Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s Plan For Emancipation


In the wake of the Nat Turner slave insurrection in 1831 in Virginia, the Virginia legislature had raucous debates over the future of the Peculiar Institution in the Old Dominion State.  When Thomas Jefferson Randolph, favorite grandson of Thomas Jefferson and the Executor of his estate, rose to speak in favor of gradual emancipation in the House of Delegates, the lower house of the General Assembly, he must have known that he was walking into a political whirlwind.  He proposed that all slaves born in 1840 be ultimately freed, with female slaves being freed on their eighteenth birthday and male slaves on their twenty-first birthday.  The state would then pay the cost of shipping the freed slaves to Africa to colonies established for the purpose.  He predicted that the enactment of his proposal would cause many slave holders to sell their slaves to states in the deep South, and that in a relatively brief period of time there would be few slaves left in Virginia.


Western Virginia, foreshadowing the divisions of the Civil War, where the slave population was small, rallied to the proposal.  Eastern Virginia, where the vast bulk of the slave population was located, bitterly opposed the proposal.  Two weeks of raucous debate followed in the House of Delegates, with the proposal ultimately defeated  73-58.  Virginia house seats were alloted to artificially increase the power of the slave holding regions.  But for such an artificial increase in the number of seats from the slave holding areas, the proposal would have failed by a single vote. (more…)

Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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