Monday, January 10, 2011

Robert J. Evans Writes Thomas Jefferson on Slavery, 1819

Following up on my last post, I thought I'd transcribe and post the June 3, 1819 and October 2, 1819 letters that Robert J. Evans sent to Thomas Jefferson, seeking the latter's thoughts on how to eradicate slavery. Presumably Evans's letters to James Madison and John Adams were similar. The Sage of Monticello sent a non-substantive reply in November 1819, pleading illness and old age as his excuses.

Evans's first letter to Jefferson is dated June 3, 1819. The letter makes clear that the two men did not know one another:
Philadel[phia] June3.1819.

His Excellency Thomas Jefferson

Honoured Sir,

Deeply impressed with a sense of the dreadful atrocity of Slavery and its eventual evil consequences to the prosperity and happiness of the Nation, I am endeavouring with a consciousness of my inability to do that justice to that subject which its great importance demands to call the attention of the American People to it, through the medium of the National Intelligencer under the assumed signature of "Benjamin Rush."

Knowing from your Notes on Virginia as well as from the whole tenour [?] of your publick life what your sentiments on this subject are, I have taken the liberty of soliciting from you such hints relative to a plan for it's [sic] total abolition as may have occurred to you in your reflections on the subject which you may suppose calculated to promote this great object. I am aware of your advanced age and your increasing love of retirement but hope the great importance of the subject will plead my excuse.

Entirely unknown to you and to the world, but convinced of the importance of your opinions, and believing with the rest of the american family that they are the property of your country, as one of them I feel a proportionate interest and have ventured to make this request.

If this application should be considered as impertinent be pleased to consign it to oblivion and seek for my excuse in the motive which has given rise to it.

With profound respect and gratitude for your services to your country. I am your fellow citizen

Robert J. Evans
Not having received a response, Evans sent a follow-up letter on October 2, 1819:
Philadel[phia] October 2nd.1819.

His Excellent Thomas Jefferson

Honoured Sir,

With that undissembled and profound respect, which every American should feel, for the illustrious author of the declaration of Independence; I ventured some months since, to address you on a subject, of the very first importance to this nation, and to the cause of liberty: - that of the untimate extirpation of Slavery from the land. As endeavours were making to awaken the earnest attention of our fellow citizens to it, through the medium of the National Intelligencer, under the assumed signature of “Benjamin Rush”; it was hoped by the writer, that as your opinions connected with it, were known to all the world, some useful hints calculated to promote the great object, the result of reflection, might be signally beneficial to our country, whose best interests, it is now generally acknowledged by all parties, you have uniformly consulted, and laboured to promote. To this communication I have not been honoured with a line in reply. Perhaps it did not get to hand. The tremendous importance of the subject will continue, till measures of an efficient character shall be adopted, to remove or avert the approaching disastrous effects. Will you be pleased to pardon the liberty again taken, of respectfully enquiring, whether any mode of successfully accomplishing so desirable a purpose, other than those, which have been already laid before the publick, has occurred to you. If there has, should it not be the property of your country?

With sentiments of gratitude & respect I am your obedient servant

Robert J. Evans


  1. Interesting! Jefferson was not too old to respond at that point, and it's a shame he did not.

    The mechanism to end slavery was in the Constitution. All the tools needed to kick slavery in the asp, was in the Constition itself.

    With free press, free speech, and no cruel punishment, slavery was doomed. People would vote slavery out, given the chance.

    And they did. That is exactly what happened in the North. Emancipation would have happened in the South, if the Constitution was followed.

    The rape, debaurchery, the selling of infants, the torture -- none of that could survive public scrutiny. This was proven in the North, which recognized free speech, real elections.

    What no one has bothered to teach in our politically correct schools, is that the South had become a totalitarian, with violent suppression of free speech.

    Slaves would rebel, resist, run away, far more if there was free speech allowed. If preachers could preach the parts of the bible that damned slavery. If books could be published that exposed the rape, torture, and brutality of slavery.

    Either free speech had to go, or slavery had to go. It was that simple. Naturally, the slave owners decided free speech had to go. And it went.

    Did you know preachers were arrested and faced physical torture in the South, simply for owning the wrong book? Not just for preaching against slavery -- owning the wrong book, even a book that simply QUESTIONED slavery, could get a preachers arrested and tortured.

    In the South, the totalitarian governments made up of slave owners, put the whammy on Uncle Sammy's free speech, and freedom of religion.

    The anti-incendiary laws, passed in all Southern states after 1820, were a brutal and effective suppression of free speech. See the book "The Other South" which describes this well.

    Before 1820, there were some 130 anti slavery groups or publishers in the South. Only 25 in the North.

    But very quickly after 1820, the Southern publications were violently removed. Those men who survived the purge went North, like Cassius Clay and Hiton Helper.

    After these Nazi like laws, preachers were arrested who owned books the Southern governments did not like! Ships were searched, the mail was searched,

    This aspect of our antebellum history has been covered up by utter nonsense. Most people believe there was free speech and free religion and real elections in the South.

    There were none.

    Helper wrote that IF the South had allowed free speech, and real elections, slavery would have been voted out by the people themselves.

    Most people alive in the SOuth had NEVER HEARD a single legal speech against slavery, or seen a single legal book against slavery.

    The only legal communication in the South was that GOD ordained slavery.

    So extreme was the Southern leaders hatred of free speech, that some Southern Congressmen demanded the arrest of people in the NORTH who dared to write books in the NORTH against slavery. They demanded these "agitators" be arrested in the North and surrendered to the South for "proper discipline".

    Jefferson Davis -- and many others -- insisted that slaves were "the most contented laborers on earth" until "the evil serpent" snuck into the Garden of Eden, and "whispered the lie of freedom into the slave's ears". The goal of Southern government was to violently suppress that snake who dared whispered anything.

    Of course slaves hated being slaves without being told to hate it. But the denial by slavers knew no bounds. The South went into hyper drive to stop that evil snake.

    De Bow, of DeBow's review, wrote that "God has silenced the opposition to slavery by His Holy Word". Not really - try the arrest and torture of anyone who dared to publicly challenge slavery, or even own a book that challenged slavery.

    See the book "The Other South" or this blog,

  2. This is a little oversimplified. Such an anarchic and quirkily individualistic section as the American South could never be an effective totalitarian state, as the late John Blassingame told me. And while it's true that possession of an abolitionist newspaper or pamphlet could get one imprisoned or even lynched, it is also the case, strangely enough, that proslavery textbooks could find no market in southern colleges and universities. The standard text for moral philosophy, the required capstone course at nearly every college north and south, was William Paley--extremely antislavery--until it was replaced by Francis Wayland's text, which was even more so. William Gaston's 1832 oration to the University of North Carolina debating societies asserted that "it is Slavery which, more than any other cause, keeps us back in the career of improvement. It stifles industry and represses enterprise—it is fatal to economy and providence— it discourages skill—impairs our strength as a community, and poisons morals at the fountain head." This address was still being reprinted in the South as late as 1858. (That edition is here: should we make of this? I'm not entirely sure, but I am sure that the story is more complicated that you have presented.

  3. CW,

    How on Earth did you figure out what textbooks were being used at particular schools?


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