Benjamin Banneker Wrote Thomas Jefferson a Letter Challenging the Founding Father’s Contradictory Views on Race and Freedom


For all his Enlightenment-influenced ideals, which manifested with the “all men are created equal” assertions of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson harbored complicated views of slavery and the abilities of those forced into lives of backbreaking labor.

On one hand, the Founding Father forcefully condemned the “execrable commerce” of slavery in an early draft of the Declaration and took legal steps toward phasing out the practice as a Virginia congressional delegate.

Then again, this was also a man who owned more than 600 enslaved people over the course of his lifetime, and who revealed his own carefully reasoned “suspicion” that Blacks were “inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind” in his Notes on the State of Virginia.

The contradictions drew pushback even in that era of widespread slavery, but no opposing stance was more notable than that of Benjamin Banneker, a free Black man who knew first-hand what a person of his race could do given the chance to flex his cerebral muscles.





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