shall find them.’ I examined his house, and every place I could think of, but for some time I could find nothing of the nails. One day after a rain, as I was following a path through the woods, I saw muddy tracks on the leaves leading off from the path. I followed them until I came to a tree-top, where I found the nails buried in a large box. There were several hundred pounds of them. From circumstances, I knew that Jim had stolen them. Mr. Jefferson was at home at the time, and when I went up to Monticello I told him of it. He was very much surprised, and felt very badly about it. Jim had
always been a favorite servant. He told me to be at my house next morning when he took his ride, and he would see Jim there. When he came, I sent for Jim, and I never saw any person, white or black, feel as badly as he did when he saw his mas-ter. He was mortified and distressed beyond measure. He had been brought up in the shop, and we all had confidence in him. Now his character was gone. The tears streamed down his face, and he begged pardon over and over again. I felt very badly myself. Mr. Jefferson turned to me, and said, ‘Ah, sir, we can’t punish him. He has suffered enough already.’ He then talked to him, gave him a heap of good advice, and sent him to the shop. Grady had waited, expecting to be sent for to whip him, and he was astonished to see him come back and go to work after such a crime. When he came to dinner—he boarded with me then—he told me, that when Jim came back to the shop, he said, ‘Well, I’se been a-seeking religion a long time, but I never heard any thing before that sounded so, or made me feel so, as I did when master said, ” Go, and don’t do so any more;” and now I’se determined to seek religion till I find it;’ and sure enough, he afterwards came to me for a permit to go and be baptized. I gave him one, and never knew of his doing any thing of the sort again. He was always a good servant afterwards”-Pierson, Rev. Hamilton W., Jefferson at Monticello. From entirely new materials, Scribner, New York, 1862 pages 105-107

 

May 13, 1807 | Jefferson still had hope that his lands would be sufficient to clear his debt. During his presidency, he was obligated to pay his staff at the President’s House, his secretary, his own travel, entertaining expenses at the President’s House, and other expenses from his $25,000 annual salary.

“I never in my life have been so disappointed as in my expectations that the office I am in would have enabled me from time to time to assist him in his difficulties. so far otherwise has it turned out that I have now the gloomy prospect of retiring from office loaded with serious debts, which will materially affect the tranquility of my retirement. however, not being apt to deject myself with evils before they happen, I nourish the hope of getting along. it has always been my wish & expectation, that when I return to live at Monticello, mr Randolph, yourself & family would live there with me, and that his estate being employed entirely for meeting his own difficulties, would place him at ease. our lands, if we preserve them, are sufficient to place all the children in independance.”

From Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 5 January 1808,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-7138. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

January 1, 1808 | The importation of slaves to America was stopped by a law signed by Thomas Jefferson at the earliest date permitted by the Constitution. &quotThe Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into any Port or Place Within the Jurisdiction of the United States&quot.
December 24, 1808 | Jefferson realized that he miscalculated and was saddled with even more debt upon leaving the presidency.

“Nothing had been more fixed than my determination to keep my expences here within the limits of my salary, and I had great confidence that I had done so. having however trusted to rough estimates by my head, & not sufficiently apprised of the outstanding accounts, I find on a review of my affairs here, as they will stand on the 3d. of March, that I shall be 3. or 4. months salary behind hand. in ordinary cases this degree of arrearage would not be serious; but on the scale of the establishment here it amounts to 7. or 8,000. D. which being to come out of my private funds will be felt by them sensibly.”

From Thomas Jefferson to George Jefferson, 24 December 1808,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-9393. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.]

January 24, 1811 | Claiborne informed Jefferson of the recent slave insurrection near New Orleans.

“We have lately experienced much alarm, in consequence of an insurrection among the Slaves in this Vicinity.—It at first assumed a menacing aspect;—But was very soon quelled by the prompt and decisive Movements of the armed Force of the United States, and the Body of the Militia.”
William C. C. Claiborne to Thomas Jefferson, 24 January 1811,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-03-02-0247. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 12 August 1810 to 17 June 1811, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006, pp. 325–326.]

August 26, 1811 | Jefferson eliminated a candidate for overseer of Monticello, who was &quotexcessively severe; otherwise a very good manager; but his severity puts him out of the question&quot.

Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, 26 August 1811,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-04-02-0099. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 4, 18 June 1811 to 30 April 1812, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007, p. 101.]

December 14, 1813 | Jefferson postulated that beet sugar can replace cane sugar and end the demand for slaves.

“I am glad to learn that you are shewing us the way to supply ourselves with some of the most necessary tropical productions, and that the bette-rave, which we can all raise, promises to supplant the cane particularly, and to silence the demand for the inhuman species of labour employed in it’s culture & manipulation. could you favor me with the details of the best process for the manufacture of sugar from the beet? I have the book of M. Parmentier; but that does not give us recipes of the process. very much gratified by this occasion of recalling myself to your recollection, I tender you the assurance of my great esteem and respect.”

Thomas Jefferson to Alexis Marie Rochon, 14 December 1813,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0025. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 53–54.]

December 14, 1813 | Jefferson requested more information on beet production noting that it could &quot furnish sugar at such a price as to rivalize that of the Cane&quot.

I learn with pleasure the success of several new cultures with you, and that you will by example teach us how to do without some of the tropical productions. the bette-rave, I am told, is likely really to furnish sugar at such a price as to rivalize that of the Cane. if you have any printed recipes of the process of manipulation, and could send me one, naming also the best species of beet, you would add a valuable item to the repeated services you have rendered us by a communication of the useful plants.”

“Thomas Jefferson to André Thoüin, 14 December 1813,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0026. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 54–55.]

 

July 31, 1814 | Edward Coles sought Jefferson’s support regarding, &quot a subject of such magnitude, and so beset with difficulties, as that of a general emancipation of the Slaves of Virginia&quot.

I never took up my pen with more hesitation or felt more embarrassment than I now do in addressing you on the subject of this letter. The fear of appearing presumptuous distresses me, and would deter me from venturing thus to call your attention to a subject of such magnitude, and so beset with difficulties, as that of a general emancipation of the Slaves of Virginia, had I not the highest opinion of your goodness and liberality, in not only excusing me for the liberty I take, but in justly appreciating my motives in doing so.

I will not enter on the right which man has to enslave his Brother man, nor upon the moral and political effects of Slavery on individuals or on Society; because these things are better understood by you than by me. My object is to entreat and beseech you to exert your knowledge and influence, in devising, and getting into operation, some plan for the gradual emancipation of Slavery. This difficult task could be less exceptionably, and more successfully performed by the revered Fathers of all our political and social blessings, than by any succeeding statesmen; and would seem to come with peculiar propriety and force from those whose valor wisdom and virtue have done so much in meliorating the condition of mankind. And it is a duty, as I conceive, that devolves particularly on you, from your known philosophical and enlarged view of subjects, and from the principles you have professed and practiced through a long and useful life, pre-eminently distinguished, as well by being foremost in establishing on the broadest basis the rights of man, and the liberty and independence of your Country, as in being throughout honored with the most important trusts by your fellow-citizens, whose confidence and love you have carried with you into the shades of old age and retirement. In the calm of this retirement you might, most beneficially to society, and with much addition to your own fame, avail yourself of that love and confidence to put into complete practice those hallowed principles contained in that renowned Declaration, of which you were the immortal author, and on which we bottomed our right to resist oppression, and establish our freedom and independence.

I hope that the fear of failing, at this time, will have no influence in preventing you from employing your pen to eradicate this most degrading feature of British Coloniel policy, which is still permitted to exist, notwithstanding its repugnance as well to the principles of our revolution as to our free Institutions. For however highly prized and influential your opinions may now be, they will be still much more so when you shall have been snatched from us by the course of nature. If therefore your attempt should now fail to rectify this unfortunate evil—an evil most injurious both to the oppressed and to the oppressor—at some future day when your memory will be consecrated by a grateful posterity, what influence, irresistible influence will the opinions and writings of Thomas Jefferson have on all questions connected with the rights of man, and of that policy which will be the creed of your disciples. Permit me then, my dear Sir, again to intreat you to exert your great powers of mind and influence, and to employ some of your present leisure, in devising a mode to liberate one half of our Fellowbeings from an ignominious bondage to the other; either by making an immediate attempt to put in train a plan to commence this goodly work, or to leave human Nature the invaluable Testament—which you are so capable of doing—how best to establish its rights: So that the weight of your opinion may be on the side of emancipation when that question shall be agitated, and that it will be sooner or later is most certain—That it may be soon is my most ardent prayer—that it will be rests with you.

I will only add, as an excuse for the liberty I take in addressing you on this subject, which is so particularly interesting to me; that from the time I was capable of reflecting on the nature of political society, and of the rights appertaining to Man, I have not only been principled against Slavery, but have had feelings so repugnant to it, as to decide me not to hold them; which decision has forced me to leave my native state, and with it all my relations and friends. This I hope will be deemed by you some excuse for the liberty of this intrusion, of which I gladly avail myself to assure you of the very great respect and esteem with which I am, my dear Sir, your very sincere and devoted friend

Edward Coles to Thomas Jefferson, 31 July 1814,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0374. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 503–504.]

August 25, 1814 | &quotThe love of justice & the love of country plead equally the cause of these people, and it is a mortal reproach to us that they should have pleaded it so long in vain…the hour of emancipation is advancing in the march of time&quot.

Your favor of July 31was duly recieved, and was read with peculiar pleasure. the sentiments breathed thro’ the whole do honor to both the head and heart of the writer. mine on the subject of the slavery of negroes have long since been in possession of the public, and time has only served to give them stronger root. the love of justice & the love of country plead equally the cause of these people, and it is a mortal reproach to us that they should have pleaded it so long in vain, and should have produced not a single effort, nay I fear not much serious willingness to relieve them & ourselves from our present condition of moral and political reprobation. from those of the former generation who were in the fulness of age when I came into public life, which was while our controversy with England was on paper only, I soon saw that nothing was to be hoped. nursed and educated in the daily habit of seeing the degraded condition, both bodily & mental, of those unfortunate beings, not reflecting that that degradation was very much the work of themselves & their fathers, few minds had yet doubted but that they were as legitimate subjects of property as their horses or cattle. the quiet & monotonous course of colonial life had been disturbed by no alarm, & little reflection on the value of liberty. and when alarm was taken at an enterprise on their own, it was not easy to carry them the whole length of the principles which they invoked for themselves. in the first or second session of the legislature after I became a member, I drew to this subject the attention of Colo Bland, one of the oldest, ablest, and most respected members, and he undertook to move for certain moderate extensions of the protection of the laws to these people. I seconded his motion, and, as a younger member, was more spared in the debate: but he was denounced as an enemy to his country, & was treated with the grossest indecorum. from an early stage of our revolution other and more distant duties were assigned to me, so that from that time till my return from Europe in 1789. and I may say till I returned to reside at home in 1809. I had little opportunity of knowing the progress of public sentiment here on this subject. I had always hoped that the younger generation, recieving their early impressions after the flame of liberty had been kindled in every breast, and had become as it were the vital spirit of every American, that the generous temperament of youth, analogous to the motion of their blood, and above the suggestions of avarice, would have sympathised with oppression wherever found, and proved their love of liberty beyond their own share of it. but my intercourse with them, since my return, has not been sufficient to ascertain that they had made towards this point the progress I had hoped. your solitary but welcome voice is the first which has brought this sound to my ear; and I have considered the general silence which prevails on this subject as indicating an apathy unfavorable to every hope. yet the hour of emancipation is advancing in the march of time. it will come; and whether brought on by the generous energy of our own minds, or by the bloody process of St Domingo, excited and conducted by the power of our present enemy, if once stationed permanently within our country, & offering asylum & arms to the oppressed, is a leaf of our history not yet turned over.

As to the method by which this difficult work is to be effected, if permitted to be done by ourselves, I have seen no proposition so expedient on the whole, as that of emancipation of those born after a given day, and of their education and expatriation at a proper age. this would give time for a gradual extinction of that species of labor and substitution of another, and lessen the severity of the shock which an operation so fundamental cannot fail to produce. the idea of emancipating the whole at once, the old as well as the young, and retaining them here, is of those only who have not the guide of either knolege or experience of the subject. for, men, probably of any colour, but of this color we know, brought up from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves, and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising the young. in the mean time they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them. their amalgamation with the other colour produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent.

I am sensible of the partialities with which you have looked towards me as the person who should undertake this salutary but arduous work. but this, my dear Sir, is like bidding old Priam to buckle the armour of Hector ‘trementibus aevo humeris et inutile ferrum cingi.’ no. I have overlived the generation with which mutual labors and perils begat mutual confidence and influence. this enterprise is for the young; for those who can follow it up, and bear it through to it’s consummation. it shall have all my prayers, and these are the only weapons of an old man. but in the mean time are you right in abandoning this property, and your country with it? I think not. my opinion has ever been that, until more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed & clothe them well, protect them from ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen, and be led by no repugnancies to abdicate them, and our duties to them. the laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good: and to commute them for other property is to commit them to those whose usage of them we cannot controul. I hope then, my dear Sir, you will reconcile yourself to your country and it’s unfortunate condition; that you will not lessen it’s stock of sound disposition by withdrawing your portion from the mass. that, on the contrary you will come forward in the public councils, become the Missionary of this doctrine truly Christian, insinuate & inculcate it softly but steadily thro’ the medium of writing & conversation, associate others in your labors, and when the phalanx is formed, bring on & press the proposition perseveringly until it’s accomplishment. it is an encoraging observation that no good measure was ever proposed which, if duly pursued, failed to prevail in the end. we have proof of this in the history of the endeavors in the British parliament to suppress that very trade which brought this evil on us. and you will be supported by the religious precept ‘be not wearied in well doing.’ that your success may be as speedy and compleat, as it will be of honorable & immortal consolation to yourself I shall as fervently & sincerely pray as I assure you of my great friendship and respect

Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, 25 August 1814,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0439. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 603–605.]

 

 

August 25, 1814 | &quotFrom those of the former generation who were in the fulness of age when I came into public life, which was while our controversy with England was on paper only, I soon saw that nothing was to be hoped. nursed and educated in the daily habit of seeing the degraded condition, both bodily & mental, of those unfortunate beings, not reflecting that that degradation was very much the work of themselves & their fathers, few minds had yet doubted but that they were as legitimate subjects of property as their horses or cattle&quot.

Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, 25 August 1814,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0439. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 603–605.]

August 25, 1814 | &quotUntil more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed & clothe them well, protect them from ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen&quot.

Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, 25 August 1814,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0439. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 603–605.]

 

August 25, 1814 | Jefferson encouraged Edward Coles to take up the fight against slavery, &quotBecome the Missionary of this doctrine truly Christian, insinuate & inculcate it softly but steadily thro’ the medium of writing & conversation, associate others in your labors, and when the phalanx is formed, bring on & press the proposition perseveringly until it’s accomplishment&quot.

Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, 25 August 1814,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0439. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 603–605.]

 

August 25, 1814 | &quotThis enterprise is for the young; for those who can follow it up, and bear it through to it’s consummation. it shall have all my prayers, and these are the only weapons of an old man.&quot

Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, 25 August 1814,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-07-02-0439. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 603–605.]

September 10, 1814 | In response to Thomas Cooper’s comparisons between Great Britain and the U.S, Jefferson noted, &quotThere is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity&quot.

&quot.” open=”off”]

“Nor in the class of laborers do I mean to withold from the comparison that portion whose color has condemned them, in certain parts of our Union, to a subjection to the will of others. even these are better fed in these states, warmer clothed, & labor less than the journeymen or day laborers of England. they have the comfort too of numerous families, in the midst of whom they live, without want, or the fear of it; a solace which few of the laborers of England possess. they are subject, it is true, to bodily coercion: but are not the hundreds of thousands of British soldiers & seamen subject to the same, without seeing, at the end of their career, & when age & acciden[t] shall have rendered them unequal to labor, the certainty, which the other has, that he will never want? and has not the British seaman, as much as the African been reduced to this bondage by force, in flagrant violation of his own consent, and of his natural right in his own person? and with the laborers of England generally, does not the moral coercion of want subject their will as despotically to that of thei[r] employer, as the physical constraint does the soldier, the seaman or the slave? but do not mistake me. I am not advocating slavery. I am not justifying the wrongs we have committed on a foreign people, by the example of another nation committing equal wrongs on their own subjects. on the contrary there is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity. but I am at present comparing the condition & degree of suffering to which oppression has reduced the man of one color, with the condition and degree of suffering to which oppression has reduced the man of another color; equally condemning both. now let us compute by numbers the sum of happiness of the two countries.”

Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, September 10, 1814, Founders Online, The National Archives. Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 7, 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 649–655

 

December-January, 1814 | The Federalist delegates to the Hartford Convention discussed secession, although it was never proposed, again illustrating how fragile the Union was.

“On Dec. 15, 1814 — 200 years ago — the Hartford Convention began a three-week debate about the relationship between the then 18 states and the federal government. The meeting was held in secret by New England members of the Federalist Party and there were nationwide fears that the Hartford Convention would call for New England’s secession from the Union…

Although the Hartford Convention did not lead to New England’s secession, the convention was an important cause of the fall of the Federalists, the party of Washington, Adams and Hamilton. While the Federalists met in Hartford, American and British diplomats in Belgium were negotiating an end to the War of 1812, and Gen. Andrew Jackson was battling the British army outside New Orleans. Jackson’s victory helped propel him to the presidency in 1828. The Federalists were, not without cause, viewed as disloyal to the United States and soon lost more of their diminishing public support.

The Hartford Convention is known now, as much as it is remembered, as an ideological precursor to Southern secession in 1860 and 1861, and the violent Civil War over dividing the Union. Ironically, during the Civil War, New England fought for the Union. It was allied not only with the old Middle States — New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania — but with many of the new northwestern states — Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota — once viewed as political threats to New England. And it was the South that felt endangered by electoral politics. A new Republican majority elected Abraham Lincoln president in 1861 without him winning a single Southern electoral vote.

The Hartford Convention and the possible secession of New England from the Union has largely faded from view, but its legacy lives on. There is ongoing debate in America over the competition between the states and the federal government. When Americans divide on issues such as immigration, health care, abortion, the size and role of government and education, the contest often is framed in terms of “Who should decide — the states or the federal government?” Almost inevitably, when a minority feels threatened by a contrary national majority, there is a strong temptation for the minority to plead states’ rights.”

Janis, Mark Weston, William F. Starr Professor Law, University of Connecticut Law School, New England’s Flirtation with Independence, Hartford Courant, March 7, 2017.

March 20, 1815 | David Barrow, a Baptist minister and abolitionist, sought Jefferson’s advice on emancipation, &quotwith a Hope, that at some leisure Hour, you may find Freedom to drop me some Hints, that your Knowledge, Feelings & Observations on the Subjects of Slavery & emancipation may dictate, which may be helpful to us in our present Struggles&quot.

David Barrow to Thomas Jefferson, 20 March 1815,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-08-02-0287. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 8, 1 October 1814 to 31 August 1815, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 364–365.]

May 1, 1815 | Thomas Jefferson responded to David Barrow regarding abolition that, &quotThe particular subject of the pamphlet you enclosed me was one of early and tender consideration with me, and had I continued in the councils of my own State, it should never have been out of sight&quot. Slavery and abolition were considered state-level and not federal issues.

Note: See April 22, 1820 TJ to John Holmes where he clearly states that the issue of slavery comes under state jurisdiction and not federal.

 

“Sir,–I have duly received your favor of March 20th, and am truly thankful for the favorable sentiments expressed in it towards myself. If, in the course of my life, it has been in any degree useful to the cause of humanity, the fact itself bears its full reward. The particular subject of the pamphlet you enclosed me was one of early and tender consideration with me, and had I continued in the councils of my own State, it should never have been out of sight. The only practicable plan I could ever devise is stated under the 14th query of the Notes on Virginia, and it is still the one most sound in my judgment. Unhappily it is a case for which both parties require long and difficult preparation. The mind of the master is to be apprized by reflection, and strengthened by the energies of conscience, against the obstacles of self interest to an acquiescence in the rights of others; that of the slave is to be prepared by instruction and habit for self government, and for the honest pursuits of industry and social duty. Both of these courses of preparation require time, and the former must precede the latter. Some progress is sensibly made in it; yet not so much as I had hoped and expected. But it will yield in time to temperate and steady pursuit, to the enlargement of the human mind, and its advancement in science. We are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and the power of a superior agent. Our efforts are in his hand, and directed by it; and he will give them their effect in his own time. Where the disease is most deeply seated, there it will be slowest in eradication. In the northern States it was merely superficial, and easily corrected. In the southern it is incorporated with the whole system, and requires time, patience, and perseverance in the curative process. That it may finally be effected, and its progress hastened, will be the last and fondest prayer of him who now salutes you with respect and consideration.

Thomas Jefferson to David Barrow, 1 May 1815,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-08-02-0364. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 8, 1 October 1814 to 31 August 1815, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 454–455.]

 

May 1, 1815 | Jefferson expressed his continued hope for the complete eradication of slavery, &quotwe are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and the power of a superior agent. our efforts are in his hand, and directed by it; and he will give them their effect in his own time. where the disease is most deeply seated, there it will be slowest in eradication. in the Northern states it was merely superficial, & easily corrected. in the Southern it is incorporated with the whole system, and requires time, patience, and perseverance in the curative process. that it may finally be effected and it’s1 progress hastened will be the last and fondest prayer of him who now salutes you with respect & consideration&quot.

“we are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and the power of a superior agent. our efforts are in his hand, and directed by it; and he will give them their effect in his own time. where the disease is most deeply seated, there it will be slowest in eradication. in the Northern states it was merely superficial, & easily corrected. in the Southern it is incorporated with the whole system, and requires time, patience, and perseverance in the curative process. that it may finally be effected and it’s1 progress hastened will be the last and fondest prayer of him who now salutes you with respect & consideration.”

Thomas Jefferson to David Barrow, 1 May 1815,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-08-02-0364. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 8, 1 October 1814 to 31 August 1815, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 454–455.]

April 22, 1820 | Jefferson expressed his alarm that the Missouri Compromise had not resolved the issue of slavery and that vacillation threatened the Union, as manifested in the Civil War, &quotthis mementous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence&quot.

I thank you, Dear Sir, for the copy you have been so kind as to send me of the letter to your constituents on the Missouri question. it is a perfect justification to them. I had for a long time ceased to read newspapers or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant. but this mementous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once concieved and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every, new, irritation will mark it deeper and deeper. I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. the cession of that kind of property, for it is so misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. of one thing I am certain, that as the passage of slaves from one state to another would not make a slave of a single human being who would not be so without it, so their diffusion over a greater surface would make them individually happier and proportionally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation; by dividing the burthen on a greater number of co-adjutors. an abstinence too from this act of power would remove the jealousy excited by the undertaking of Congress; to regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a state. this certainly is the exclusive right of every state, which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the general government. could congress, for example say that the Non-freemen of Connecticut, shall be freemen, or that they shall not emigrate into any other state?

I regret that I am to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves, by the generation of ’76. to acquire self government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it. if they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they would throw away against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves and of treason against the hopes of the world. to yourself as the faithful advocate of union I tender the offering of my high esteem and respect.

From Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, 22 April 1820,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1234. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]

April 22, 1820 | Jefferson regretted that the generations succeeding the Revolution had not resolved the issue of slavery, and called the Missouri Compromise an &quotact of suicide&quot and &quottreason against the hopes of the world&quot.

I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves, by the generation of ’76. to acquire self government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it. if they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they would throw away against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves and of treason against the hopes of the world. to yourself as the faithful advocate of union I tender the offering of my high esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson

From Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, 22 April 1820,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1234. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]

April 22, 1820 | Jefferson clearly stated that the abolition of slaverywas &quotthe exclusive responsibility of each state… which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the general government&quot.

“an abstinence too from this act of power would remove the jealousy excited by the undertaking of Congress; to regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a state. this certainly is the exclusive right of every state, which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the general government. could congress, for example say that the Non-freemen of Connecticut, shall be freemen, or that they shall not emigrate into any other state?”

From Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, 22 April 1820,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1234. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]

July 16, 1820 | Edmund Bacon informed Jefferson that Beverly Hemings had been missing from the Carpenters for about a week.

To Thomas Jefferson from Edmund Bacon, 16 July 1820,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1401. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]

August 2, 1820 | Samuel Smith expressed his fear to Jefferson that the contest for Speaker would &quotcall up the unpleasant question of Slavery and no Slavery again&quot.

To Thomas Jefferson from Samuel Smith, 2 August 1820,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1433. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]

October 10, 1820 | Wilson Cary Nicholas died without repaying a loan Jefferson had cosigned, leaving Jefferson responsible, and eliminating any hope Jefferson had for escaping his debt or freeing his slaves.

What Jefferson termed his coup de grace was delivered on a loan he cosigned for longtime friend Wilson Cary Nicholas. The amount was large, two notes at $10,000 each, but Jefferson felt obligated. As president of the United States bank in Richmond, Nicholas had arranged and endorsed notes for Jefferson, and he was connected to the family as the father-in-law of grandson Jeff Randolph. Nichols died in October 1820, and his estate, valued at $350,000 when Jefferson had signed his notes in 1818, was now greatly depreciated as well as heavily mortgaged. Jefferson had to add the $20,000 note with $1,200 yearly interest to his own sizable debt.

A severe devaluation of Virginia land prices had troubled Jefferson even before Nicholas’s death, when he had tried his usual fallback of a sale of a small parcel of land to cover an interest payment. In a letter to trusted friend James Madison he laid bare his financial problems and theorized that the current economic situation in Virginia had “peopled the Western States, by silently breaking up those on the Atlantic, and glutted the land market, while it drew off its bidders.”

Did he realize that one of the most significant accomplishments of his presidency, the Louisiana Purchase, had accelerated the depreciation of land in Virginia? It was not so much the addition of territory beyond the Mississippi River as the acquisition of the port of New Orleans that had been Jefferson’s main objective. United States control of the port city guaranteed that American commerce produced in the trans-Appalachian regions would have an outlet to world markets. This made a move west potentially more profitable, and the fatigued land of Virginia less attractive.

Wilson, Gaye: Monticello Was among the Prizes in a Lottery for a Ruined Jefferson’s Relief. Published online by Colonial Williamsburg, www.history.org.

December 26, 1820 | Jefferson noted that the Missouri issue threatened the Union but looked for something good, &quotAmidst this prospect of evil, I am glad to see one good effect. it has brought the necessity of some plan of general emancipation & deportation more home to the minds of our people&quot.

“nothing has ever presented so threatening an aspect as what is called the Missouri question. the Federalists compleatly put down, and despairing of ever rising again under the old division of whig and tory, devised a new one, of slave-holding, & non-slave-holding states, which, while it had a semblance of being Moral, was at the same time Geographical, and calculated to give them ascendancy by debauching their old opponents to a coalition with them. Moral the question certainly is not, because the removal of slaves from one state to another, no more than their removal from one county to another, would never make a slave of one human being who would not be so without it. indeed if there were any morality in the question, it is on the other side; because by spreading them over a larger surface, their happiness would be increased, & the burthen of their future liberation lightened by bringing a greater number of shoulders under it. however it served to throw dust into the eyes of the people and to fanaticise them, while to the knowing ones it gave a geographical and preponderant line of the Patomac and Ohio, throwing 14. states to the North and East, & 10. to the South & West. with these therefore it is merely a question of power: but with this geographical minority it is a question of existence. for if Congress once goes out of the Constitution to arrogate a right of regulating the condition of the inhabitants of the states, it’s majority may, and probably will next declare that the condition of all men within the US. shall be that of freedom. in which case all the whites South of the Patomak and Ohio must evacuate their states; and most fortunate those who can do it first. and so far this crisis seems to be advancing. the Missouri , [constitution] is recently rejected by the House of Representatives. what will be their next step is yet to be seen. if accepted on the condition that Missouri shall expunge from it the prohibition of free people of colour from emigration to their state, it will be expunged, and all will be quieted until the advance of some new state shall present the question again. if rejected unconditionally, Missouri assumes independant self-government, and Congress, after pouting awhile, must recieve them on the footing of the original states. should the Representatives propose force, 1. the Senate will not concur. 2. were they to concur, there would be a secession of the members South of the line, & probably of the three North Western states, who, however inclined to the other side, would scarcely separate from those who would hold the Misisipi from it’s mouth to it’s source. what next? conjecture itself is at a loss. but whatever it shall be you will hear from others and from the newspapers. and finally the whole will depend on Pensylvania. while she and Virginia hold together, the Atlantic states can never separate. unfortunately in the present case she has become more fanaticised than any other state. however useful where you are, I wish you were with them. you might turn the scale there, which would turn it for the whole. should this scission take place, one of it’s most deplorable consequences would be it’s discoragement of the efforts of the European nations in the regeneration of their oppressive and Cannibal governments.  Amidst this prospect of evil, I am glad to see one good effect. it has brought the necessity of some plan of general emancipation & deportation more home to the minds of our people than it has ever been before. insomuch that our Governor has ventured to propose one to the legislature. this will probably not be acted on at this time. nor would it be effectual; for while it proposes to devote to that object one third of the revenue of the state, it would not reach one tenth of the annual increase. my proposition would be that the holders should give up all born after a certain day, past, present, or to come, that these should be placed under the guardianship of the state, and sent at a proper age to St Domingo. there they are willing to recieve them, & the shortness of the passage brings the deportation within the possible means of taxation aided by charitable contributions. in this I think Europe, which has forced this evil on us, and the Eastern states who have been it’s chief instruments of importation, would be bound to give largely. but the proceeds of the land office, appropriated to this would be quite sufficient. God bless you and preserve you multos años”

From Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 26 December 1820,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1705. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]

December 28, 1820 | Tenche Cox speculated that &quotthe intrinsic difficulties in the happy management of the free people of color has damped precipitancy in emancipation&quot, and described the unacceptable living conditions of free blacks in Philadelphia and New York.

“My letters, two of this day, from each side, at Washington, carry an air of determination to support Missouri on the one part, and on past fears from the overzeal of Pennsa. on the other part, which are not comfortable but do not alarm me. I know that many here have been convinced by the discussions since the Autum[n] of 1719, that fully enfranchised black and colored citizens cannot be created and maintained as they generally stand as to qualifications. I am convinced this opinion prevails among respectable members of the abolition society. Yet some are for an abolition, without compensation, of all Pennsa. slaves and servants of 28 years, of slave parents, increasing the free suddenly, at a moment of Haytian civil war, extensive black & red armaments in Spanish & Portuguese America, and of great embarrassment from our own 200.000 free colored people. Our share of these people has become in Philadelphia a messy, increasing unmanagable evil, in the opinions of men of all politics, all churches, all conditions in life, especially the active members of our city institutions. We consider the state of things much worse, as to the blacks & mulattoes in the city of New York, from whose workhouses, common Gaols and penitentiaries we have detailed accounts. The great question here now is, how and where can they be disposed of with justice and policy. I believe therefore the intrinsic difficulties in the happy management of the free people of color has damped precipitancy in emancipation. The case demands the United efforts of our hearts and minds. Tho I have left myself but a line to acknowledge my sense of your kind exertions on the subject of my request, I beg you to believe that it is deep and real. I have the honor to be with perfect respect and attachment, as ever, most faithfully yours”

To James Madison from Tench Coxe, 28 December 1820,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/04-02-02-0163. [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, Retirement Series, vol. 2, 1 February 1820 – 26 February 1823, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Mary Parke Johnson, and Anne Mandeville Colony. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, pp. 193–195.]

January 6, 1821 | &quotNothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free&quot.–Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography

“The bill on the subject of slaves was a mere digest of the existing laws respecting them, without any intimation of a plan for a future & general emancipation. it was thought better that this should be kept back, and attempted only by way of amendment whenever the bill should be brought on. the principles of the amendment however were agreed on, that is to say, the freedom of all born after a certain day, and deportation at a proper age. but it was found that the public mind would not yet bear the proposition, nor will it bear it even at this day. yet the day is not distant when it must bear and adopt it, or worse will follow. nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them. it is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation peaceably and in such slow degree as that the evil will wear off insensibly, and their place be peri passu filled up by free white laborers. if on the contrary it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up. we should in vain look for an example in the Spanish deportation or deletion of the Moors. this precedent would fall far short of our case.”
Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 6 Jan.-29 July 1821, 6 January 1821,Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1756. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]

1822 | Jefferson allowed his slave, Beverly Hemings, to run away as his skin color was white enough to pass for white.

Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book with Commentary and Relevant Extracts from other Writings, edited by Edwin Morris Betts. University Press of Virginia, 1953, page 130.

1822 | Jefferson allowed his slave, Harriet Hemings to run away as her skin color was light enough to allow her to pass into white society.

Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book with Commentary and Relevant Extracts from other Writings, edited by Edwin Morris Betts. University Press of Virginia, 1953, page 130.

1822 | Edmund Bacon later confirmed that Jefferson gave Harriet Hemings $50 and paid her stage fare to Philadelphia. Bacon also provided an eye-witness account that she was not Jefferson’s daughter.

Jefferson’s overseer, Edmund Bacon, gave the following account to the Rev. Hamilton Pierson in 1862. It is not certain whether Jefferson’s allowing Harriett Hemings to “run” and Edmund Bacon’s account refer to the same event or two separate events involving Harriett:

“He freed one girl some years before he died, and there was a great deal of talk about it. She was nearly as white as anybody, and very beautiful. People said he freed her because she was his own daughter. She was not his daughter; she was ___________’s daughter. I know that. I have seen him come out of her mother’s room many a morning, when I went up to Monticello very early. “When she was nearly grown, by Mr. Jefferson’s direction I paid her stage fare to Philadelphia, and gave her fifty dollars. I have never seen her since, and don’t know what became of her. From the time she was large enough, she always worked in the cotton factory. She never did any hard work.

”-Pierson, Rev. Hamilton W., Jefferson at Monticello. From entirely new materials, Scribner, New York, 1862 page 110

December 10, 1822 | William Johnson drew to the attention of a sympathetic Jefferson, the shameful and illegal trials of slaves accused of a recent insurrection in Charlston, SC to Jefferson.

“I fear, my dear Sir, that you will repent having drawn upon you the Visitation of this very long Letter; but I pray you to remember it is not often that I am permitted to loiter in such Company. I have now pass’d my Half-century, and begin to feel lonely among the Men of the present Day. And I am sorry to tell you particularly so in this Place. This last Summer has furnished but too much Cause for Shame and Anguish. I have lived to see what I really never believed it possible I should see,—Courts held with closed Doors, and Men dying by Scores who had never seen the Faces nor heard the Voices of their Accusers. I see that your Governor has noticed the Alarm of Insurrection which prevailed in this Place some Months since. But be assured it was nothing in Comparison with what it was magnified to. But you know the best way in the World to make them tractable is to frighten them to Death; and to magnify Danger is to magnify the Claims of those who arrest it. Incalculable are the Evils which have resulted from the exaggerated Accounts circulated respecting that Affair. Our Property is reduced to nothing. Strangers are alarmed at coming near us; our Slaves rendered uneasy; the Confidence between us and our Domestics destroyed—and all this because of a trifling Cabal of a few ignorant pennyless unarmed uncombined Fanatics, and which certainly would have blown over without an Explosion had it never come to light. Our Governor has so represented it in his Message No 2. but the Shame of some and the Interests of others will I expect prevent its Publication.

When the Court of Magistrates & Freeholders who tried the Slaves implicated were pursuing that Course of sitting in Conclave & convicting Men upon the secret exparte Examination of Slaves without Oath, whose Names were not I believe revealed even to the Owners , Start insertion,of the accused, End,, the Governor, whose Feeling revolted at this unprecedented & I say, illegal mode of Trial, consulted the Attorney General (the Gentleman lately elected Senator) on the Legality of their Proceedings, and you will be astonished to hear that he gave a direct Opinion in Favour of it. If such be the Law of this Country, this shall not long be my Country. But I will first endeavour to correct the Evil.”

 

 

To Thomas Jefferson from William Johnson, 10 December 1822,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-3203. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]

February 20, 1820 | The Virginia legislature approved Jefferson’s lottery proposal.

“Jefferson’s financial situation became public with his lottery petition, presented to the Virginia legislature February 8, 1826. Expressions of dismay immediately reverberated on personal levels and in the press. The Baltimore Patriot said it was appalling that the author of the Declaration of Independence should be on the verge of bankruptcy in his advanced years. Similar sentiments were published in the Richmond Enquirer, especially after some legislative opposition appeared against the lottery scheme. Some objected from old political biases, some on moral grounds, and some closer to Jefferson thought it might tarnish his legacy. On a second vote February 20, however, the lottery passed by a substantial majority.

The lottery bill said that only a fair evaluation at the current land prices could be attached to the properties that were to be offered. Soon it became clear that Jefferson’s initial calculation that his mills and their surrounding property would raise enough to cover his debts was far off the mark. Family correspondence reported that he “turned white” when he learned that Monticello and the adjourning farms would have to be included. Over and over he had expressed hope that Monticello could be preserved for his daughter Martha Randolph and her children. In a letter to a relative, she stated more practical views. She said that if anything could be saved, it should be the mills because they had more revenue potential. Then everything should be scaled down: most of the slaves sold, little furniture kept, and the family should relocate to property Jefferson owned in southern Virginia. Monticello would have to be sacrificed.

Once the bill passed and the property was appraised, Jeff Randolph engaged lottery brokers Yates and McIntyre of New York. There were to be 11,477 tickets offered at $10 each, with the prizes the Monticello estate, the Shadwell mills, and one-third of Jefferson’s Albemarle County lands.

Word of Jefferson’s situation spread, and concerned citizens of New York City, under the leadership of Mayor Philip Hone, persuaded Jeff Randolph that the money could be raised by public subscription in a manner far more dignified than a lottery. Committees were formed in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and meetings were conducted in Virginia as well. Approximately $16,500 was raised in a relatively short period. This was a small amount compared with a total debt calculated at more than $100,000, but it cheered Jefferson immensely to think that the American populace had not forgotten him.

With the prospect of a public subscription, the lottery was put aside. More might have resulted from these private donations, but following the news of Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826, they soon diminished to nothing. The concern felt for an old patriot did not extend to his relatives.

Jeff Randolph determined to revive the lottery and asked Yates and McIntyre to advertise tickets in the Richmond Enquirer late in July and again in September and October. In early 1827, he traveled to Washington to petition Congress for an act that would make the lottery national, but without success. Exactly when Jeff Randolph let go of the idea is unclear, but on February 20, 1828, James Madison wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette that “the lottery owing to several causes has entirely failed.”

The sale of Monticello with an adjoining 552 acres was completed in November 1831. Its enslaved community had already been sold, as well as parcels of land, household furniture, livestock, and farming implements. Jefferson’s art collection was sent to the Boston Athenaeum for sale there, but it garnered little interest. The exact amount of the debt liquidated by these sales is not known. Jeff Randolph assumed the remainder of his grandfather’s debt.

Wilson, Gaye: Monticello Was among the Prizes in a Lottery for a Ruined Jefferson’s Relief. Published online by Colonial Williamsburg, www.history.org.

February 4, 1824 | Thomas Jefferson calculated the economic unfeasibility of colonization and detailed his plan for gradual, compensated emancipation to Jared Sparks. &quotI hope a crusade will be kept up against it until those in power shall become sensible of this stain on our legislation, and shall wipe it from their code, and from the remembrance of man&quot.

“I think, a way in which it can be done, that is, by emancipating the after-born, leaving them, on due compensation, with their mothers, until their services are worth their maintenance, and then putting them to industrious occupations, until a proper age for deportation. this was the result of my reflections on the subject five and forty years ago; and I have never yet been able to concieve any other practicable plan. it was sketched in the Notes on Virginia, under the 14th Query.”

From Thomas Jefferson to Jared Sparks, 4 February 1824,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]

May 20, 1826 | Less than two months before his death, Jefferson reiterated his lifelong opposition to slavery, &quotThe revolution in public opinion which this case requires, is not to be expected in a day, or perhaps in an age. but time, which outlives all things, will outlive this evil also. my sentiments have been 40. years before the public. had I repeated them 40. times, they would only have become the more stale and thread-bare. altho I shall not live to see them consummated, they will not die with me&quot.

“The subject of your letter of Apr. 20 is one on which I do not permit myself to express an opinion, but when time, place, & occasion may give it some favorable effect. a good cause is often injured more by ill timed efforts of it’s friends than by the arguments of it’s enemies. persuasion, perseverance, and patience are the best advocates on questions depending on the will of others. the revolution in public opinion which this case requires, is not to be expected in a day, or perhaps in an age. but time, which outlives all things, will outlive this evil also. my sentiments have been 40. years before the public. had I repeated them 40. times, they would only have become the more stale and thread-bare. altho I shall not live to see them consummated, they will not die with me. but living or dying they will ever be in my most fervent prayers. this is written for yourself, and not for the public: in compliance with your request of two lines of sentiment on the subject. accept the assurance of my good will and respect.”

From Thomas Jefferson to James Heaton, 20 May 1826,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-6127. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. It is not an authoritative final version.]