Thomas Jefferson


Summary 1781-1784

Jefferson proceeded to attend more fully to the care of his lands and means, but was slowed by a broken wrist he had suffered the previous summer in a fall from his horse. Finding himself incapacitated, he resumed work on an extended questionnaire regarding methods of government that had been issued to him while governor by the French diplomat Francois Barbe-Marbois. This effort resulted in the renowned Notes on the State of Virginia, the only extended tract that Jefferson ever published.

In his Notes, Jefferson recounted many of the policies he had initiated while at work in the Virginia Assembly during the late 1770s. In addition, he produced a veritable encyclopedia of the region, outlining its environmental, geographical, and historical aspects while mixing in various architectural, archeological and climatic observations. Ever loyal to husbandry, Jefferson was vociferous in his claim for the primacy of agrarian interests against infringing manufacturing developments. To this end, he argued that whereas the farmer was truly healthy, all other occupations were at heart unsound.

The defense of agrarianism was only one in a set of conspicuous social theories that Jefferson advanced in Notes. The most famous of these were his remarks on the relative characteristics of the black, native, and white populations in Virginia. While Jefferson believed the native and white populations to be intellectually comparable, he found blacks to be inferior to whites in the endowments of both body and mind. Although willing to grant certain cosmetic similarities between blacks and whites, he insisted on shortcomings of blacks with regard to beauty, imagination, and reason.

Jefferson viewed such inherent differences between blacks and whites as enough to make abolition impracticable. Although he supported, and even encouraged, the mixing of native and white blood, he viewed miscegenation between blacks and whites to be a crime against nature. For this reason, upon the inevitable step of emancipation, Jefferson could see no resort but to remove all blacks from the American continent, in a massive relocation project that would effectively repopulate the slave coast of Africa.

Strange as it sounds to contemporary ears, Jeffersons policy was held in wide regard throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. It was earnestly supported by respected political figures such as Henry Clay, who helped to establish the charter of an American Colonization Society. Under their auspices, a group of freed slaves established a colony in West Africa in 1822, which became the independent country of Liberia in 1847. Even as late as 1862, Abraham Lincoln viewed the colonization scheme of repatriation as the best solution to Americas mounting racial tensions (See the Lincoln SparkNote).

Colonization was viewed by many as the only alternative to out-and-out race war. As Jefferson speculated, if the two races were allowed to co-exist in free relation, the thousand recollections, by the blacks of the injuries they have sustained...will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions that will probably never end but in the extermination of one or the other race. Faced with such a prospect, Jefferson trembled to consider the result. When I reflect, he wrote to his fellow whites, that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever...The Almighty has no attribute which can take sides with us in such a contest.

Thomas Jefferson: Popular pages