Tag Archives: Repatriation
[The Virginia Legislature] … in desiring us to look out for some proper place to which insurgent negroes may be sent … Sierra Leone was fixed on as the place … [for] the blacks then in England were carried thither … mr Thornton, the British Chargé des affaires here, he informs me the establishment is prosperous, and he thinks there will be no objection on the part of the company to recieve blacks from us, not of the character of common felons, but guilty of insurgency only, provided they are sent as free persons, the principles of their institution admitting no slavery among them.
To James Monroe, June 3, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Jefferson routinely supported efforts to repatriate former slaves to Africa, South America or the Caribbean. In doing so, they would be freed from future indignities by their former owners and other whites. A benevolent society in England had established such a colony in Sierra Leone, and it was prospering. He hoped to send blacks in America there, too.
An essential requirement for any repatriation would be that they must be sent as free people with no possibility of future slavery. Britain had guaranteed that in Sierra Leone.
Ever the practical man, Jefferson hoped that some trading endeavor might occur with the ships transporting these people across the Atlantic, to defray the cost. If that were allowed and successful, it might also provide the means for black freedmen to relocate voluntarily to a more accepting society.
What constituted “insurgent negroes” is not clear, but they could not have been criminals or those currently bound in slavery.
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Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them. It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation peaceably and in such slow degree as that the evil will wear off insensibly, and their place be pari passu [on equal footing] filled up by free white laborers. If on the contrary it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders who won’t solve problem make matters worse.
While Jefferson believed slaves were destined to be free, they were equally destined not to be free in America. In Notes on Virginia in 1782, he wrote, “Deep-rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained …,” (among other things) would keep the races from living together in harmony. Attempting to do so would create political divisions and “convulsions, which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.” Jefferson believed a gradual repatriation to Africa was in the best interest of both races.
He was prophetic in writing, “human nature must shudder at the prospect” of failure to do so. A national convulsion did come 40 years later with the Civil War.
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