DID JEFFERSON BELIEVE IN BLACK INFERIORITY?
> In my daughter's History book, "A People and A > Nation", there is a quote from Thomas Jefferson but it doesn't say the > source. The quote reads: "... Thomas Jefferson sugested in 1781 that blacks > were 'inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.' " I > would interpret that specific sentence to mean that Jefferson believed blacks > to be inferior to whites (and that was the point in the history book). > However, the quotes I read on your site implied that he thought African > Americans could be equal to whites, given the same opportunities. What do > you think was his true oppinion? On the question of black inferiority, Jefferson always gave a nuanced answer. But those who wish to portray Jefferson as a racist seem always to trim off those nuances in order to fit their purpose. Jefferson never said outright (that I have seen) that the blacks were inferior to the whites. He always hedged and said that, based on *his observations*, they did not seem to be equal -- or *might not* be equal -- to whites in body and mind. "I have supposed the black man in his present state might not be [equal to the white man]; but it would be hazardous to affirm that equally cultivated for a few generations, he would not become so." --Thomas Jefferson to Chastellux, 1785. In other words, he did not think that the black man was necessarily inferior *by nature*, since if he were, the equal cultivation for a few generations would make no difference. Jefferson thus expressed an open mind on the question, even though his *observations* suggested they were not equal in body and mind. But as he stated so emphatically, when it comes to a person's rights, that question is irrelevant. "My doubts were the result of personal observation on the limited sphere of my own State, where the opportunities for the development of their genius were not favorable, and those of exercising it still less so. I expressed them therefore with great hesitation; but whatever be their degree of talent, it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others." --Thomas Jefferson to Henri Gregoire, 1809. These *conditional* statements are usually edited, however, to make it seem that Jefferson actually believed blacks were inferior, just as it often happens in a racially charged atmosphere today, merely to raise a question causes a person to be vilified as a racist. Hence, it is not possible to speak of Jefferson's true opinion without using terms like "possibly" or "may be" or "could be." And to omit using those mitigating terms is to give a (deliberately) distorted assessment of Jefferson's views. Thus, to answer your question, I think that Jefferson believed that blacks were probably not equal to whites in body and mind, but he wasn't really sure.
> I am writing a paper >on Thomas Jefferson's views of African-Americans and one main point I >was trying to find more information was on what he believed were >scientific and natural evidences that whites and blacks were inherently >different, to which he thought whites were superior to all other races. >I was wondering if you have any information on this topic. I believe it >is called the chain of being. As to the "scientific and natural evidences that whites and blacks were inherently different," his tentative proposals were based on his own observations. Some of these observations are listed in Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia," Query XIV, beginning pg. 192 of volume 2 of the Memorial Edition of Jefferson's Writings. He states, pg. 194: "Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous." As stated above, these are Jefferson's observations, subject to all the caveats noted by himself. These are all very violatile issues, where merely to mention possibilities or raise questions frequently subjects one to excoriation as a racist or something worse. At the risk of sailing into such a territory, I might suggest the interesting possibility that IF Jefferson's observations were accurate with reference to the blacks available to him for observation, and IF those blacks were indeed, in general, inferior to whites in the abilities noted, that difference very well may have been eliminated by the intermixing of white and black blood since Jefferson's time. If you are brave enough to present such a possibility, I would advise that you duck immediately after doing so. ;-) As to the proposition that Jefferson "thought whites were superior to all other races," I do not believe that is correct. Jefferson never made such a statement that I am aware of. In fact, he considered the Indians to be the equal of the white man, and his wish was to incorporate them into American society. He wrote of the Indians in "Notes on Virginia" (pg. 84): "His vivacity and activity of mind is equal to ours in the same situation." He goes into a lengthy description of the Indian, beginning on pg. 82. If you have not already, I would suggest that you review the quotations under "Race Relations" on my website, "Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government," located at: http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff1290.htm
>I'm a college freshman and I'm trying to find a specific thesis that >Thomas Jefferson wrote. I am not positive but I believe it is called " >Blacks are inferior to Whites". If possible, could you point me to a site >were I could find this information or anything Jefferson wrote pertaining >to Blacks or Slavery, it would be greatly appreciated. Thomas Jefferson did not compose any document called "Blacks are inferior to Whites," neither did he believe that blacks were inferior to whites AS PERSONS. He did believe they were inferior in certain attributes, such as the ability to blush. He believed that they MIGHT be intellectually inferior while in the degraded state of slavery. He wrote: "I have supposed the black man in his present state might not be [equal to the white man]; but it would be hazardous to affirm that equally cultivated for a few generations, he would not become so." --Thomas Jefferson to Francois Jean de Chastellux, 1785. ME 5:6, Papers 8:186 Jefferson made several statements that expressed his doubts. When people want to paint Jefferson as a racist, they leave out the statements, such as the above, that indicate that his views on blacks were predicated on his observations only, not on any firm belief that he held that blacks were inferior as persons by nature. There is a whole section of quotations on blacks and race at: http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff1290.htm
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