Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789


Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
enlarge image icon [Detail] Signing of the Declaration of Independence.
John Trumbull (1756-1843).
Oil on canvas, c. 1819.
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-19296.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson first tried to condemn slavery in America with the Declaration of Independence. Although his original draft of the Declaration contained a condemnation of slavery, the southern states were adamantly opposed to the idea, and the clause was dropped from the final document. In 1784, he again tried to limit slavery, suggesting in a report on America's new western territory that "after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States...". Again, due largely to the resistance of the southern states, the proposal was rejected. In frustration, the Virginian later commented: "South Carolina, Maryland and !Virginia! voted against it...The voice of a single individual of the State which was divided, or of one of those which were of the negative, would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country...[I]t is to be hoped...that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail."