May 1 1815: Jefferson and Slavery

On May 1 1815, Thomas Jefferson responds to David Barrow, a Baptist minister and abolitionist, who had written to him on March 20 1815. Barrow had sent abolitionist pamphlets to Jefferson. Barrow was the president of the Kentucky Abolition Society. In October 1815, he will petitioned Congress asking that public lands be set aside for freed slaves. Jefferson’s response to Barrow’s letter is circuitous and non-committal though he writes that the only “practical plan” to deal with the “disease” of slavery is gradual emancipation. Jefferson refers to the plan in he had proposed in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson goes on to write that both masters and slaves need “time” to receive the proper instruction so as to allow for emancipation. Jefferson writes:

Dear Sir – I have duly recieved your favor of Mar. 20. and am truly thankful for the favorable sentiments expressed in it towards my self. if, in the course of my life, it has been in any degree useful to the cause of humanity, the fact itself bears it’s full reward. the particular subject of the pamphlets you inclosed 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 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 apprised 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 & steady pursuit, to the enlargement of the human mind, and it’s 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, & 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’s progress hastened will be the last and fondest prayer of him who now salutes you with respect & consideration.
Th: Jefferson

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