Extract from Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin

nothing has ever presented so threatening an aspect as what is called the Missouri question. the Federalists compleatly put down, and despairing of ever rising again under the old division of whig and tory, devised a new one, of slave-holding, & non-slave-holding states, which, while it had a semblance of being Moral, was at the same time Geographical, and calculated to give them ascendancy by debauching their old opponents to a coalition with them. Moral the question certainly is not, because the removal of slaves from one state to another, no more than their removal from one county to another, would never make a slave of one human being who would not be so without it. indeed if there were any reality morality in the question, it is on the other side; because by spreading them over a larger surface, their happiness would be increased, & the burthen of their future liberation lightened by bringing a greater number of shoulders under it. however it served to throw dust into the eyes of the people and to fanaticise them, while to the knowing ones it gave a geographical and preponderant line of the Patomac and Ohio, throwing 14. states to the North and East, & 10. to the South & West. with these therefore it is merely a question of power ... What next? conjecture itself is at a loss. but whatever it shall be you will hear from others and from the newspapers. and finally the whole will depend on Pensylvania. while she and Virginia hold together the Atlantic states can never separate.1 unfortunately in the present case she has become more fanaticised than any other state. however useful where you are, I wish you were with them. you might turn the scale there, which would turn it for the whole. should this scission take place, one of it’s most deplorable consequences would be it’s discoragement of the efforts of the European nations in the regeneration of their oppressive and Cannibal governments. Amidst this prospect of evil, I am glad to see one good effect. it has brought the necessity of some plan of general emancipation & deportation more home to the minds of our people than it has ever been before.

RC (NHi: Gallatin Papers). PoC (DLC). Tr (ViU: TJP); extract in Nicholas P. Trist’s hand.
1Tr ends here.
Date Range
December 26, 1820
Quote Category