Quotations on Slavery and Emancipation

1770 April. "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. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the author of nature, because necessary for his own sustenance."[1]

1774 July. (A Summary View of the Rights of British America). "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 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."[2]

1776 before June 13. (Draft of Virginia Constitution). "No person hereafter coming into this country shall be held within the same in slavery under any pretext whatever."[3]

1776 June. (Draft of Declaration of Independence). "He [George III] 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 piractical warfare, the opprobium 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 lives of another."[4]

1777 June 16. (Bill to Prevent the Importation of Slaves). "To prevent more effectually the practice of holding persons in Slavery and importing them into this State Be it enacted by the General Assembly that all persons who shall be hereafter imported into this Commonwealth by Sea of by Land...shall from thenceforth become free and absolutely exempted from all Slavery or Bondage...That it shall and may be lawful for any person...to manumit and set at Liberty any Slave or Slaves to which they are entitled..."[5]

1777-1779. (Revisal of Virginia Laws-Jefferson's emancipation plan). "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, seeds, 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...."[6]

1781. (Notes on the State of Virginia). "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."[7]

1783 May-June. (Draft of Virginia Constitution). "The General Assembly shall not have power to...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."[8]

1784 March 22. (Revised report of the Committee on ordinance for the Western territory). "That after the year 1800. of the Christian era, 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 convicted to have been personally guilty."[9]

1785 June. (First publication of Notes on the State of Virginia). "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 context.... 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."[10]

1785 June 7. (to Chastellux). "The strictures on slavery and on the constitution of Virginia [in the Notes]...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."[11]

1785 August 7. (to Richard Price). "Southward of the Chesapeak it [Price's pamphlet on American Revolution advocating gradual abolition of slavery] will find but few readers concurring with it in sentiment on the subject of slavery. From the mouth to the head of the Chesapeak, the bulk of the people will approve it in theory, and it will find a respectable minority ready to adopt it in practice, a minority which for weight and worth of character preponderates against the greater number, who have not the courage to divest their families of a property which however keeps their consciences inquiet. Northward of the Chesapeak you may find here and there an opponent to your doctrine as you may find here and there a robber and a murderer, but in no greater number. In that part of America, there being but few slaves, they can easily disencumber themselves of them, and emancipation is put into such a train that in a few years there will be no slaves Northward of Maryland. In Maryland I do not find such a disposition to begin the redress of this enormity as in Virginia. This is the next state to which we may turn our eyes for the interesting spectacle of justice in conflict with avarice and oppression: a conflict wherein the sacred side is gaining daily recruits from the influx into office of young men grown and growing up. These have sucked in the principles of liberty as it were with their mother's milk, and it is to them I look with anxiety to turn the fate of this question."[12]

1786 June 22. (Article on the United States in the Encyclopidie Methodique). "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 of 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."[13]

1786 June 26. (to J.N. Demeunier). "The disposition to emancipate them [in five southern states] 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...."[14]

1787 July 14. (to Edward Rutledge). "I congratulate you, my dear friend, on the law of your state [South Carolina] for suspending the importation of slaves, and for the glory you have justly acquired by endeavoring to prevent it for ever. This abomination must have an end, and there is a superior bench reserved in heaven for those who hasten it."[15]

1788 February 11. (to Brissot de Warville). "I am very sensible of the honour you propose to me of becoming a member of the society for the abolition of the slave trade. You know that nobody wishes more ardently to see an abolition not only of the trade but of the condition of slavery: and certainly nobody will be more willing to encounter every sacrifice for that object. But the influence and information of the friends to this proposition in France will be far above the need of my association. I am here as a public servant; and those whom I serve having never yet been able to give their voice against this practice, it is decent for me to avoid too public a demonstration of my wishes to see it abolished. Without serving the cause here, it might render me less able to serve it beyond the water. I trust you will be sensible of the prudence of those motives therefore which govern my conduct on this occasion, and be assured of my wishes for the success of your undertaking."[16]

1788 March. (Tour through Holland). Amsterdam. Emigrants to America who take ship in Amsterdam are from Rhineland Palatinate; passage 10 guineas here; 11 if paid in America. "He [Hermen Hend Damen] says they might be had in any number to go to America and settle lands as tenants on half stocks or metairies. Perhaps they would serve their employer one year as an indemnification for the passage, and then be bound to remain on his lands 7. years. They would come to Amsterdam at their own expence. He thinks they would employ more than [sic] 50. acres each. But qu? especially if they have 50. acres for their wife also?"[17]

1789 January 26. (to Edward Bancroft). "As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made, to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children. Many quakers in Virginia seated their slaves on their lands as tenants. They were distant from me, and therefore I cannot be particular in the details, because I never had very particular information. I cannot say whether they were to pay a rent in money, or a share of the produce: but I remember that the landlord was obliged to plan their crops for them, to direct all their operations during every season and according to the weather, but, what is more afflicting, he was obliged to watch them daily and almost constantly to make them work, and even to whip them. A man's moral sense must be unusually strong, if slavery does not make him a thief. He who is permitted by law to have no property of his own, can with difficulty conceive that property is founded in anything but force. These slaves chose to steal from their neighbors rather than work. They became public nuisances, and in most instance were reduced to slavery again.... Notwithstanding the discouraging result of these experiments, I am decided on my final return to America to try this one. I shall endeavor to import as many Germans as I have grown slaves. I will settle them and my slaves, on farms of 50. acres each, intermingled, and place all on the footing of the Metayers of Europe. Their children shall be brought up, as others are, in habits of property and foresight, and I have no doubt but that they will be good citizens. Some of their fathers will be so: others I suppose will need government...."[18]

1793 July 14. (to James Monroe). "I become daily more and more convinced that all the West India Islands will remain in the hands of the people of colour, and a total expulsion of the whites sooner or later take place. It is high time we should foresee the bloody scenes which our children certainly, and possibly ourselves (south of the Patowmac) have to wade through, and try to avert them."[19]

1797 August 28. (to St. George Tucker). "You know my subscription to it's [Tucker's pamphlet] doctrines, and as to the mode of emancipation, I am satisfied that that must be a matter of compromise between the passions the prejudices, and the real difficulties which will each have their weight in that operation. Perhaps the first chapter of this history, which has begun in St. Domingo, and the next succeeding ones which will recount how all the whites were driven from all the other islands, may prepare our minds for a peaceable accomodation [sic] between justice, policy and necessity, and furnish an answer to the difficult question Whither shall the coloured emigrants go? And the sooner we put some plan under way, the greater hope there is that it may be permitted to proceed peaceably to it's ultimate effect. But if something is not done, and soon done, we shall be the murderers of our own children. The Murmura, venturos nautis prodentia ventos has already reached us; the revolutionary storm now sweeping the globe will be upon us, and happy if we make timely provision to give it an easy passage over our land. From the present state of things in Europe and America the day which begins our combustion must be near at hand, and only a single spark is wanting to make that day tomorrow. If we had begun sooner, we might probably have been allowed a lengthier operation to clear ourselves, but every day's delay lessens the time we may take for emancipation. Some people derive hope from the aid of the confederated states. But this is a delusion. There is but one state in the Union which will aid us sincerely if an insurrection begins; and that one may perhaps have it's own fire to quench at the same time."[20]

1799 February 5. (to James Madison). "The English will probably forbid them the ocean, confine them to their island, & thus prevent their becoming an American Algiers. it must be admitted too that they may play them off on us when they please. against this there is no remedy but timely measures on our part to clear ourselves by degrees of the matter on which that even can work." [21]

1800. (Memorandum of Services to my country). "The act of prohibiting importation of slaves."[22]

1801 November 24. (to James Monroe). "Could we procure lands beyond the limits of the U S to form a receptacle for these people?" Canada is perhaps too cold; as for Spanish territory, it poses similar question to that of Ohio: "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.... 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 these 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 receive 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 & us not probable on a contemplation of our relative strength, and the disproportion daily growing and it is overweighed 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...."[23]

1802 June 2. (to James Monroe). "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. In looking towards Africa for our object, the British establishment at Sierra Leone at once presents itself.... 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 receive 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.... 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 into 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 whatever power is least likely to become an enemy, and to use the knolege of these exiles in predatory expeditions against us."[24]

1802 July 13. (to Rufus King). "The course of things in the neighboring islands of the West Indies appears to have given a considerable impulse to the minds of the slaves in different parts of the US. 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. & 30. I believe) fell victim 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 US. 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 negotiations 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 expences but procure profit also. But there being already such an establishment on that coast by the English Sierra Leone company, made for the express purpose of colonising 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 desireable because the blacks settled at Sierra 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 & public as would be necessary to give us 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 civilisation."[25]

1805 January 28. (to William A. Burwell). "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 affect 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 burden on his master daily 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 and sufferings to release them in their own way, which, without such sufferings we might now model after our own convenience."[26]

1805 May 11. (to George Logan). "...The cause in which he [Thomas Brannagan, author of an anti-€‘slavery poem] 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 and do my duty with promptitude and zeal. But in the meantime 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 and 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 [sic]. 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; and 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."[27]

1806 December 2. (Sixth Annual Message to Congress). "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, and which the morality, the reputation, and 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 on the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, yet the intervening period is not too long to prevent, by timely notice, expeditions which cannot be completed before that day."[28]

1809 February 25. (to Henri Gregoire). Received Gregoire's volume on Literature of Negroes]. "Be assured that no person living wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a complete refutation of the doubts I have myself entertained and expressed on the grade of understanding allotted to them by nature, and to find that in this respect they are on a par with ourselves. My doubts were the result of personal observation on the limited sphere of my own State, where the opportunities for the development of their genius were not favorable, and those of exercising it still less so. I expressed them therefore with great hesitation; but whatever be their degree of talent it is no measure of their rights.... On this subject they are gaining daily in the opinions of nations, and hopeful advances are making towards their re-€‘establishment on an equal footing with the other colors of the human family."[29]

1811 September 16. (to Clement Caine). "The retort on European censors, of their own practices on the liberties of man, the inculcation on the master of the moral duties which he owes to the slave, in return for the benefit of his service, that is to say, of food clothing, care in sickness, and maintenance under age and disability, so as to make him in fact as comfortable and more secure than the laboring man in most parts of the world; and the idea suggested of substituting free whites in all household occupations and manual arts, thus lessening the call for the other kind of labor, while it would increase the public security, give great merit to the work, and will, I have no doubt, produce wholesome impressions."[30]

1813 December 14. (to Abbe Rochon). "I am glad to lean that you are shewing us th 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 and manipulation."[31]

1814 August 25. (to Edward Coles). "Your favor of July 31. was 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 strong 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 & onotonous 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 ore 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, receiving 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 ferrumcingi.' 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 free men, and be led by no repugnances 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 control. 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 encouraging 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 complete, 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."[32]

1814 September 10. (to Thomas Cooper). "Nor in the class of laborers do I mean to withhold 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, and labor less than the journeymen or dayï·“laborers of England. They have the comfort, too, of numerous families, in the midst of whom they live without want, or 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 and seamen subject to the same, without seeing, at the end of their career, when age and accident shall have rendered them unequal to labor, the certainty, which the other has, that he will never want?... 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."[33]

1815 May 1. (to David Barrow). "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 quaere [sic] 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 [sic] 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."[34]

1817 February 8. (to Thomas Humphreys). "I concur entirely in your leading principles of gradual emancipation, of establishment on the coast of Africa, and the patronage of our nation until the emigrants shall be able to protect themselves. The subordinate details might be easily arranged. But the bare proposition of purchase by the United States generally, would excite infinite indignation in all the States north of Maryland. The sacrifice must fall on the States alone which hold them; and the difficult question will be how to lessen this so as to reconcile our fellow citizens to it. Personally I am ready and desirous to make any sacrifice which shall ensure their gradual but complete retirement from the State, and effectually, at the same time, establish them elsewhere in freedom and safety. But I have not perceived the growth of this disposition in the rising generation, of which I once had sanguine hopes. No symptoms inform me that it will take place in my day. I leave it, therefore, to time, and not at all without hope that the day will come, equally desirable and welcome to us as to them. Perhaps the proposition now on the carpet at Washington to provide an establishment on the coast of Africa for voluntary emigrations of people of color, may be the corner stone of this future edifice."[35]

1820 April 22. (to John Holmes). "But this momentous question [the Missouri 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.... A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived 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 so it is 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 ears, 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 coadjutors."[36]

1820 November 3. (Isaac Briggs reported in his diary on his conversation with Jefferson). "Among other political points, that which has been called the Missouri question stood prominent. He said that nothing had happened since the revolution, which gave him so much anxiety and so many disquieting fears for the safety and happiness of his country. -€˜I fear,' said he, -€˜that much mischief has been done already, but if they carry matters to extremities again at the approaching session of Congress, nothing short of Almighty power can save us. The Union will be broken. All the horrors of civil war, embittered by local jealousies and mutual recriminations, will ensue. Bloodshed, rapine and cruelty will soon roam at large, will desolate our once happy land and turn the fruitful field into a howling wilderness. Out of such a state of things will naturally grow a war of extermination toward the African in our land. Instead of improving the condition of this poor, afflicted, degraded race, terminating, in the ordering of wisdom, in equal liberty and the enjoyment of equal rights (in which direction public opinion is advancing with rapid strides) the course pursued, by those who make high professions of humanity and of friendship for them, would involve them as well as us in certain destruction. I believe there are many, very many, who are quite honest in their humane views and feelings toward this people, lending their efforts, with amiable but misguided zeal, to those leaders those master spirits, who raise the whirlwind and direct the storm who are not honest, who wear humanity as a mask, whose aim is power, and who "would wade through slaughter to a throne and shut the gates of mercy on mankind." I have considered the United States as owing to the world an example, and that this is their solemn duty&—a steady, peaceful example of morality and happiness in society at large, of moderation and wisdom in government, and of civil and religious liberty&—an example, which, by its mild and steady light, would be far more powerful than the sword in correcting abuses&—in teaching mankind that they can, if they will, govern themselves, and of relieving them from the oppressions of kingcraft and priestcraft. But if our Union be broken, this duty will be sacrificed&—this bright example will be lost&—it will be worse than lost. The predictions of our enemies will be fulfilled, in the estimation of the world, that we were not wise enough for self government. It would be said that the fullest and fairest experiment had been made&—and had failed; and the chains of despotism would be rivetted more firmly than ever.' This is the substance; I do not pretend to recollect, exactly, although I believe very nearly, his words, for his manner was impressive."[37]

1820 December 26. (to Marquis de Lafayette). "All know that permitting the slaves of the south to spread into the west will not add one being to that unfortunate condition, that it will increase the happiness of those existing, and by spreading them over a larger surface, will dilute the evil everywhere, and facilitate the means of getting finally rid of it, an event more anxiously wished by those on whom it presses than by the noisy pretenders to exclusive humanity. In the mean time it is a ladder for rivals climbing to power."[38]

1821. (Autobiography). "But it was found the public mind would not yet bear the proposition [emancipation bill, in Virginia legislature, late 1770s], 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 pari 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." [39]

1821. (Autobiography). "I made one effort in that body [House of Burgesses] for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected..."[40]

1821. (Autobiography). "This subject was not acted on finally until the year 78. when I brought in a bill to prevent their further importation, leaving to future efforts its final eradication."[41]

1821 January 22. (to John Adams). The Missouri issue. "The real question, as seen in the states afflicted with this unfortunate population, is Are our slaves to be presented with freedom and a dagger? For if Congress has a power to regulate the conditions of the inhabitants of the states, within the states, it will be but another exercise of that power to declare that all shall be free. Are we then to see again Athenian and Lacedemonian confederacies? To wage another Peloponnesian war to settle the ascendancy between them? Or is this the tocsin of merely a servile war? That remains to be seen: but not I hope by you or me. Surely they will parley awhile, and give us time to get out of the way. What a Bedlamite is man!"[42]

1823 September 8. (toWilliam Short). "Our only blot is becoming less offensive by the great improvement in the condition and civilization of that race, who can now more advantageously compare their situation with that of the laborers of Europe. Still it is a hideous blot, as well from the heteromorph peculiarities of the race, as that, with them, physical compulsion to action must be substituted for the moral necessity which constrains the free laborers to work equally hard. We feel and deplore it morally and politically, and we look without entire despair to some redeeming means not yet specifically foreseen. I am happy in believing that the conviction of the necessity of removing this evil gains ground with time. Their emigration to the westward lightens the difficulty by dividing it, and renders it more practicable on the whole. And the neighborhood of a government of their color promises a more accessible asylum than that from whence they came."[43]

1824 February 4. (to Jared Sparks). "In the disposition of these unfortunate people, there are two rational objects to be distinctly kept in view. First. The establishment of a colony on the coast of Africa, which may introduce among the aborigines the arts of cultivated life, and the blessings of civilization and science. By doing this, we may make to them some retribution for the long course of injuries we have been committing on their population. And considering that these blessings will descend to the "nati natorum, et qui nascentur ab illis," we shall in the long run have rendered them perhaps more good than evil.... The second object, and the most interesting to us, as coming home to our physical and moral characters, to our happiness and safety, is to provide an asylum to which we can, by degrees, send the whole of that population from among us, and establish them under our patronage and protection, as a separate, free and independent people, in some country and climate friendly to human life and happiness." TJ then questions Africa as a site and rejects idea of wholesale colonization over even a twenty-€‘five year period; the expense would be too great. "There is, 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 conceive any other practicable plan," as published in Chapter 14 of Notes on Virginia. Expenses to be paid from what was never paid to southern states for ceding their western lands. Suggests Santo Domingo as asylum, and calculates number that would be carried there annually, "and the old stock would die off in the ordinary course of nature, lessening from the commencement until its final disappearance. In this way no violation of private right is proposed....I do not go into all the details of the burthens and benefits of this operation. And who could estimate its blessed effects? I leave this to those who will live to see their accomplishment, and to enjoy a beatitude forbidden to my age. But I leave it with this admonition, to rise and be doing. A million and a half are within their control; but six millions, (which a majority of those now living will see them attain,) and one million of these fighting men, will say, `we will not go.'...The separation of infants from their mothers, too, would produce some scruples of humanity. But this would be straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel."[44]

1824 July 18. (to Lydia Sigourney). "I wish that [plight of Indians] was the only blot in our moral history, and that no other race had higher charges to bring against us. I am not apt to despair; yet I see not how we are to disengage ourselves from that deplorable entanglement, we have the wolf by the ears and feel the danger of either holding or letting him loose. I shall not live to see it but those who come after us will be wiser than we are, for light is spreading and man improving. to that advancement I look, and to the dispensations of an all-wise and all-powerful providence to devise the means of effecting what is right."[45]

1825 August 7. (to Frances Wright). "At the age of 82. with one foot in the grave, and the other uplifted to follow it, I do not permit myself to take part in any new enterprises, even for bettering the condition of man, not even in the great one which is the subject of your letter, and which has been thro' life that of my greatest anxieties. The march of events has not been such as to render it's completion practicable within the limits of time allotted to me; and I leave it's accomplishment as the work of another generation....The abolition of the evil is not impossible: it ought never therefore to be despaired of. Every plan should be adopted, every experiment tried, which may do something towards the ultimate object."[46]

1825 August 27. (to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "One fatal stain deforms what nature had bestowed on us of her fairest gifts."[47]

1826 January 18. (to William Short). "On the subject of emancipation I have ceased to think because not to be a work of my day. The plan of converting the blacks into Serfs would certainly be better than keeping them in their present condition, but I consider that of expatriation to the governments of the W.I. of their own colour as entirely practicable, and greatly preferable to the mixture of colour here. To this I have great aversion; but I repeat my abandonment of the subject."[48]

1826 April 8. (to Edward Everett). "On the question of the lawfulness of slavery, that is of the right of one man to appropriate to himself the faculties of another without his consent, I certainly retain my early opinions. On that, however, of third persons to interfere between the parties, and the effect of conventional modifications of the pretension, we are probably nearer together."[49]

1826 May 20. (to James Heaton). "The subject of your letter of April 20, is one on which I do not permit myself to express an opinion, but when time, place, and occasion may give it some favorable effect. A good cause is often injured more by ill-€‘timed efforts of its friends than by the arguments of its enemies. Persuasion, perseverance, and patience are the best advocates on questions depending on the will of others. The revolution in public opinion which this cause 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 forty years before the public. Had I repeated them forty times, they would only have become the more stale and threadbare. Although 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 prayer."[50]

Footnotes

  1. Argument in case of Howell v. Netherland. Ford, 1:474.
  2. PTJ, 1:130.
  3. Ibid, 1:363.
  4. Ibid, 1:426.
  5. 2:22-23.
  6. Notes, ed. Peden, 137-€‘8.
  7. Ibid, 87.
  8. PTJ, 6:298.
  9. Ibid, 6:608.
  10. Notes, ed. Peden, 163.
  11. PTJ, 8:184.
  12. Ibid, 8:356-€‘357.
  13. Referring to the loss of the antislavery clause of Ordinance of 1784 by a single vote. Ibid, 10:58.
  14. Ibid, 10:18.
  15. Ibid, 11:589.
  16. Ibid, 12:557-558.
  17. Ibid, 13:10.
  18. Ibid, 14:492-493.
  19. Ibid, 26:503.
  20. Ibid, 29: 519.
  21. Ibid, 31:9-10. Jefferson refers to the probable passage of a bill with a clause to open commerce with Saint-Domingue, which passed on February 6. See succeeding comments on the "Toussaint clause," and Jefferson's fears because of it, Ibid, 31:29 et al.
  22. Peterson, Writings, 702.
  23. Ibid, 1096-1099.
  24. Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mtj1&fileName=mtj1page026.db&recNum=490
  25. Ford, 9:383-386.
  26. Ibid, 10:126-€‘127.
  27. Ibid, 10:141-142.
  28. Peterson, Writings, 528.
  29. Ibid, 1202.
  30. PTJ:RS, 4:157.
  31. John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library. Colonial Williamsburg. http://research.history.org/JDRLibrary.cfm
  32. Writings., 1343-1346.
  33. L&B, 14:183-184.
  34. Ford, 11:470-471.
  35. Ibid,12:53-54.
  36. Writings, 1434.
  37. Peterson, Visitors, 90-91.
  38. Ford, 12:191.
  39. Ibid, 44.
  40. Peterson, Writings, 5.
  41. Ibid, 34. According to Julian Boyd, Jefferson erred in thinking the bill passed without opposition. See PTJ, 2:23.
  42. Cappon, Jefferson-Adams Letters, 2:570.
  43. L&B]], 15:469-470.
  44. Peterson, Writings, 1484-1487.
  45. Morgan Library and Museum. http://www.morganlibrary.org/
  46. Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mtj1&fileName=mtj1page055.db&recNum=460
  47. Family Letters, 457.
  48. Ford, 12:434.
  49. Ibid, 12:469.
  50. Peterson, Writings, 1516.

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says

I really think it is interesting to look at so many quotes together that describe Jefferson's thinking about slavery, slaves, and emancipation. Jefferson saw that emancipation would not be simple and that the system of slavery had purposefully denied slaves the means to be independent.

I believe that Jefferson saw that successful plans for emancipation would need to take into account not only the freeing of slaves but how they would be prepared to live in a changed world in their new role.

Ultimately Jefferson seems to have resolved himself to the reality that he would not live to see slavery ended nor a workable solution to emancipation found.

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