Thomas Jefferson - Letter to John Holmes

A slave owner himself, Thomas Jefferson wrote a scathing indictment against it in his early draft of America’s Declaration of Independence.  A lawyer who fought for his client’s right to be free of slavery, Jefferson ran an advertisement to recapture his own runaway.

Yet, as he neared the end of his life, the former President warned that extending slavery into newly admitted States would be "like a fire bell in the night."  He made that comment in a letter to John Holmes on the 22nd of April, 1820.

The Library of Congress maintains that letter, which is pictured above.  Its curators tell us more about it:

In this letter Jefferson voiced the fears of many Americans that conflicting views of states' rights, slavery, westward expansion, and the powers of the federal government had brought the United States to the verge of civil war.

Despite the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state, the intransigent nature of these explosive issues proved Jefferson to be prophetic.

"This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled one with terror, I considered it at once as the knell of the Union.  It is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence . . . we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go."

Click on the image for a better view.

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Library of Congress.




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