Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Humphreys, 8 February 1817

To Thomas Humphreys

Monticello Feb. 8. 17.

[D]ear Sir

Your favor of Jan. 2. did not come to my hands until the 5th instant. I concur entirely in your leading principles of gradual emancipation, of establishment on the coast of Africa, and the patronage of our nation until the emigrants shall be able to protect themselves. the subordinate details might be easily arranged. but the bare proposition of purchase by the United states generally would excite infinite indignation in all the states North of Maryland. the sacrifice must fall on the States alone which hold them; and the difficult question will be how to lessen this so as to reconcile our fellow citizens to it. personally I am ready and desirous to make any sacrifice which shall ensure their gradual but compleat retirement from the state, and effectually at the same time establish them elsewhere in freedom and safety. but I have not percieved the growth of this disposition in the rising generation, of which I once had sanguine hopes. no symptoms inform me that it will take place in my day. I leave it therefore to time, and not at all without hope, that the day will come, equally desirable and welcome to us as to them: perhaps the proposition now on the carpet at Washington, to provide an establishment on the coast of Africa for voluntary emigrations of people of colour may be the corner stone of this future edifice. praying for it’s completion as early as may most promote the good of all, I salute you with great esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); on verso of portion of reused address cover of Humphreys to TJ, [ca. 23] Jan. 1817; salutation faint; at foot of text: “Dr Thomas Humphreys.”

Humphreys’s favor is printed above at 23 Jan. 1817. The proposition now on the carpet was made by the newly formed American Colonization Society. At its inaugural meeting in Washington on 1 Jan. 1817, the society resolved that its president, Bushrod Washington, and its Board of Managers should petition Congress concerning colonization. A memorial was accordingly presented by John Randolph of Roanoke on 14 Jan. 1817. Timothy Pickering, a member of the House committee on the African slave trade, reported on the petition on 11 Feb. 1817 and proposed a joint resolution urging the United States president to negotiate with other nations regarding abolition of the slave trade, ask Great Britain to admit to Sierra Leone free American blacks who were emigrating voluntarily, and, barring that, seek agreement from Britain and other maritime powers for the United States to establish a permanently neutral colony for free blacks on the African coast. The proposal was read twice and committed to a committee of the whole House, but was not considered further (Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 3 Jan. 1817; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 10:199, 380; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. (All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. Citations given below are to the edition mounted on the American Memory website of the Library of Congress and give the date of the debate as well as page numbers.) description ends , 14th Cong., 2d sess., 939–41).

Index Entries

  • Africa; colonization of blacks to search
  • American Colonization Society search
  • Congress, U.S.; and slavery search
  • Great Britain; and slave trade search
  • Humphreys, Thomas; letter to search
  • Humphreys, Thomas; on emancipation of slaves search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; slavery search
  • Pickering, Timothy; as U.S. representative from Mass. search
  • Randolph, John (of Roanoke); as U.S. representative from Va. search
  • slavery; and African colonization search
  • slavery; and emancipation proposals search
  • slavery; TJ on search
  • slaves; T. Humphreys’s plan for emancipation of search
  • slave trade; and Great Britain search
  • Washington, Bushrod; and American Colonization Society search