Benjamin Banneker: Letter to Thomas Jefferson

(1791)

Audience

Benjamin Banneker sent his letter to Thomas Jefferson, the widely acknowledged primary writer of the Declaration of Independence, who was also a slaveholder. Jefferson’s ideas on the inferiority of African Americans had been published, even though he seemed to be, as Banneker writes, “measurably friendly and well disposed” toward them. In fact, however, Notes on the State of Virginia discloses that Jefferson’s views on the questions of slavery and race tended to be conflicting.

Although Jefferson was the first and main audience for the letter, a much wider audience was included when a printer in Philadelphia, Daniel Lawrence, published the exchange between Banneker and Jefferson in a pamphlet within six months. In 1792 the periodical Universal Asylum and Columbian Magazine also printed the letters. Banneker included the correspondence in the 1793 edition of the almanac.

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Mural of Benjamin Banneker and his achievements as surveyor, inventor, and astronomer (Library of Congress)

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