Thomas Jefferson and the Fight against Slavery
Sales Date: January 15, 2024
400 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: January 2024
- Published: January 2024
In this groundbreaking work, Cara Rogers Stevens examines the fascinating life of Thomas Jefferson’s book, Notes on the State of Virginia, from its innocuous composition in the early 1780s to its use as a political weapon by both pro- and antislavery forces in the early nineteenth century. Initially written as a brief statistical introduction to Virginia for French readers, Jefferson’s book evolved to become his comprehensive statement on almost all facets of the state’s natural and political realms. As part of an antislavery education strategy, Jefferson also decided to include a treatise on the nature of racial difference, as well as a manifesto on the corrupting power of slavery in a republic and a plan for emancipation and colonization. In consequence, his book—for better or worse—defined the boundaries of future debates over the place of African-descended people in American society.
Although historians have rightly criticized Jefferson for his racism and failure to free his own slaves, his antislavery intentions for the Notes have received only cursory notice, partly because the original manuscript was not available for detailed examination until recently.
By analyzing Jefferson’s complex revision process, Thomas Jefferson and the Fight against Slavery traces the evolution of Jefferson’s views on race and slavery as he considered how best to persuade younger slaveholders to embrace emancipation. Rogers Stevens then moves beyond Jefferson to examine contemporary responses to the Notes from white and black intellectuals and politicians, concluding with an attempt by Jefferson’s grandson to implement elements of the Notes’s emancipation plan during Virginia’s 1831–1832 slavery debates.
“This is a magnificent achievement both in the fields of the history of the Early Republic and in Jefferson studies. Cara Rogers Stevens’s understanding of Jefferson and his times is exceptionally clear-minded, while based on a huge amount of innovative work with actual source material. I was particularly delighted by an exceptionally comprehensive and important account of Jefferson’s correspondence with William Short and Edward Bancroft. As a historian Rogers Stevens is meticulous, profound, pointed, and intelligent—the kind we need more of.”—Ari Helo, author of Thomas Jefferson’s Ethics and the Politics of Human Progress: The Morality of a Slaveholder
“Many scholars have been skeptical about the depth and strength of Thomas Jefferson’s opposition to slavery. In Thomas Jefferson and the Fight against Slavery, Cara Rogers Stevens challenges this orthodoxy. Rogers Stevens, believing that we should take Jefferson at his word, offers a close reading of The Notes on the State of Virginia, one of Jefferson’s most important and controversial works, to argue that Jefferson’s antislavery thinking was more sincere, deeply rooted, and influential than many scholars have appreciated. Students of Jefferson and slavery will need to engage with this original, provocative, and well-written study.”—Frank Cogliano, author of Revolutionary America, 1763–1815: A Political History and Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson’s Foreign Policy
1. Antislavery at William and Mary
2. Writing Notes on the State of Virginia
3. Authors in Paris: Printing the Notes
4. Alternatives to Slavery, 1785–1798
5. A Lasting Influence: The “Sons” Appropriate the Notes
6. the Jeffersonian Legacy in Virginia, 1820–1832