Founding Jefferson expresses doubt, it doesn’t necessarily

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson
originally published his Notes on the State of Virginia incognito in 1785 in
Paris where the first England edition was available in 1787. It was intended as
a revival of the laws in Virginia in response to French secretary Francois
Barbé-Marbois’ enquiries concerning the state of Virginia. Jefferson produced a
total of 126 bills covering several topics varying from the freedom of religion
to slavery.  Notes on the State of
Virginia aided Jefferson’s political prominence within government and -in the
long term- encouraged support for his election as President in 1800.  The extract provided, is a section within
Query XIV regarding the administration of justice. It structurally identifies
as the conclusion after Jefferson evaluates the inferiority and natural
condition of “blacks”, mentioning the faculties of memory, reason and
imagination and deciding how they measure up to the opportunities and features
of white Americans. Throughout, Jefferson assesses whether “blacks” can be
naturally categorised as a “species” confined to their societal “department” and
“qualifications” by referring to them as innately inferior in terms of beauty
and intelligence levels, but then conversely questioning whether the institution
of slavery prevents them from pursuing true talent. Jefferson uses particular
jargon in order to neither solidify nor oppose a particular theory which
attempts to please a wide audience in America with hope of avoiding opposition.
The term “suspicion” reiterates Jefferson’s ambiguous rhetoric as he uses it to
backtrack from his strong racial assertions previously made within Notes. Additionally, Francis G. Couvares
explains how American colonists in fact used their “suspicions” to begin legal
developments of black inferiority in the 1600s, and thus although Jefferson expresses
doubt, it doesn’t necessarily mean his mind isn’t already made up. This, along
with the rhetorical question at the end and tentative tone throughout,
represents how Jefferson withholds any overt racial rhetoric or pinpointing
“natural history” as the leading cause for inferiority to avoid promoting the
proslavery movement.  Jefferson is using
uncertainty, almost as a tactic, to suggest why anatomical research, mentioned
earlier in Query XIV, is necessary to investigate the differences of race. This
supports his ambiguity and reflects his acknowledgment of the growing
scientific influences from enlightenment figures such as Carl Linneaus and his
categorisation of races in System Naturae. This tactfully delays the decision
on emancipation as Jefferson claims he is still unclear on the situation of
slavery and history of races.  Query XIV
ends with an explanation as to how the code proposes to “proportion crimes and
punishments”. This links to Jefferson’s known objection to immediate
manumission for fear of social unrest. He believed assimilation would not be an
appropriate option due to the deep rooted prejudices of many Americans. The source
simply provides one example of the many contradictions belonging to Jefferson
and his demonstrations of the American paradox. Jefferson was often lost
between deciding what was best for him personally, as owner of his plantation
Monticello and hundreds of slaves, and best for targeting the entire the nation
and tackling the complex topic of slavery.  

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