Black blood can be bred out of Americans, or so Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers and third U.S. president, seemed to think.
Slavery and race were issues that Jefferson pondered a great deal in his writing. Mind you, he was a slave owner and had an infamous relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings, who bore him at least six children. Their children, under the official definition, would have been mulatto.
In a letter to Massachusetts politician Francis C. Gray, Jefferson laid out a mathematical formula for turning Black slaves into mulattoes and ultimately into whites over generations of breeding with whites.
“You asked me in conversation what constituted a mulatto by our law? And I believe I told you 4 crossings with the whites. I looked afterwards into our law, and found it to be in these words. ‘Every person, other than a negro, of whose grandfathers or grandmothers any one shall have been a negro, shall be deemed a mulatto, and so every such person who shall have one fourth part or more of negro blood; shall in like manner be deemed a mulatto,’” Jefferson wrote, going into great detail.
He continued, “…that ¼ of negro blood, mixed with any portion of white, constitutes the mulatto. As the issue has one half of the blood of each parent, and the blood of each of these may be made up of a variety of fractional mixtures, the estimate of their compound…it becomes a mathematical problem of the same class with those on the mixtures of different liquors or different metals…”
Jefferson then laid out his mathematical equation on racial engineering and how to breed out Black people.
After these writings were recently posted on Twitter, a slew of tweets followed.
“Yes, I came across this years ago. That’s why he allowed his white passing children to blend into white society when they ran away. I believe two of his enslaved children ran away and passed for white. And remember Sallie Hemmings was a quadroon,” tweeted one person.
By the 1840s, Jefferson was becoming deeply unpopular with the more ardent defenders of southern institutions, The Atlantic reported. “The reason was that from the 1830s on, the hated abolitionist press had been making copious use of Jefferson’s ‘anti-slavery’ writings, mainly from ‘Notes on the State of Virginia.’”
Prior to this, Southerners hadn’t paid much attention to these writings. After all Jefferson was one of them — a slave owner.
“By the mid-nineteenth century, however, southerners had to take Jefferson’s antislavery writings seriously, because northerners were taking them seriously, and using them against the South,” The Atlantic reported.
Jefferson began to come up with solutions to the “problem” of “free Blacks.”
According to his writings, Jefferson abhorred the presence of free Black people and was initially against white women who gave birth to children of mixed race.
In his 1969 article, “Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Slavery,” William Cohen wrote that Jefferson’s first “solution” was to deport all the freed Black peoples from the U.S., preferably back to Africa.
As time went on, Jefferson realized that sending colonies of Black people back to Africa was not practical or possible.
In 1824, Jefferson wrote that there were 1.5 million slaves in the country and it was impossible to send all the Black slaves away at once.
“Jefferson noted that a majority of Americans then living would live to see the black population reach 6 million and warned that ‘a million and a half are within their control; but 6 millions, … and one million of these fighting men, will say, ‘we will not go,'” The Atlantic reported.
Still, even though he could not rid America of freed Blacks, Jefferson wanted them gone from his home state of Virginia. He also wanted to rid the state of mulattoes.
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“Jefferson made provision for the case of a white woman who might bear a mulatto child. Both the mother and her child were to leave Virginia within a year of the birth. In the event of their failure to do so, mother and child were declared to be ‘out of the protection of the laws,’” The Atlantic reported.
In Jefferson’s image of the country, “a legitimately democratic American future” would not have “any Blacks in it,” The Atlantic reported.
Racial engineering and breeding out Blacks might have been Jefferson’s ultimate solution.
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