Under the mild treatment our slaves experience, and their wholesome, though coarse, food, this blot in our country increases as fast, or faster, than the whites. During the regal government, we had at one time obtained a law, which imposed such a duty on the importation of slaves, as amounted nearly to a prohibition, when one inconsiderate assembly, placed under a peculiarity of circumstance, repealed the law. This repeal met a joyful sanction from the then sovereign, and no devices, no expedients, which could ever after be attempted by subsequent assemblies, and they seldom met without attempting them, could succeed in getting the royal assent to a renewal of the duty. In the very first session held under the republican government, the assembly passed a law for the perpetual prohibition of the importation of slaves. This will in some measure stop the increase of this great political and moral evil, while the minds of our citizens may be ripening for a complete emancipation of human nature.His belief that slaves were treated mildly in America would form part of the foundation of the defense of the Peculiar Institution. This passage does not sum all of Jefferson's views, but is one piece that cannot be ignored. His statement that ending slavery is part of "emancipation of human nature" lends credence to the view that he may have considered the assertion that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence to include African Americans.
Jefferson, Notes on the State of
, 87. Virginia
An exchange between Conor Cruise O'Brien and Douglas L. Wilson in the Atlantic Monthly in 1996 offers one entry into the complexities of Jefferson's legacy. O'Brien draws from statements of Jefferson's a few chapters later in Notes on the State of Virginia, as well as other texts. Wilson challenges O'Brien's reading of some of these texts.
My copy of the text is William Peden, ed., Notes on the State of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982 ). The extract above also is available as hypertext at the University of Virginia's American Studies Crossroads Project.