Cara Rogers Stevens: Thomas Jefferson and the Fight against Slavery

Thomas Jefferson and the Fight Against Slavery

By Cara Rogers Stevens


JMC Network Member Cara Rogers Stevens has recently released a book on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson and the Fight against Slavery:

In this groundbreaking work, Cara Rogers Stevens examines the fascinating life of Thomas Jefferson’s book, Notes on the State of Virginia, from its innocuous composition in the early 1780s to its use as a political weapon by both pro- and antislavery forces in the early nineteenth century. Initially written as a brief statistical introduction to Virginia for French readers, Jefferson’s book evolved to become his comprehensive statement on almost all facets of the state’s natural and political realms. As part of an antislavery education strategy, Jefferson also decided to include a treatise on the nature of racial difference, as well as a manifesto on the corrupting power of slavery in a republic and a plan for emancipation and colonization. In consequence, his book—for better or worse—defined the boundaries of future debates over the place of African-descended people in American society.

Although historians have rightly criticized Jefferson for his racism and failure to free his own slaves, his antislavery intentions for the Notes have received only cursory notice, partly because the original manuscript was not available for detailed examination until recently.

By analyzing Jefferson’s complex revision process, Thomas Jefferson and the Fight against Slavery traces the evolution of Jefferson’s views on race and slavery as he considered how best to persuade younger slaveholders to embrace emancipation. Rogers Stevens then moves beyond Jefferson to examine contemporary responses to the Notes from white and black intellectuals and politicians, concluding with an attempt by Jefferson’s grandson to implement elements of the Notes’s emancipation plan during Virginia’s 1831–1832 slavery debates.


Order now from University of Kansas Press >>



Cara Rogers Stevens is an Associate Professor of History at Ashland University, where she also co-directs the Ashbrook Scholar Program. She has a master’s degree in history from the University of Texas at Dallas and a Ph.D. from Rice University. Her research, which focuses on race, slavery, and freedom in the Jeffersonian Age, has been published by the Journal of Southern History and American Political Thought, and she has also written for the Journal of the Early Republic and Law & Liberty. She won the American Political Science Association’s award for Best Article in American Political Thought in 2022.

Professor Stevens is a JMC network member.

Learn more about Cara Rogers Stevens >>



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