to everything about it. He described landscapes, rivers, mountains, mines, natural wonders, birds and animals, plants and trees, crops, public life, and politics. Jefferson never crossed the Blue Ridge, though it lies not far west of Monticello, but in his imagination Virginia’s grand prospects reached as far as New Orleans, El Paso, and even Mexico City. He thought it would be easy for Virginia’s commerce to dominate the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, despite the Appalachian ridges that separated it from them. Though he was a great planter for whom others labored, he wanted Virginia’s future to be with “those who labor in the earth . . . the chosen people of God.”Jefferson’s prose as he described his Virginia was calm, and his descriptions were precise, until he turned to slavery, in his chapter on the commonwealth’s Copyright @ 2012. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable copyright law.
72 Chapter Threelaws. He noted several provisions for revising the laws at the time. Perhaps he missed the deep, bitter irony in one proposal, “to make slaves distributable among the next of kin, as other moveables,” simply not seeing that dividing them to suit the needs of the heirs in a master’s family meant breaking their own families. But at the end of his short list of proposed revisions, he came to a proposal (his own) “to emancipate all slaves born after the passing of the act.” As with his draft of the Declaration, as soon as he touched slavery directly, he began to lose control.Jefferson wanted slavery gone, but he wanted black people gone too. The memories of slavery, on both sides, were one reason. He had been born to mastery, and he understood how absolute dominion over another human be-ing damaged any person who possessed it. He understood too that, if freedom came, the former slaves would bear huge grievances and good reason to retal-iate against the former masters. His short, powerful indictment of the damage slavery did to masters and slaves alike in Notes on Virginia came from his own experience, and John Adams told him it was “worth diamonds.”14But having made those astute comments about the effects of slavery on master and slave alike, he turned to another theme altogether, nature. In pages that are very painful to read now, especially given their authorship, he trotted out every argument of his day that seemed to justify black inferiority. Those points made, he used supposed black inferiority as a reason why black people (even, presumably, his own children with Sally Hemings, though he never spoke or wrote about them) could have no place in his republic.Jefferson possessed a huge library, and very probably he had a copy of Anthony Benezet’s exploration of African historical and social reality, as op-posed to slave traders’ and slaveholders’ myths. But if he had read Benezet, as Patrick Henry certainly did, it had no influence on his thought. Jefferson had found the answer to his own dilemma. In some sense all men are created equal, and black people did deserve freedom. But nature had made them so