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Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Banneker expressing his belief that blacks possess talents equal to those of "other colours of men," 30 August 1791

Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Banneker expressing his belief that blacks possess talents equal to those of "other colours of men," 30 August 1791

 
 
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Reproduction number: A54 (color slide); LC-MSS-27748-21 (B&W negative)
While serving as secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), one of Virginia's largest planters and slaveholders, wrote this 30 August 1791 response to Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), an African-American mathematician and surveyor living in Maryland, who had written a forceful letter to Jefferson the day before, chastising him for holding slaves and questioning his sincerity as a "friend of liberty." (Banneker's 19 August 1791 letter to Jefferson is held by the Massachusetts Historical Society). Jefferson and Banneker had been in contact previously, and the future president had been so impressed by Banneker's skills that he had recommended him for employment as an assistant surveyor of the new federal district. In a polite response to Banneker's August 1791 letter, Jefferson expressed his ambivalent feelings about slavery and assured the surveyor that "no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition" of blacks "to what it ought to be." Jefferson also indicated that he had sent an example of Banneker's work to the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794), secretary of the Royal Academy of Science and a strong advocate of racial equality, for the marquis's use in disposing of other people's doubts about black inferiority. Years later, however, Jefferson reneged on his favorable comments to Banneker about blacks in letters to Henri Gregoire (1750-1831) and Joel Barlow (1754-1812) in 1809.

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Date

01/01/1791
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Source

Library of Congress
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Public Domain