Thomas Jefferson and Slavery in Virginia
At the bottom it was slavery that divided Virginia along the Blue Ridge Mountains. Most members of the convention have agreed with the opinion of the distinguishing delegate, James Monroe, that “if no such thing as slavery existed.. the people of our Atlantic border, would meet their brethren of the west, upon the basis of a majority, of the free white population.” But slavery existed, largely as an eastern institution; and it demanded protection from mere numbers both in the state and in the federal government. By-passed in the convention, the dreaded issue, swollen by the hopes and fears of a terrible torrent, soon locked Virginia in another great debate that ripped wide the seams Jeffersonian heritage.
In the year 1831, a fanatical slave preacher, Nat Turner, and his band massacred about sixty white people, where most of them were women and children. This was by far the bloodiest events in the annals of American history. Jefferson once said, “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only form basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gifts of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? In deed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Converting crisis to opportunity, many Virginians hoped for the realization of Jefferson’s cherished goal of gradual emancipation, trusting as well that Virginia’s lead would “impart a resistless impulse” to the whole South. Once again, Jefferson provided the moral justification for western interests, which coincided with emancipation. The House of Delegates referred the slavery question to a special committee dominated by the eastern conservatives. But before the committee could submit its report, debate erupted in the House on two resolutions which instructed the committee to contradictory courses of action. Thomas Jefferson Tandoph, for the...
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