The Writings of
Thomas Jefferson

editor H.A. Washington
New York :  H.W. Derby

The acts of Assembly concerning the College of William and Mary, were properly within Mr. Pendleton’s portion of our work ;  but these related chiefly to its revenue, while its constitution, organization and scope of science, were derived from its charter.  We thought that on this subject, a systematical plan of general education should be proposed, and I was requested to undertake it.  I accordingly prepared three bills for the Revisal, proposing three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes.  1st.  Elementary schools, for all children generally, rich and poor.  2d.  Colleges, for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life and such as would be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances.  And, 3d, an ultimate grade for teaching thessciences generally, and in their highest degree.  The first bill proposed to lay off every county into Hundreds, or Wards, of a proper size and population for a school, in which reading, writing, and common arithmetic should be taught ;  and that the whole State should be divided into twenty-four districts, in each of which should be a school for classical learning, grammar, geography, and the higher branches of numerical arithmetic.  The second bill proposed to amend the constitution of William and Mary college, to enlarge its sphere of science, and to make it in fact a University.  The third was for the establishment of a library.  These bills were not acted on until the same year, ’96, and then only so much of the first as provided for elementary schools.  The College of William and Mary was an establishment purely of the Church of England ;  the Visitors were required to be all of that Church ;  the Professors to subscribe its thirty-nine Articles ;  its Students to learn its Catechism ;  and one of its fundamental objects was declared to be, to raise up Ministers for that church.  The religious jealousies, therefore, of all the dissenters, took alarm lest this might give an ascendancy to the Anglican sect, and refused acting on that bill.  Its local eccentricity, too, and unhealthy autumnal climate, lessened the general inclination towards it.  And in the Elementary bill, they inserted a provision which completely defeated it ;  for they left it to the court of each county to determine for itself, when this act should be carried into execution, within their county.  One provision of the bill was, that the expenses of these schools should be borne by the inhabitants of the county, every one in proportion to his general tax rate.  This would throw on wealth the education of the poor ;  and the justices, being generally of the more wealthy class, were unwilling to incur that burden, and I believe it was not suffered to commence in a single county.  I shall recur again to this subject, towards the close of my story, if I should have life and resolution enough to reach that term ;  for I am already tired of talking about myself.

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 and 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 governmentNature, habit, opinion have 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.  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.

I considered four of these bills, passed or reported, as forming a system by which every fibre would be eradicated of ancient or future aristocracy ;  and a foundation laid for a government truly republican.  The repeal of the laws of entail would prevent the accumulation and perpetuation of wealth, in select families, and preserve the soil of the country from being daily more and more absorbed in mortmain.  The abolition of primogeniture, and equal partition of inheritances, removed the feudal and unnatural distinctions which made one member of every family rich, and all the rest poor, substituting equal partition, the best of all Agrarian laws.  The restoration of the rights of conscience relieved the people from taxation for the support of a religion not theirs ;  for the establishment was truly of the religion of the rich, the dissenting sects being entirely composed of the less wealthy people ;  and these, by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government ;  and all this would be effected, without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen.  To these, too, might be added, as a further security, the introduction of the trial by jury, into the Chancery courts, which have already ingulfed, and continue to ingulf, so great a proportion of the jurisdiction over our property.

On the 1st of June, 1779, I was appointed Governor of the Commonwealth, and retired from the legislature.  Being elected, also, one of the Visitors of William and Mary college, a self-electing body, I effected, during my residence in Williamsburg that year, a change in the organization of that institution, by abolishing the Grammar school, and the two professorships of Divinity and Oriental languages, and substituting a professorship of Law and Police, one of Anatomy, Medicine and Chemistry, and one of Modern languages ;  and the charter confining us to six professorships, we added the Law of Nature and Nations, and the Fine Arts to the duties of the Moral professor, and Natural History to those of the professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy.

Being now, as it were, identified with the Commonwealth itself, to write my own history, during the two years of my administration, would be to write the public history of that portion of the revolution within this State.  This has been done by others, and particularly by Mr. Girardin, who wrote his Continuation of Burke’s History of Virginia, while at Milton, in this neighborhood, had free access to all my papers while composing it, and has given as faithful an account as I could myself.  For this portion, therefore, of my own life, I refer altogether to his history.  From a belief that, under the pressure of the invasion under which we were then laboring, the public would have more confidence in a Military chief, and that the Military commander, being invested with the Civil power also, both might be wielded with more energy, promptitude and effect for the defense of the State, I resigned the administration at the end of my second year, and General Nelson was appointed to succeed me.


To Benjamin Banneker.
Philadelphia, August 30, 1791.

SIR,—I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th instant, and for the Almanac it contained.  Nobody wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men, and that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence, both in Africa and America.  I can add with truth, that nobody wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body and mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecility of their present existence, and other circumstances which cannot be neglected, will admit.  I have taken the liberty of sending your Almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic Society, because I considered it as a document to which your color had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them.  I am, with great esteem, Sir, your most obedient humble servant.


Notes on Virginia


The particular customs and manners that may happen to be received in that State ?

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 restrain in 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 the 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 patriæ 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 labor for another:  in which he must lock up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as depends on his individual endeavors 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 labor for himself who can make another labor for him.  This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor.  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 forever :  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.