Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Slavery
and the Making of AmericaPhoto of
Time and
Place Slave
Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The
Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture
Intro Historical Overview Character
Spotlight Music in Slave Life Personal Narratives Original
Docs
Original Documents Education, Arts, & Culture

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Banneker
08/30/1791
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, "Creating a Virginia Republic" Exhibit
return to main documents page
Photo of a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Banneker
view full-sized image
Document Description
Thomas Jefferson's papers and correspondence reveal major inconsistencies regarding his beliefs in the intellectual capacity of blacks. In this letter, Jefferson exalts the learned Benjamin Banneker and proclaims that he is proof that members of his race are equal to whites in their potential for learning and achievement.

Transcript
Philadelphia Aug. 30. 1791.

Sir,

I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th. instant and for the Almanac it contained. no body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colours of men, & that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America. I can add with truth that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body & mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecillity of their present existence, and other circumstance which cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic society because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them. I am with great esteem, Sir, Your most obedt. humble servt.

Th. Jefferson

email
this page to a friend
About the Series K-12 Learning Feedback [an error occurred while processing this directive]Support
PBS