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1Thomas Jefferson’s thinking claims to be progressive. His thought focuses on concrete reality and its possibilities, and on what is humanly attainable. The present must choose its own manner of fulfilling itself, but always by virtue of an ideal that should be achieved through accompanying human action in its moral and intellectual progress as much as in its material progress. As Frank Shuffelton states in his introduction to Notes on the State of Virginia, “Jefferson’s imaginative progress through Notes on the State of Virginia was dialectic rather than linear, playing over the complexity of his subjects in order to tease out a variety of meanings and possibilities of life in Virginia”. [1] Jefferson’s thinking is more concerned with the possibilities of the present and with what is to be accomplished than with the history of the state, which explains why that theme is placed at the end of the volume.

2It is similarly in these terms that he reflects on the American project, at the center of which is the idea of territorial expansion, conferring upon the colonist the right to property, which in turn promotes virtue by allowing autonomy and prosperity. Reflection upon the Native American—whom Jefferson views as underdeveloped—is part of his quest to evaluate the human race, both present and future. For Jefferson, history is an evolution towards culture, which encompasses morality and entails individual ownership, primarily that of land. [2]

3Several studies have already been conducted on this theme, including those by Harold Hellenbrand, Roger Kennedy, Anthony F. C. Wallace, Daniel Royot, Stephen G. Bragaw, and Gordon M. Sayre. [3] My approach in this study is different in seeking to relocate the nature of the Native American, as understood by Jefferson, at the center of the American colonization project.

4It is therefore important to understand Thomas Jefferson’s representation of the Native American, as well as the relationship that he envisages between the Native Americans and national development. Despite appearances, this is in fact not a dichotomous issue. Jefferson is interested in the inherent possibilities of both physical and human nature, encompassing both territorial and Native American issues. Both territory and Native American are undeveloped and “to be improved”, and therefore significant in terms of the American future. Both are related parts of “nature”, and therefore are imbued with possibilities of “culture”, of civilization.

5I posit that, for Jefferson, inherently, the Native American is a potential that can be fulfilled primarily by means of territorial progress: “fulfilling the Native American” entails their improvement by civilizing and settling them. This would facilitate the colonization of their land, and thus confer on the citizen territorial opportunities, a process that is integral to the project of 1776. The human potentiality of the nation is therefore closely bound up with that of the Native American, which is why, according to Jefferson, civilizing the Native American is a human project that unites natural right with progress and prosperity. It is on this basis that Jefferson reflects on the racial question and the theme of citizenship, using natural history to define the boundaries of the political framework by virtue of the human potential that is to be achieved. I argue that, for him, the Native American—unlike the black man—embodies this human potential, this future vision of an America being fulfilled through territorial expansion. Accordingly, both land and therefore the Native Americans should be “developed”.

6This article is divided into three sections. After setting out the main strands of Jeffersonian thought on the individual and the American project, which I posit demonstrates a strong Liberal and Lockean perspective, [4] I will move on to an analysis of his general understanding of the Native American, before concluding with a discussion of the relationship, in his thinking, between that understanding and the fulfillment of the American project, which indisputably involves territorial appropriation and privatization. [5] I will seek to shed light on the relationship between his understanding of the Native American and the national project.

General Thought

7In terms of his social and political thinking, Thomas Jefferson is fundamentally a disciple of John Locke. [6] His thought centers on the faculties and rights of the individual, with the former providing the basis for the latter. [7] Jefferson dwells on the concrete nature of man, meaning that man is a real and tangible entity composed of living and thinking matter. This strict physicality endows both body and mind with a character that has needs to which it is the purpose of one’s faculties to respond. The individual is thus a present reality, with rights over himself and to the means of self-fulfillment. [8] Jefferson therefore has an empirical view of human reality; he envisages it as visible, sensitive, rational, and alive. This is the foundation of his thinking about the American project.

8The individual is made up of attributes and rights, which are inalienable. The principal among these are life, natural equality, self-government, and the free pursuit of happiness. A person is thus by definition inviolable, and is endowed with the faculties to allow him both to provide for himself and to behave in a moral way. His right to fulfillment is thus based on his capacity for morality, which derives primarily from an innate moral sense that allows him to spontaneously assess the value of an action. Reason and education supplement this sense, giving immediate access to the principles of natural law. [9] For Henry Home, Lord Kames, an important source for Jefferson in this area of thinking, the moral sense of the individual allows him to grasp these principles, which constitute “rules of our conduct founded on natural principles approved by the moral sense, and enforced by natural rewards and punishment”. [10] The natural sociability of the individual is thus based on an innate sense of justice that reconciles his own interest and the good of others; he desires this good and his moral sense judges the action on this basis, thus determining whether it is right or not. Self-fulfillment is achieved with and justified by the good of the other. [11]

9According to Jefferson, the moral constitution of man thus leads him naturally towards a state of good in which the individual rights of a person—to the preservation of life, liberty, and happiness—are fundamentally interrelated to respect for the other. [12] This moral constitution therefore justifies the fact that the individual is master of himself. [13] Reason supplements this process by assessing various options and evaluating matters in order to provide a solution that promotes freedom and human rights, for example in the case of international relations or religion and its principles. [14] Authenticity and the right to decide for oneself thus derive from individual capacities of judging reality. [15] Reason, even though it is fallible and therefore not a suitable basis for moral judgment, is nevertheless, just like moral sense, a gift given by the divine creator as well as a safety valve that ensures the individual is guided towards the fulfillment of his own interests and happiness. [16] Jefferson would go so far as to assert that only individual conscience can truly create something, such as a code of law, that is systematic and unambiguous, both with regards to the self and society. [17]

10On this question, the innate basis of morality is the main point of differentiation between Jefferson and Locke, for whom the evaluation of action and its likely consequences—the suspension of judgment—is the main foundation of moral action. [18] So, according to Jefferson, this sense of morality is “the brightest gem with which the human character is studded”, because it is the source of human sociability. [19] Thanks to reason, the “umpire of truth”, man can obey God’s will by identifying what truly emanates from that will rather than from his own imagination, such as the metaphysical sphere. God has thus conferred on man both moral sense and reason so that he can obey God’s dictates, [20] which are inherent in rational and physical order. Jefferson refers to both faculties in a letter to his nephew Peter Carr, stating firstly that reason can guide moral sense, which nevertheless remains highly independent (“It is a small stock which is required for this”), but continuing: “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion [.. . ]. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness, but the uprightness of the decision”, which explains how reason contributes not only to speculative knowledge but also to morality. [21] For Jefferson, human nature and its capacity is therefore the foundation upon which the Republican project is developed.

11For that project is developed by and for the individual, and first and foremost by means of his ability to strive for his interests and rights. Jefferson is uncompromising on this point. It is thanks to the individualism, based on a natural egalitarianism, that underpins his thought that it is possible to speak of a Natural Rights Republic. [22] There is no question, for Jefferson, of an elitism that claims political right as the domain of one class alone, thus limiting the status of citizenship to that class; nor of a virtue that is limited to the political sphere without recognizing the liberal contribution of the citizen to the material prosperity of his environment through his labor and by looking after his own interests. [23] An equality of nature is the basis of a participatory and teleological democracy, and the Republic is maintained as such a democracy by each individual—in a ward—and for each individual in his own interests. The individual does not only passively benefit from his interest. He actively participates in creating it by means of his free economic activity, as well as by means of the natural law of majority vote, which is found in any society, since the population, whose members are the best custodians of their own rights, is formed of individuals who all participate in their environment for their own protection and prosperity. [24] There is therefore no question here of an agrarian traditionalism based on a classical and political understanding of virtue, [25] nor of a Rousseauesque vision that anchors individual will in the common will by virtue of a common good that transcends the individual, for the public good rests first and foremost upon the “satisfaction of individual interests [.. . ] which are acknowledged by reason to converge with the interests of others”. [26] Jefferson’s nominalist and empirical perspective envisages that the individual is concretely tangible and rational, each being as valid and valuable as any other, and as such entitled to assert himself. Thus, the individual remains sacrosanct by means of his nature, that is to say by means of his individual right to seek his happiness according to his abilities, which entails his prosperity and, necessarily, a material inequality, with this latter being based on an equality of opportunity but an inequality of talent. The naturalist and materialist foundation of his egalitarian thought means that Jefferson is a liberal and a modernist before being a Republican in the traditional sense. However, his thinking links these two positions through the ideas of citizen participation in government and in the common good; of an agrarian way of life; and of the centrality of the idea of virtue—which again, for Jefferson, is given a material dimension via its association with intensive agriculture and commerce, with individual labor contributing to the material good of the collective. [27]

12Before returning from his diplomatic stay in France, Jefferson wrote to James Madison:


What is true of every member of the society individually, is true of them all collectively, since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals. [28]

14Like Locke, he considers that the rights and interests of the individual remain sacrosanct and inviolable through the community and institutions. [29] The common good lies in the good of individuals living and enjoying society and institutions, which are the property of those who have natural rights to protect. They can do this either by themselves, but not by virtue of an elite birth, as John Adams envisions, [30] or else through constructs—such as a Constitution—or institutions, as Adams and Madison believe. [31] These latter are less capable of protecting a person’s rights than the individual can do for himself. In 1770, while defending Samuel Howell, who was being held in indentured servitude in Virginia because his grandmother was white and his grandfather black, Jefferson argued that every man is born free and master of his own self. [32] This implies that the individual has the possibility and ability to freely achieve his own interests, an idea that, for Locke, is fundamental in formulating a law, expressed as “the direction of a free and intelligent agent to his proper interest”. [33] For Jefferson, therefore, each individual is for himself, but more generally each generation benefits from government and institutions. Jefferson states that “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living”, that is, “to the living generation”, because the dead, having no wishes or needs, cannot have rights. [34] Everyone has the right to determine his own life, to decide for himself, and to direct his thoughts towards the provision of a space that is conducive to his own nature and requirement.

15All parties were in agreement about “why”, or the aim of the national project: namely, the individual whose rights were threatened by English tyranny. [35] This was the reason why Jefferson confirmed in his First Inaugural Address that, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists”. [36]

16However, not everyone agreed about “how”, or how to achieve this aim of allowing the individual to flourish. Comparing Jefferson’s thinking to that of Federalist Alexander Hamilton, Vincent Michelot asserts that “their disagreement is not so much in relation to the form of economic development that should be pursued, but rather to the position of the state: minimalist, and thus not threatening individual liberties, for Jefferson; the driving force and economic powerhouse behind land development, and thus powerful and potentially destructive of liberty, for Hamilton.” [37]

17But for Jefferson, “why” is inherent in “how”, because the individual is entitled to full self-determination. This is to be accomplished materially through property ownership, and thus by access to land, an opportunity that falls clearly within the mandate of the government. This was the objective of the Ordinances of 1784, 1785, and 1787, which were enacted as a result of a committee led by Jefferson until his departure for France in 1784. [38]

18The individual natural right of self-preservation implies the ownership of property, which is thus taken to be a pre-political or natural right. [39] It is inherent in the preservation and fulfillment of the individual. Hence the first section of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of June 1776, which Jefferson drafted with George Mason, and which indissolubly links the right to acquire and possess property with the rights to life, liberty, happiness, and safety. This was in line with Jefferson’s claim, two years previously, in A Summary View of the Rights of British America, that England was hindering the colonies in their commercial freedom, which was essential to their prosperity and economic development. He defines this free trade—which includes property and its exchange—as a natural right, [40] and this clearly applies to the act of making land available to the settler to exploit and thus benefit from it. It is against natural right that an individual should not have his own land to cultivate in a country where part of the territory is either unoccupied or its ownership is unfairly concentrated in the hands of private interests, as was the case in pre-revolutionary France, while part of the land remains unproductive. [41] The individual needs property in order to live, with the two rights inextricably interdependent. As for Locke, for Jefferson the right to property must never be violated by the institutions that are intended to protect it. The state must then provide for the possibility of acquisition as well as for fair distribution of a territory whose plots would then be owned “in fee simple [.. . ] in full and absolute dominion, of no superior whatever”, which would be the case for the 50 acres that Jefferson proposes as a minimum for each Virginian. [42]

19Both citizen and nation come into being through land. Both morally and economically, free tenure and the capitalist economy are intertwined in Jefferson’s modernist thinking. Morality and progress, which implies prosperity, are perceived to go hand in hand. Demanding both effort and reasonable thought, agriculture encourages virtue, but also prosperity. This modern perspective is in line with the idea that the value of an individual is highly dependent on the nature of his economic activity and the opportunities that it creates. [43] To quote Jefferson:


But we have an immensity of land courting the industry of the husbandman. Is it best then that all our citizens should be employed in its improvement, or that one half should be called off from that to exercise manufactures and handicraft arts for the other? Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phaenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example. It is the mark set on those, who not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistance, depend for it on the casualties and caprice of customers. Dependance begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition. [44]

21Both moral and economic implications are clear. The “citizen” is the individual who is able to participate in the Republican project; “citizen” and “Republic” complement one another. They do so not only in terms of classical values, but also—as seen in A Summary View on trade and prosperity—in terms of material and capitalist values. [45] In terms of the context and the future, the potentiality of the individual and of the land are interwoven.

22According to Locke, man has the natural capacity to work and trade for himself, and he thus benefits his environment by means of his labor. It is by virtue of this capacity that he is master of his own self, for he has the capacity to be in full possession of himself, to know his own interests, and this ultimately implicates the interests and prosperity of the other. A milieu is improved by reasonable individuals working for their own interests, and the purpose of a government is to facilitate this. For Locke, this prosperity means that an English laborer is better dressed and fed than a Native American chief. [46] The faith Jefferson places in the individual derives from his capacity for both morality and prosperity. The individual has the right to the full opportunity of self-determination and prosperity, hence Jefferson’s early anti-slavery effort and his steadfast denunciation of “the peculiar institution”. [47] By means of a conducive environment, work, and education, the individual is capable of moral and intellectual progress, and therefore also material progress. The social framework must facilitate these conditions, but this assumes an individual who is capable of fulfilling the Republic—namely, to participate in it, to be virtuous, work, and prosper therein. The Republic itself must promote the conditions in which the capable individual can fulfill the Republic, with the progress of that individual implying the progress of the social framework. [48] Participation, virtue, and prosperity derive from a single source: property, that is to say, primarily land. Land, and its development, is therefore the basis upon which Jefferson envisages the Republic, its progress, and its constituents, including the Native American. [49]

The Native American: A Potentiality to be Studied and Respected

Nature and Its Elements: The Native American as Object of Study

23Thomas Jefferson’s thinking is based on an empiricist and particularist epistemology. Jefferson reframes the Cartesian cogito as, “I feel, therefore I am”. [50] Following the example of Locke’s concept of the tabula rasa, the senses are the only mode of access to reality. [51]

24Such a nature, apprehended through sensory experience, is endowed with every potentiality for excellence. It is the foundation of everything, and a worthy object of study in itself. [52] The product of this nature—such as the natural constitution of man and all that it enables—will always be greater than any purely human or artificial product—such as a Constitution or a form of government. This nature, however, can only be understood in terms of its peculiarities or individualities, which require the intellectual work of classification into general categories, grouped by features sharing similar characteristics. This classification then facilitates scientific discussion. In Jefferson’s view, a possible system had been put forward by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, which, although not definitive or perfect, provided an acceptable basis for discussion in the scientific world, and particularly in the sphere of natural history. He compared it to the classification system proposed by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, which he considered to be eclectic and likely to confuse those who used it as a means of communication. [53] His Notes on the State of Virginia also form a system of classification, taking as a starting point Virginian nature and its possibilities. The sixth “Query” in the volume is devoted to the metals, plants, and animals of this southern state. The native peoples are also classified as natural elements, still untouched by “culture” and its corruptive elements.

25For Jefferson, nature separates and liberates contexts from order and tradition. It opens up possibilities that are accessible and attainable by the individual who is allowed to freely deploy his abilities. [54] To develop the nation, future possibility must take priority over the past, and the Native American, who like Virginian nature is available for development, is clearly part of the potential of the future. This explains the structure of Jefferson’s Notes, which begin with the natural world and its possibilities, associated with the future development of the state, in “Queries” I-VII. These sections are followed by observations on the current situation, namely, the present and its characteristics, including slavery, in “Queries” VIII-XXII. The last section discusses the achievements of the past, which are relegated to the end of the volume because they are the least relevant according to Jefferson; this is “Query” XXIII. The Native American is related to the first two groups of Query. In the first place, the relationship with the Native American belongs to the natural order and implies future potential, in terms of the development of both territory and civilization. The relationship with the Native American, then, is governed by natural law and the rights associated with it. Furthermore, Native Americans have a valid legal relationship with the present context through the treaties that they negotiate and sign. [55]

26Following the example of anthropologists Benjamin Smith Barton [56] and Charles White, Jefferson was interested in the origins and culture of the North American peoples. In this area, he only partially subscribes to Linnaeus’s thesis, acknowledging the uniformity of the natural world as well as a certain hierarchical ordering of its elements, in line with the biblically inspired Great Chain of Being. “Races” are no exception. For Linnaeus and Jefferson, God has created a hierarchy of human beings; in their understanding, for example, black people are clearly behaviorally inferior: they are indolent, capricious, and easily impassioned. [57] However, like Charles White, Jefferson adopts a polygenist position in relation to race, and attempts to trace the origin of Native Americans through a study of their dialects. [58] He considers it essential to study the Native American in order to understand America and the country’s development. As an example of humanity in its original or natural state, the Native American embodies the potential of humanity, and therefore of America. Jefferson wrote to William Ludlow in 1824 that a philosopher traveling from the Rockies to the east of the continent would be able to observe the stages of civilization. This belief in evolution by stages is fundamental in Jefferson’s understanding of progress. [59]

27Thomas Hallock points out that curiosity in itself does not constitute a true respect for the other, nor a sincere concern for his good. [60] During the revolutionary era, in A Summary View (1774) and the Declaration of Independence (1776), Jefferson views Native Americans as brutal and bloody savages, devoid of humanity, who had been mercilessly set upon the colonies and their inhabitants by England, thus devastating the frontier. However, the support given by a number of tribes to the revolutionary cause subsequently gave Jefferson a respect for these groups, which made him adopt a more egalitarian language, as for example in 1781 when he held talks with Jean-Baptiste Ducoigne, leader of the Kaskaskia people. [61] At the time of the Declaration, however, the colonies were in danger and had to protect themselves against an aggressive metropolis that was blocking access to the West. The language used by Jefferson in relation to Native Americans embodies this tension. But, subsequently, what does Jefferson really think of the Native American, who, despite all his “faults”, is nonetheless a human?

28At this point in my argument, it is useful to turn to Jefferson’s vision of the African-American, who will also be further discussed at a later stage. Jefferson recognizes that the African-American is a person, and as such has natural rights, such as the right to be master of himself and the right to happiness. As early as 1769, he and his colleague Richard Bland had attempted to set in place a colonial bill allowing the emancipation of privately owned slaves, an attempt that would not succeed because of opposition in the House of Burgesses by plantation owners. The following year, as described above, Jefferson defended the indentured slave Samuel Howell by pleading, using Lockean precepts, that every man is born free and has the right to be his own master. [62] After Independence, Jefferson was one of three members of a committee to revise the state’s legislative procedures, and thus helped to draft an amendment—which was not, however, proposed or adopted—to Bill 51 on Slavery, intended “to provide for gradual emancipation and colonization” by African-Americans of a territory outside the geographical area of the US. [63] His efforts in the name of emancipation would continue with two preliminary texts: firstly, the Declaration of Independence, and then the Ordinance of 1784, with the first seeking to prohibit the slave trade and the second the expansion of the “peculiar institution” in the new states. A third draft text, that of a Constitution that Jefferson wanted to propose in 1783 to the legislative bodies of Virginia, also contained a proposal to emancipate slaves. Finally, once he was president, he lobbied Congress to abolish the slave trade as soon as possible. [64] Jefferson argued that:


The love of justice and the love of country plead equally the cause of these people, and it is a moral reproach to us that they should have pleaded it so long in vain, and should have produced not a single effort, nay I fear not much serious willingness to relieve them & ourselves from our present condition of moral & political reprobation. [65]

30For Jefferson, man is a creature endowed with rights that are proportional to his nature, or more specifically to his physical, moral, and intellectual constitution. Freedom is fundamental, because it permits, and indeed drives, development and progress. Accordingly, Jefferson asserts at the end of his life (in 1824) that, “nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man”. [66] This natural equality was being hindered by England, and Jefferson insists that English individuals cannot restrict the freedom of the colonies without placing themselves in a state of war with them. [67] By denying their freedom, the English were seeking to enslave the colonists. According to Locke, it was against the spirit of the English nation to encourage such a situation:


Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation. [68]

32This is precisely the grounds upon which Jefferson also denounces the veto imposed by the king on colonial laws seeking to abolish slave trafficking, a veto that goes against universal natural rights. [69] In 1786, Jefferson also drew the attention of Benjamin Hawkins to the importance of respecting the rights of Native Americans, arguing mainly in terms of collectives, or more specifically of communities whose relations, as we see in Locke, are regulated by natural law, as is the case between two individuals living in their natural condition. For Jefferson, this is a question of the moral honor of the United States, [70] which had not been entirely rigorous in pursuing its principles in relation to rights and their protection. There had generally been “little reflection on the value of liberty”, and circumstances made it difficult “to carry them [the colonists and citizens] to the whole length of the principles which they invoke for themselves”. [71]

33The individual, according to Locke, is endowed with the faculty of “understanding” in order to be able to determine his own course. [72] Jefferson recognizes this capacity in Native Americans, both in terms of morality and rationality. [73] Natural law is pertinent to the natural constitution of the Native American, and its regulations are equally as accessible to him as to the European, and therefore more so than to the African-American. [74] Jefferson agrees on this point with the conclusions drawn by Linnaeus. The native of America, in his natural condition, possesses the same potentiality as that of the “civilized” man in the same condition. The moral capacity to live collectively is the proof thereof, and is moreover confirmation of the rights of the Native American; this would also be the case for the “inferior” African-American race developing within their own context. [75]

34Jefferson recognizes that the Native American possesses the two fundamentals of morality, namely “that moral sense of right and wrong, which, like the sense of tasting and feeling, in every man makes a part of his nature”; [76] the same is true of the moral guide that is dictated by “their genius and mental powers”, [77] which are incarnated, for example, in the eloquence of the Cayuga chief Logan, whose oratorship Jefferson prefers to that of Demosthenes and Cicero. [78] Thus, when the Comte de Buffon, to whom we will return, denied the physical, moral, and intellectual equality of the Native American, Jefferson does not hesitate to insist that, “for the honor of human nature, [this example of the Native American] has no original”. [79] This recognition of the capacity for morality includes the Native American among those rightly claiming self-rule, which, as acknowledged by Jefferson and his friend Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress, is the foundation of Native American collective government. [80] The Native American is thus ruled by the provisions of natural law and rights. The less regulated nature of their collective systems adheres to natural law more closely than the excessive regulation that is typical of European systems, which can often prove to be restrictive of freedom. [81] The lack of legislation within the tribes is really rooted, according to Locke, in their demographic weakness and in the virtual nonexistence of private property, which means there is little need to control the passions and the desire to acquire. [82] In short, unlike the Africans, the Native American “race” is the equal of Europeans in terms of potential, as were the peoples living to the north of the Alps in Europe before the arrival of the Romans. [83] The three are part of the same species, but are hierarchized by virtue of environment, for the Native American, and, for the black man, mainly by virtue of his nature. [84]

35Other studies do not accept this. Barbara Arneil concludes that Locke and Jefferson’s vision of the Native American is based strictly on the idea of private property and relationship to the land. She claims that, since labor creates land ownership, it also creates political society, which exists only by virtue of the former. This process defines the spaces belonging to those who have rights, that is to say, those who are party to the terms of consent—and this group does not include the Native American. Arneil says that Jefferson “used [Locke] to great effect in undermining the aboriginal claim to land by virtue of occupancy”. [85]

36Matthieu Renault, meanwhile, refutes the idea that Jefferson or Locke had such a respectful and progressive vision of the Native American. He claims that, for Locke, morality is based on reason and experience, rather than on the passions and custom. [86] The purpose of education is precisely to form virtuous individuals, whose reason controls the passions; [87] individuals capable of using their faculties—through their labor and their judgment or consent—to prioritize the primary goal, which is their preservation of life. According to Renault, Locke thus limits this domain of knowledge, namely “consensual” knowledge, to rational and educated individuals, and thereby to those who own property. Only these individuals are regulated by the provisions of natural law; only they have rights. Rationality deposes nature, which is not worthy of respect as it does not have anything to protect. “Consent” has nothing to do with this. No protection is justified for the person who is not worthy of rights, because he is incapable of exerting his reason to prioritize his aim of preservation of life, which involves the acquisition and development of property. [88]

37According to Renault, Jefferson is an adherent of this vision. As Roger Wilkins asserts, this mode of thinking views the concept of “natural law” as a theoretical and political tool created in the seventeenth century to defend the wealthy classes against absolutist monarchy and aristocratic power. [89] Renault tends to downplay certain passages of Locke’s two political treatises and their effect on Jefferson. [90] In the treatises, the philosopher acknowledges that the Native American community has a political dimension, albeit unsophisticated. He recognizes the following: 1) that the Native Americans constitute nations that are capable of collectively promoting their own interests; 2) that they have basic political structures in place; 3) that they enjoy a condition of sovereignty since they collectively decide upon policies of war, peace, and trade, and consequently form agreements and alliances, making treaties by means of oaths that fall under natural law since they imply relationships between nations; [91] 4) that their groups comprise individuals who consider themselves to be equals and to be individually capable of evaluating and consenting to authority in relation to their interests; and 5) that they have a basic understanding of property, which conforms to the idea of usufruct and invokes rights under natural law. [92] The domain of rational consent, or in other words political society, is not therefore applicable only to a certain mode of use of a territory.

38Locke and Jefferson recognize that the Native Americans govern themselves, and thus escape the chaos that is characteristic of the natural state. They therefore have the capacity to understand natural law and its regulations, and thus to be moral beings. They therefore come under natural law by virtue of their nature—and not of their property—and this is why they are worthy of respect. [93] The theory of property does not therefore disable the concepts of “collectivity” and “humanity”. It is natural constitution that determines the right to respect, and even black people are acknowledged to have the right to their freedom, because while they are certainly viewed in this mode of thought as “inferior” they are no less human. The “races” all have equality of rights, even if they are not equal; this is not affected by either their habitation—as in Buffon—or their education or relationship to the land—as in Arneil and Renault. For Jefferson, the political collectivity will certainly be restricted in scope by the potentiality of a “race”, but within the rational order of nature there is no model whereby a species loses its proper natural rights because of its habitat.


It would be erring therefore against that rule of philosophy, which teaches us to ascribe like effects to like causes, should we impute [a natural variation] to any imbecility or want of uniformity in the operations of nature. [94]

40The Native American chief Logan is proof of the natural comparability between Native American and white man; proof too of the potential of the American nature. Natural law demands equality and respect.

The Native American Nation

41Accordingly, both the Native American individual and his community are respected by virtue of their capacity for moral and political autonomy. America is therefore bound by the “moral duties” [95] of one political society towards any other that governs itself in a rational or republican manner, namely in accordance with the majority vote, which is the natural law of any legitimate society; [96] and this shall apply to its proceedings both in its internal affairs—such as the distribution of annuities—and external affairs, such as the conclusion of treaties and alliances. [97] Diplomatic relations must then be conducted in accordance with the formal procedures set out by the state. The primary aim of diplomacy shall be to maintain peace and obtain the consent of the tribes to any national development within their territories, and even to encourage them to request the development of those territories. A border that is defined by “mutual consent” would thus separate two sovereign entities whose relationship is regulated by “the law of nations”—the idea of “fairness” must therefore determine any action related to territorial appropriation. [98] Jefferson promised the Choctaws that “we take from no nation what belongs to it” and “we consider your lands as belonging fully to yourselves”. [99]

42One of the intended aims was in fact to distance himself from English colonialist policies, which denied both political sovereignty and economic freedom. Under the factories system instigated by the governments of George Washington and John Adams, trade relations had to be fair. Profit was a less important objective than was the creation of a climate of confidence that would subsequently facilitate territorial agreements. While he was Secretary of State, Jefferson declared to President Washington that:


I consider our right of preemption of the Indian lands, not as amounting to any dominion, or jurisdiction, or paramountship whatever, but merely in the nature of a remainder after the extinguishment of a present right, which gave us no present right whatever, but of preventing other nations from taking possession, and so defeating our expectancy; that the Indians had the full undivided and independent sovereignty as long as they choose to keep it, and that this might be forever. [100]

44According to Jefferson, the historical relationship between the state of Virginia and the peoples living within and beyond its borders was respectful, particularly in the process of purchasing territory. [101] Despite the lesser degree of political development among the Native Americans, and despite their usufructuary way of life, Jefferson’s vision of the relationship maintained with these communities does not fall outside the moral space of natural law, as claimed by Renault. The theologian Francisco de Vitoria is fundamental to Jefferson’s thinking on this point. De Vitoria considers that the Native American nation is fully “rational” and sovereign in his territory, and that the event of “discovery” does not yield any rights over him. The only justification for a European power to attack this nation would be if it undermined the principles of natural law by limiting the movement or trade of European nations and the evangelization of populations, or by conducting “immoral” practices such as cannibalism: in short, only if the Native American nation were to commit the acts of which Jefferson was accusing England. [102] Jefferson therefore indicated to General Andrew Jackson in 1803 that the Union’s policies towards the Native Americans must be “equally for the interest of the Indians and ourselves”. [103]

45The act of consenting to any given policy, as in the processes of treaty-making, is a sign of a collective sovereignty. [104] It is the sign of a community whose members are equipped with “moral feelings and the reason of all honest men” [105] allowing them to consent in relation to their preservation of life and interests, with respect for the other, both individually and collectively. Indeed, as Jefferson asserts to François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux (in 1785), the Native American has the same level of intellect as the “whites in the same uncultivated state”, [106] or in other words in their pre-civilized state. Their natural constitution thus makes the Native Americans worthy of respect, for it places them under natural law; it makes them fit to govern themselves as well as to progress.

46However, for both de Vitoria and Jefferson, it is clearly the “discoverer” who judges whether or not the Native person respects natural law. This implies a concept of “progress”, whereby a civilized party judges the behavior of a party that is not as evolved. In the same way, this “discoverer” can preempt territory to the exclusion of other “advanced” nations, as well as regulate its trade. These legal rights are exclusive to him. The “discoverer” is therefore the one who judges whether or not to extend his civil or judicial jurisdiction to the uncivilized party; judging also whether or not to wage war on him depending on his degree of “morality”. [107] Can this be described as a true relationship of “equality”? Moreover, is the Jeffersonian vision of the American future—which can only be fulfilled by means of the appropriation, privatization, and intensive exploitation of land—not jeopardized by the fact that the Native American is sovereign over the lands he lives in and that he can choose whether or not to give them up? For Jefferson, the Native American at the time in question was certainly free to choose whether or not to yield; but America was not free to choose how to make use of “its” spaces: it must cultivate them in order to prosper and develop. We must therefore ask how Jefferson incorporates this “respectable” Native American into his liberal vision of the American future.

A Liberal Relationship with the Land: Source of Racial and National Progress

47Jefferson seeks to use the science of his time to justify his racial vision. However, his theories sometimes appear somewhat irregular when compared to those of thinkers such as Linnaeus or even de Vitoria, especially with regard to the former, who believed that the uniformity of the human species facilitates progress by means of a change to the environment. [108] Jefferson fully accepts this fact only for the Native American.

48Jeffersonian theory relating to this group, and indeed to Virginian nature, whose elements he examines in table format, seems to be based on stricter and more vigorous rules than his theories about the African-American. Indeed, Jefferson sometimes appears to be uncertain about the natural equality or inequality of the black man. In 1791, he tells Benjamin Banneker, a black mathematician from Maryland, that he hopes that the difference in talent between black and white is purely a question of environment; a statement that he repeats to Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis of Condorcet. [109] Jefferson’s opinion here differs slightly from his thinking a decade earlier in his Notes, when he perceived an inferiority due as much to nature as to environment. [110] The question of equality is always much more clear-cut where the Native American is concerned, and in 1785 Jefferson writes to the Marquis de Chastellux that:


I believe the Indian, then, to be, in body and mind, equal to the white man. I have supposed the black man, in his present state, might not be so; but it would be hazardous to affirm, that, equally cultivated for a few generations, he would not become so. [111]

50We must ask why Jefferson maintained this belief in relation to the Native American when, later on in the letter, he writes that, in relation to natural history, “more facts must be collected [.. . ]. In the mean time, doubt is wisdom”. [112] Moreover, Jefferson accuses Buffon of contradictions about the Native American, regarding the fact that climate supposedly affects his physical and moral characteristics to differing degrees; [113] in his writings about natural history he seems, however, to make the same judgment himself about the black man. Jefferson’s epistemological reservations throughout the Notes might explain his uncertainty, [114] but in this case it should apply to both “races”. On the contrary, however, Jefferson claims that observations on the Native American made by himself and by others who are “better acquainted with him [the Native American]” confirm that “he is neither more defective in ardor, nor more impotent with his female, [.. . ] that he is brave”; this claim is accompanied by other descriptions that qualify him as the undisputed natural equal of the white man. His savagery originates in customs that lead him into immorality, such as in the way he treats women. [115] His “nature” is therefore capable of improvement through education and a propitious environment. The Native American may then conform to the liberal vision of an individual who controls his passions, thereby respecting “those rights in others which we value in ourselves”. [116] But why does Jefferson maintain this stance of near-certainty in relation to the Native American? Why does Jefferson only apply the Linnaean principles of uniformity and progress to the case of the Native American? [117] Why does he remain uncertain about the case of the black man? Is this a “necessary” conclusion? Does the concept of the equality of the Native American originate purely in science? [118]

51As already demonstrated, the nature of the Native American makes him respectable in Jefferson’s eyes. Their position of equality allows Jefferson to do trade with the Native American and to negotiate for his land. This appropriation of land is inevitable because it leads to material progress and civilization, which counteract barbarism. To ensure national development, the Union must control external trade by the Native American, and particularly any such trade related to the land. [119] This project unites the nation. As Jefferson explains to President Washington, Americans needed a territory that would be colonized by a homogeneous and uniform society. The language he uses separates and exteriorizes the Native American from a context that is both axiologically unified and territorially indivisible:


That as fast as we extend our rights by purchase from them, so fast we extend the limits of our society, and as soon as a new portion became encircled within our line, it became a fixed limit of our society [...] that by the law of nations [which implies a relationship with other communities under natural law] it was settled, that the unity and indivisibility of the society was so fundamental. [120]

53The terms “them” and “us” create a dichotomy by differentiating between what is other and what is united and indivisible. Jefferson fears the idealistic and axiological heterogeneity that is created by immigration. [121] From 1801, he conceived the idea that there is a “manifest destiny” in the continental expansion of a homogeneous society in terms of its values, culture, and laws. He fears the integration of heterogeneous elements. [122] Moreover, Jefferson clearly sees that Native American territory or title “would be to be extinguished” [123] once it were to be colonized. But what then should be done about the Native Americans, who are culturally differentiated from our society, but who are nevertheless our natural equal? If they are “equal,” why did Jefferson seek to exclude them as well as to impose external rule on their trade relations? In 1806, Jefferson declared to the representatives of Native American tribes:


We consider ourselves no longer of the old nations beyond the great water, but as united in one family with our red brethren here. [124]

55This union is unequivocally affirmed, in contrast to Jefferson’s uncertain words about black people. And yet we see that, for now, the two racial groups, although naturally equal and capable of progress, remain insolubly separate. The basis of the distance between them must be located elsewhere than in their nature; it must be found within their cultures and, essentially, their values. Thus, what unifies and integrates is a way of life and an axiology, and for Jefferson these are associated with the relationship to the land, which is the American future. Anyone who subscribes to this future must be firmly wedded to the land: this must be the case in order for it to be cultivated and developed.

56For Jefferson to consider the Native Americans to be currently outside the framework of American society, [125] yet united by a shared geography and geopolitics, united in a single “family”, he must believe their nature to be compatible with the nation. It is through progress that this becomes the case—by his act of settling, which makes “his” spaces available to the industry of the settler and for the development of the nation. The destiny of America implies territorial development, and therefore the progress of Native Americans. They are “equals” because the nation requires this equality. Settlers’ rights must be reconciled with the Native American because these rights involve the territory that he occupies. It is through his progress that they are reconciled, hence the significance of a fundamental equality, which is denied to the black man. For the Native American, there can be no ambiguity because there is no ambiguity in the purpose intended for the land. [126] Like “nature”, equality, which is to be respected, has its own destiny: to be developed.

57In 1807, Jefferson declares to the Shawnee Nation Chiefs that, “the greatest honor of a man is in doing good to his fellow men”. [127]

58Indeed, even if it is impossible to associate the “brutes” referred to in the Declaration of Independence with the nobility and altruism he attributes to Chief Logan, [128] Jefferson is nevertheless very clear about the pitiful condition of the Native American, both culturally and materially:


[W]e have before our eyes real & living examples. What, but education, has advanced us beyond the condition of our indigenous neighbours? And what chains them to their present state of barbarism & wretchedness, but a besotted veneration for the supposed supe[r]lative wisdom of their fathers and the preposterous idea that they are to look backward for better things and not forward, longing, as it should seem, to return to the days of eating acorns and roots rather than indulge in the degeneracies of civilization. [129]

60This then is the origin of the moral duty of America towards his neighbor, his equal:


Endowed with the faculties and the rights of men [...] now reduced within limits too narrow for the hunter’s state, humanity enjoins us to teach them agriculture and the domestic arts; to encourage them to that industry which alone can enable them to maintain their place in existence, and to prepare them in time for that state of society, which to bodily comforts adds the improvement of the mind and morals. [130]

62The equal capacity for moral and intellectual progress is therefore linked to agriculture, or specifically to territorial development through intensive and private land cultivation. The progress and civilization of the Native American is therefore essential to the material development of the nation, which begins with an appropriation of territory that requires either the collective evacuation or the settlement and individualization of the Native American. [131] The human project cannot be dissociated from the economic project: the two are interwoven. [132] To fulfill the nation is to integrate the Native American by making him liberal and individualist, since by this means land can be accessed. [133] Jefferson is clear upon this point. In 1803, he described this vision in detail to Benjamin Hawkins, then Superintendent General of Indian Affairs South of the Ohio River:


I consider [134] the business of hunting as already become insufficient to furnish clothing and subsistence to the Indians. The promotion of agriculture, therefore, and household manufacture, are essential in their preservation, and I am disposed to aid and encourage it liberally. This will enable them to live on much smaller portions of land, and, indeed, will render their vast forests useless but for the range of cattle [...] While they are learning to do better on less land, our increasing numbers will be calling for more land, and thus a coincidence of interests will be produced between those who have lands to spare, and want other necessaries, and those who have such necessaries to spare, and want lands. This commerce [that the Union must control], then, will be for the good of both, and those who are friends to both ought to encourage it [...] the ultimate point of rest and happiness for them is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people. [135] Incorporating themselves with us as citizens of the United States, this is what the natural progress of things will, of course, bring on, and it will be better to promote than to retard it. Surely it will be better for them to be identified with us, and preserved in the occupation of their lands, than be exposed to the many casualties which may endanger them while a separate people [...] their history may terminate [...] this is the one most for their happiness [...] I feel it consistent with pure morality to lead them towards it, to familiarize them to the idea that it is for their interest to cede lands at times to the United States, and for us thus to procure gratifications to our citizens, from time to time, by new acquisitions of land. [Jefferson goes on to tell Hawkins that he must persuade the Native Americans on this point in order to satisfy the territorial aspirations of the state of Georgia, which otherwise might believe] that you are more attached to the interests of the Indians than of the United States. [136]

64For the settler, or more specifically individual right, must take precedence over the native community and Amerindian culture. This message says everything! Jefferson’s thinking demonstrates that he believes it to be inevitable that, through interaction and commerce, the Native American will be improved in the name of his own material good and that of the nation. There will be an inevitable loss of his Amerindian culture, and it is to be inferred that the respect for the community in itself is not sincere but stems from an interest in the potential value of the assimilation of the members of that community. The individual Native American must be potentially equal so that his territory becomes accessible. The liberal perspective, which serves the good of the settler as well as that of the Native American, requires the handover of territory and the individualization of the latter.

65Jefferson thus justifies the adoption of a policy that indirectly accelerates this process, without formally denying tribal sovereignty. The policy is to increase commercial activity in Native American territories by means of roads and the development of the “factory system”. With supplies of game diminishing and a need for farming equipment in order to survive, giving up land would provide the Native Americans with the necessary cash for such purchases. However, Jefferson’s pragmatism makes itself evident in his desire for the Native Americans to become indebted, which he plans to encourage by means of this trade, which would force them to surrender their land in order to redeem their debts. Anthony Wallace quotes a communication from December 1802 between Jefferson and the Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn:


Our proceedings with the Indians should tend systematically to that object [of encouraging their indebtedness], leaving the extinguishment of title in the interior country to fall in as occasions may arise. [137]

67Jefferson also states in 1803 to the Governor of Indiana, William H. Harrison:


[W]e shall push our trading uses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe, that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of land [...]. In this way our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi. The former is certainly the termination of their history [in terms of Native American culture] most happy for themselves; but, in the whole course of this, it is essential to cultivate their love. [138]

69This pragmatism combines official hypocrisy, secrecy vis-à-vis the Native American, and ultimately the possibility of using force:


but this letter being unofficial, and private, I may with safety give you a more extensive view of our policy respecting the Indians [...]. Should any tribe be fool-hardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe and driving them across the Mississippi, as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation [...]. You will also perceive how sacredly it must be kept within your own breast, and especially how improper to be understood by the Indians. For their interests and their tranquility it is best they should see only the present age of their history. [139]

71Jefferson wishes to ensure that this policy is implemented without the Native Americans knowing of it, as Wallace explains:


He felt, [...] if the Indians, now almost universally averse to selling any more land, became aware of the real purpose of the factories and the civilization policy, they would reject both. [And he summarizes his vision as follows:] his reliance on progress toward civilization as the means of weaning the native Americans from their hunting grounds [and a] conviction of the inevitable demise of the Indian way of life, the termination of Indian history, and the eventual incorporation of the survivors into the fabric of civilized society as citizens of the United States. [140]

73Survivors would be incorporated into the United States as full participants in its political and economic life. Those who did not cooperate or who wished to continue their traditional way of life could be deported west of the Mississippi to lands already partially settled. Obtaining land in the east would create a socially and axiologically homogeneous area by means of the “repatriation” of the white population. Jefferson drafted constitutional amendments intended to orchestrate this “exchange”. The amendments were not accepted, but this attempt—which he then tried to implement through executive orders—clearly demonstrates that even at the time of the Louisiana Purchase (in 1803), Jefferson viewed the relationship with the Native American as a mechanism for obtaining land for the white population, and that the prospect of deportation was seriously possible and attainable. [141] Integrating and blending the communal and traditional aspects of the Native American way of life with American society and economy seems to have been out of the question. The ultimate proof of this is Jefferson’s rejection of the idea of American citizenship for the Cherokees, a tribe already greatly integrated into the American economy and civilization: he prefers to leave any decision about naturalization to Congress. [142]

74Thus, the respect that is accorded to the Native American community through relationships with them cannot be dissociated from the right of the individual to his own land, which is ultimately the only acceptable option, because it is the only civilized one. The Native American must trade his rifle for the plow, or collectively withdraw from the American context. He must fulfill his “individual right” in order to be worthy of citizenship. He is clearly to be respected collectively, but this is by virtue of the potential of his lands and the possibility of acquiring them peacefully through negotiation and treaty. Resistance to development and civilization must be suppressed, [143] since they constitute an attack on the right of the individual, and therefore, on humanity. War is then justified because it is humanly just. In Locke’s view, it protects the right to ownership.

75A study of the development of thinking from de Vitoria to Locke points to various stages in the argument about relationships with the Native American. [144] It is through respectful relationships with a community because of the equality accorded to its individuals that the aim of any developed political society can be achieved: namely, access to territory through the effort and reasoning of the citizen. Jefferson’s liberalism relies on the natural equality of the Native American, and thus on his ability not only to trade, but also to assimilate and integrate. The result is the peaceful and humane accomplishment of a process that fulfills the Lockean essence of the law that stipulates “the direction of a free and intelligent agent to his proper interest”. [145] Natural history and science come together to justify the grounds for a human process; they serve as a tool to justify and facilitate the development of the American nation, which involves the acquisition and development of land. The equality of the Native American is necessary because it is interwoven with destiny. In this case, science is used to promote a project.

76Thomas Jefferson’s reflection on “race” cannot be separated from his vision of an American future that will be achieved through territory. While biological characteristics and color may divide the nation, and even serve as the grounds for the exclusion of one “race”, [146] this nation is nevertheless united by its values. Membership of the political community is determined by axiology, which explains why the potential for integration is a function of property ownership. The Native American must be capable of this process because his assimilation creates the necessary context for prosperity.

77Territorial development depends on the progress of the Native American and not on the progress of the black man, which is understood to bring only a demographic burden and a risk of social instability. [147] The Native American must then be equal to the white man under natural law if the liberal governance of the latter is to be respected. The potential of the Native American facilitates the fulfillment of Jefferson’s vision of the individual and his natural right to the means of happiness, that is, to his land. The harmony of interests between white economic actors that is noted by Joyce Appleby is particularly manifest between the Native American and the European-American: through his progress, the former yields to the settler the basis of prosperity. [148] A certain pragmatism and lack of integrity are seen to be justified to this end. The citizen must not be hindered in his access to economic opportunity, [149] and space permitting, this access may entail the “voluntary” eviction of the tribe. However, the destiny of the continent requires the tribe to gradually relinquish its history and integrate into the wider context. The tribe’s right to choose whether or not to give up its land will eventually have to give way to private ownership by its individual members; the naturally respectable community will have to give way to the respected individual. The unified, indivisible, and consolidated nation has room only for this individual. [150]

78The progress of the Native American makes it possible to fulfill the nature and purpose of Jefferson’s “individual”, who is defined as a moral and rational creature endowed with the means to a happiness that is justified by his constitution. That which appears to be aporetic—namely, the conflict between collective right vs. individual right—is not so, because the basis of collective right (i.e. the natural faculties of the Native American) facilitates individual right by opening up access to territory following the progress and integration of the Native American. A complex system of thought such as Jefferson’s must be understood as an organic whole: [151] all of its elements work together to achieve what he believes to be a national destiny, but one that is above all human.

79For Thomas Jefferson, therefore, the Native American is respected less for what he is than for what he can become. His progress is unarguably good for him, but for the nation it is a necessity.


  • [1]
    Frank Shuffelton, “Introduction” in Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, New York, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. vii-xxxi, here p. xxi.
  • [2]
    Shuffelton, “Introduction”, pp. xxi and xxv.
  • [3]
    Harold Hellenbrand, “Not ‘To Destroy but to Fulfil’: Jefferson, Indians, and the Republican Dispensation”, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 18(4), 1985, 523-49; Roger Kennedy, “Jefferson and the Indians”, Winterthur Portfolio, 27(2/3), 1992, 105-21; Anthony F. C. Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans, Cambridge, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999; Daniel Royot, “L’expansionisme dans l’idéologie jeffersonienne, 1801-1809” in Pierre Lagayette (ed.), La “destinée manifeste” des États-Unis au xixe siècle. Aspects idéologiques et politiques, Paris, Ellipses, 1999, pp. 99-107; Stephen G. Bragaw, “Thomas Jefferson and the American Indian Nations: Native American Sovereignty and the Marshall Court”, Journal of Supreme Court History, 31(2), 2006, 155-80; Gordon M. Sayre, “Jefferson and Native Americans: Policy and Archive” in Frank Shuffelton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Jefferson, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 143-54.
  • [4]
    Following David N. Mayer, The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1994; Joyce Appleby, “Economics: The Agrarian Republic”, and Michael P. Zuckert, “Founder of the Natural Rights Republic” in Thomas S. Engeman (ed.), Thomas Jefferson and the Politics of Nature, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 2000, pp. 143-63 and 11-58.
  • [5]
    Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 223.
  • [6]
    Following Mayer, The Constitutional Thought, 21, who views this influence as more dominant in Jefferson than in the other Founding Fathers.
  • [7]
    For a similar view, cf. Ari Helo, “Jefferson’s Conception of Republican Government” in Shuffelton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion, pp. 35-46.
  • [8]
    Charles A. Miller, Jefferson and Nature: An Interpretation, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988, pp. 23-8; Daniel N. Robinson, “The Scottish Enlightenment and the American Founding”, The Monist, 90(2), 2007, 170-81, here 179; Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 6 September 1789, in The Founders’ Constitution, vol. 1, ch. 2, doc. 23, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2000, unpaginated document, (accessed 30 April 2018).
  • [9]
    Thomas Jefferson, On Democracy, Saul K. Padover (ed.), New York, Penguin Books, 1946, 29 and 104; Joyce Appleby and Terence Ball (eds), Thomas Jefferson: Political Writings, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1999, 37.
  • [10]
    Henry Home, Lord Kames, Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, Mary Catherine Moran (ed.), Indianapolis, Liberty Fund, 2005, P. I, E. II, C. VII, 56.
  • [11]
    Jean M. Yarbrough, “Thomas Jefferson and Republicanism” in Thomas S. Engeman (ed.), Thomas Jefferson and the Politics of Nature, pp. 59-79.
  • [12]
    See Annie Léchenet, Jefferson-Madison. Un débat sur la République, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2003, 49-51.
  • [13]
    On human nature as the basis of the individual as master of the self, cf. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration, Stilwell,, 2005, t. II, § 44, p. 85.
  • [14]
    On the link between morality and rationality, cf. Thomas Jefferson, “IV. Opinion on the Treaties with France, 28 April 1793”, Founders Online, National Archives, unpaginated document, (accessed 30 April, 2018). See also Thomas Jefferson to Miles King, 26 September 1814, in Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert E. Bergh (ed.), Washington, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, vol. 14, 1907, pp. 196-8.
  • [15]
    On the Lockean concept of individual moral autonomy on the basis of reason, see Stanley C. Brubaker, “Coming into One’s Own: John Locke’s Theory of Property, God, and Politics”, The Review of Politics, 74(2), 2012, 207-32.
  • [16]
    Cf. for example the letter written by Jefferson to Thomas Law, Esq., 13 June 1814, in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 14, pp. 138-44.
  • [17]
    Thomas Jefferson, “Autobiography” in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, pp. 1-164, especially p. 63.
  • [18]
    John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, Chapter 21, § 66-70, London, Awnsham and John Churchill, 1970, pp. 148-51. On morality see also the letter from Jefferson to his nephew Peter Carr, dated 10 August 1787 in Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson: Writings, New York, Library of America, 1984, unpaginated document, (accessed 30 April 2018).
  • [19]
    See his letter to Thomas Law in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 14, pp. 141-3.
  • [20]
    See his letter to Miles King, in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 14, p. 197. I differ here from the thesis, which is rather sentimentalist and relies heavily on the sentimental correspondence with Maria Cosway, formulated by Mark Andrew Holowchak in “The March of Morality: Making Sense of Jefferson’s Moral Sense” in Holowchak (ed.), Thomas Jefferson and Philosophy: Essays on the Philosophical Cast of Jefferson’s Writings, Lanham, Lexington Books, 2014, pp. 147-64.
  • [21]
    Letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787, in Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson: Writings, and “IV. Opinion on the Treaties”.
  • [22]
    On this point see Zuckert, “Founder of the Natural Rights Republic”.
  • [23]
    Zuckert, “Founder of the Natural Rights Republic“; Appleby, “Economics”, p. 153.
  • [24]
    This is why Jefferson rejects the implications of the Constitution of Virginia, which made ownership of property a condition for having a vote, and which thus artificialized what he saw as a natural right that originated in the capacity to freely provide for oneself. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIII, pp. 124-36, and Q. XIV, p. 155. On the institution of the political and on the majority vote as a natural right of a society, see Locke, Two Treatises, t. II, § 95-98, pp.100-1.
  • [25]
    See Léchenet, Jefferson-Madison, 121, no. 1, which refers to the classic analysis by John G. A. Pocock, from which Léchenet maintains a distance. In Pocock, in relation to Jefferson, see, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975, especially 532-4 and 540.
  • [26]
    Léchenet, Jefferson-Madison, 49, no. 3, 108-9 and 120, no. 1.
  • [27]
    Yarbrough, “Thomas Jefferson”, pp. 60-75; Zuckert, “Founder of the Natural Rights Republic”, pp. 12-37; Appleby, “Economics”, pp. 144-58.
  • [28]
    Letter to James Madison, 6 September 1789 in Jefferson, The Founders’ Constitution.
  • [29]
    Eric Mack, John Locke, New York, Continuum, 2009, 139-41. See Locke’s statements on the individualist nature of the common good in Two Treatises, t. I, § 92, p. 43; t. II, § 138, p. 114; and A Letter Concerning Toleration, 152. He states that the common good is “the good of every particular member of that society” (t. I, § 92, p. 43).
  • [30]
    John Adams leaves open the future possibility of a hereditary elite, occurring through the degeneration and corruption of the democratic system. Arthur Scherr, “Letter to the Editor”, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 102(1), 1994, 121-4, here 123-4.
  • [31]
    John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Against the Attack of M. Turgot in his Letter to Dr. Price, Dated the Twenty-Second Day of March, 1778, London, printed for John Stockdale, Piccadilly, 1794, vol. 3, 505. On James Madison, see Léchenet, Jefferson-Madison, 50-71.
  • [32]
    Douglas R. Egerton, “Race and Slavery in the Era of Jefferson” in Shuffelton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion, p. 74.
  • [33]
    Locke, Two Treatises, t. II, § 57, p. 88.
  • [34]
    Letter to Madison, 6 September 1789 in Jefferson, The Founders’ Constitution.
  • [35]
    On these points, see Clinton Rossiter, The Political Thought of the American Revolution, New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963, 104, and Conservatism in America: The Thankless Persuasion, New York, Vintage Books, 1962, 200. See also David A. J. Richards, Foundations of American Constitutionalism, New York, Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • [36]
    Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 3, p. 319.
  • [37]
    Vincent Michelot, “Fédéralisme et destinée manifeste: paradoxes américains de la liberté” in Lagayette (ed.), La “destinée manifeste“, pp. 87-97, here pp. 87-8. Our translation. Unless otherwise stated all translations of cited foreign material in this text are our own.
  • [38]
    See in particular the draft of 1784. Jefferson is seeking to facilitate the advance of the settlers by liberating territory, for example by banning slavery (which would favor the “yeoman” and his production methods, considered to be superior to the produce of slave labor), taxes on lands belonging to the Union, and the principle of inheritance, which was considered to be unjust since it could favor primogeniture. Jefferson, “Ordinance of 1784” in Public Lands Affairs of Western Territory, 23 April 1784, transcribed by Fred Smoot, especially articles 5 and 6, which were partly revoked by Congress; unpaginated document, (accessed 1 May 2018). The question of banning taxes on federal lands is also discussed in Northwest Ordinance (cf. Wilcomb E. Washburn (ed.), The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History, New York, Random House, vol. 3, art. 3, 1973, 2149).
  • [39]
    This is in contrast to Léchenet, Jefferson-Madison, 50-1. On the pre-political nature of private property, see Locke, Two Treatises, t. II, § 138, p. 113.
  • [40]
    Thomas Jefferson, “A Summary View of the Rights of British America” in Selected Works of Thomas Jefferson [and] Letters, unpaginated document,; Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, “Bill of Rights; June 12, 1776”, The Constitution of Virginia, June 29, 1776 1 (1), Washington, National Humanities Institute, 1999, section 1, unpaginated document, (accessed 1 May 2018).
  • [41]
    Appleby and Ball (eds), Thomas Jefferson: Political Writings, 106-7.
  • [42]
    Thomas Jefferson, “Draft Constitution for Virginia, June, 1776” in Selected Works of Thomas Jefferson [and] Letters.
  • [43]
    Appleby, “Economics”, pp. 144-6; Zuckert, “Founder of the Natural Rights Republic”, p. 37.
  • [44]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIX, pp. 170-1.
  • [45]
    Appleby, “Economics”, p. 144. Jefferson even reproached England for hindering the manufacturing development of the colonies in the areas of fur and iron. Cf. Jefferson, “A Summary View”.
  • [46]
    On these issues, see Locke, Two Treatises, including t. II, § 14 and 41, pp. 76 and 84.
  • [47]
    Egerton, “Race and Slavery”, p. 7; William Merkel, “Jefferson in Paris: Rewriting the Problems of Slavery, Slaveholding, Family, and Codependency” in Holowchak (ed.), Thomas Jefferson and Philosophy, pp. 91-134, especially pp. 92-118.
  • [48]
    Cf. the two letters from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, the first dated 11 January 1816, in Jefferson, The Writings, vol. 14, pp. 393-5, and the second dated 1 August 1816, in Jefferson, The Writings, vol. 15, pp. 58-9; see also Thomas Jefferson’s letter to William G. Munford, 18 June 1799, in Jefferson, Founders Online, (accessed 1 May 2018). On the participative, virtuous, and liberal nature of the citizen as conceived of by Jefferson, see Garrett Ward Sheldon, “Eclectic Synthesis: Jesus, Aristotle, and Locke” in Engeman (ed.), Thomas Jefferson and the Politics of Nature, pp. 82 and 87-93.
  • [49]
    Élise Marienstras, Les mythes fondateurs de la nation américaine. Essai sur le discours idéologique aux États-Unis à l’époque de l’indépendance (1763-1800), Paris, François Maspero, 1976, 48.
  • [50]
    Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 15 August 1820, in Thomas Jefferson, American History from Revolution to Reconstruction and Beyond, The Letters of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), unpaginated document, (accessed 1 May 2018).
  • [51]
    Miller, Jefferson and Nature, 27.
  • [52]
    Miller, Jefferson and Nature, 32. On the relationship between naturality and artificiality, cf. Locke, Two Treatises, t. I, § 1, p. 6, and t. II, § 14, p. 76. Locke prioritizes the view of man as a man over that of man as a citizen of any particular context.
  • [53]
    “Thomas Jefferson to Dr. John Manners, February 22, 1814” in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 14, pp. 97-103.
  • [54]
    Miller, Jefferson and Nature, 7-9.
  • [55]
    On the natural relationship between parties to a treaty, such as a Native American individual and a European, see Jefferson, “IV. Opinion on the Treaties”, and also Locke, Two Treatises, t. II, § 14 and 145, pp. 76 and 115-6.
  • [56]
    Cf. Benjamin Smith Barton, New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America, Philadelphia, printed for the author by John Bioren, 1798).
  • [57]
    Egerton, “Race and Slavery”, p. 77; Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIV, p. 146.
  • [58]
    Appleby and Ball (eds), Thomas Jefferson: Political Writings, pp. 508-15; Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 34; James W. Ceaser, “Natural Rights and Scientific Racism” in Engeman (ed.), Thomas Jefferson and the Politics of Nature, pp. 165-89, cf. pp. 167-72; James L. Golden and Alan L. Golden, Thomas Jefferson and the Rhetoric of Virtue, New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, 99-100.
  • [59]
    Thomas Hallock, “Notes on the State of Virginia and the Jeffersonian West” in Shuffelton, The Cambridge Companion, pp. 47-60, here p. 49.
  • [60]
    Hallock, “Notes on the State of Virginia”, p. 58.
  • [61]
    Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd et al., Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1950-2017, vol. 3, p. 276, and vol. 6, pp. 61-3, also see vol. 1, pp. 243-7, (accessed 1 May 2018).
  • [62]
    Egerton, “Race and Slavery”, p. 74.
  • [63]
    Merkel, “Jefferson in Paris”, pp. 92-3.
  • [64]
  • [65]
    “Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles (August 25, 1814)” in Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Letters and Documents, p. 284.
  • [66]
    Jefferson, On Democracy, 68.
  • [67]
    Jefferson, “A Summary View”.
  • [68]
    Locke, Two Treatises, t. I, § 1, p. 6.
  • [69]
    Jefferson, “A Summary View”.
  • [70]
    Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 240; Jefferson, “IV. Opinion on the Treaties”, Introduction.
  • [71]
    “Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles (August 25, 1814)” in Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Letters and Documents, p. 285.
  • [72]
    On this subject see Brubaker, “Coming into One’s Own”.
  • [73]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. VI, pp. 61-71, and Q. XI, pp. 98-9.
  • [74]
    See for example Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIV, pp. 145-50.
  • [75]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, pp. 266-9, 276-9, and 284-7.
  • [76]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XI, p. 98.
  • [77]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. VI, p. 66.
  • [78]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, pp. 66-7.
  • [79]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, p. 62.
  • [80]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Appendix I (A), pp. 210-1.
  • [81]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XI, p. 99.
  • [82]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, pp. 98-9; Jefferson, On Democracy, 106; see also Locke, Two Treatises, t. II, § 107-8, pp. 103-4.
  • [83]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. VI, p. 68.
  • [84]
    I will return to the two fundamental aspects (natural and environmental) of the inequality of the black man.
  • [85]
    Barbara Arneil, John Locke and America: The Defense of English Colonialism, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996, 189-94, here 191.
  • [86]
    This is theoretically true. Cf. Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, Ch. 21, § 67, pp. 148-9.
  • [87]
    John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, London, Ward, Lock & Co., 1886, § 1, p. 403.
  • [88]
    Matthieu Renault, L’Amérique de John Locke. L’expansion coloniale de la philosophie européenne, Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, 2014.
  • [89]
    Roger Wilkins, Jefferson’s Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism, Boston, Beacon Press, 2001, 27.
  • [90]
    Renault, L’Amérique de John Locke, 173. Cf. also Mayer, The Constitutional Thought, 21; also Mark Andrew Holowchak, Thomas Jefferson’s Philosophy of Education: A Utopian Dream, New York, Routledge, 2014, 154.
  • [91]
    Jefferson, “IV. Opinion on the Treaties”. About Locke on this subject, see also James (Sákéj) Youngblood Henderson, “The Context of the State of Nature” in Marie Battiste (ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision, Toronto, UBC Press, 2000, pp. 11-38, here pp. 18-33.
  • [92]
    Locke, Two Treatises, t. I, § 131, pp. 57-8, t. II, § 9, 14, 30, 41, 102, 105, 107-8 and 145-6, pp. 74, 76, 80, 84, 102-4, 115-6.
  • [93]
    Locke, Two Treatises, t. I, § 1, p. 6, and t. II, § 124-6, pp. 109-10; Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book IV, Ch. 12, § 11, pp. 383-84.
  • [94]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. VI, p. 59; Sayre, “Jefferson and Native Americans”, p. 67.
  • [95]
    Jefferson, “IV. Opinion on the Treaties”, Introduction.
  • [96]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIII, p. 132; Locke, Two Treatises, t. II, § 96, pp. 100-1. For an opinion on the limited sovereignty of chiefs according to their personal qualities, see Jefferson, On Democracy, 39; also Locke, Two Treatises, t. I, § 131-2, pp. 57-8, and t. II, § 41, 87, 102, 105 and 108, pp. 84, 97-8, 102-4.
  • [97]
    Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 16, 398 and 433; Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 6, 61-3; and Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XI, pp. 98 and 102; Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 207.
  • [98]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIV, pp. 142-3; Jefferson, On Democracy, 105; Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, p. 341, and vol. 16, 401, 406 and 467-70; Jean M. Yarbrough (ed.), The Essential Jefferson, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2006, 202; Jefferson, Report of the Secretary of State, to the President of the United States, of the Quantity and Situation of the Lands not Claimed by the Indians, nor Granted to, nor Claimed by any Citizens, within the Territory of the United States. Read in the House of Representatives, November 10, 1791, Philadelphia, Childs and Swaine, 1791, 6. For the Northwest Ordinance, see Washburn, The American Indian, vol. 3, art. 3, p. 2148; also, American State Papers: Indian Affairs, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1832, vol. 1, 649, 656 and 748-9, (accessed 1 May 2018); The New American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Wilmington, Scholarly Resources, 1972, vol. 1, 44.
  • [99]
    Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 16, 401 and 467-70.
  • [100]
    Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 340.
  • [101]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIV, p. 142.
  • [102]
    Jefferson, “A Summary View“; Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 240;
    Bragaw, “Thomas Jefferson and the American Indian Nations”, 162; Michel Morin, L’Usurpation de la souveraineté autochtone. Le cas des peuples de la nouvelle-France et des colonies anglaises de l’Amérique du Nord, Montreal, Les Éditions du Boréal, 1997, 33-40.
  • [103]
    Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 359.
  • [104]
    Locke, Two Treatises, t. I, § 131, p. 57.
  • [105]
    Jefferson, “IV. Opinion on the Treaties”, cf. section 3.
  • [106]
    Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 185.
  • [107]
    Bragaw, “Thomas Jefferson and the American Indian Nations” 162.
  • [108]
    A number of contemporary polygenist theories concur with this. Cf. Egerton, “Race and Slavery” p. 78.
  • [109]
    See the two letters of 30 August 1791 in Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, pp. 274-6.
  • [110]
    Jefferson attributes the absence, which is a source of his lack of respect, of the idea of “property” among African-Americans, to their social situation rather than to a lack of moral sense. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIV, p. 149.
  • [111]
    Jefferson to Chastellux on 7 June 1785 in Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, p. 268.
  • [112]
  • [113]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. VI, p. 66.
  • [114]
    See for example Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, pp. 48-9 and 56.
  • [115]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, p. 63 for the quotation, and also pp. 62-5.
  • [116]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, p. 65, and pp. 64-5.
  • [117]
    Cf. for example the case of black albinos. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, pp. 77-9.
  • [118]
    On Jefferson’s lack of consistency in natural history, see Miller, Jefferson and Nature, for example 64-5.
  • [119]
    American State Papers, vol. 1, pp. 684-5 and 693; James D. Richardson (ed.), A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, New York, Bureau of National Literature, 1897, vol. 1, 353-4.
  • [120]
    Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, 341.
  • [121]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. VIII, pp. 91-2.
  • [122]
    Cf. his letter to James Monroe, 24 November, 1801, in Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, pp. 277-8.
  • [123]
  • [124]
    Jefferson, On Democracy, 105.
  • [125]
    The exclusivism of Jefferson’s liberal egalitarianism is highlighted by Anthony Wallace, who distinguishes it from the inclusivity that underpins an organic society such as England and its Empire. Cf. Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 17-9.
  • [126]
    Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, including 218-25 and 273-5.
  • [127]
    Jefferson, On Democracy, 105.
  • [128]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. VI, pp. 67-8.
  • [129]
    “Report of the Board of Commissioners for the University of Virginia to the Virginia General Assembly, [4 August] 1818”, in Founders Online, National Archives, unpaginated document, (accessed 1 May 2018).
  • [130]
    Jefferson, On Democracy, 104.
  • [131]
    “Thomas Jefferson to William H. Harrison, February 27, 1803” in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 370-1; Appleby, “Economics”, p. 158.
  • [132]
    Yarbrough, “Thomas Jefferson”, pp. 60-75; Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 20.
  • [133]
    Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 78, 273-5 and 298.
  • [134]
    Note the paternalist liberty that Jefferson adopts when evaluating the situation of the Native American, who was not the judge or master of his situation or future. Jefferson decides on which policies are of value, but in relation to American intentions rather than to the Native American community in its own right. As Gordon M. Sayre points out, Jefferson believes he can sympathize with the nations without always necessarily considering the requests of the Native American chiefs. Cf. Sayre, “Jefferson and Native Americans”, p. 64.
  • [135]
    Compare to his comment on the emancipation and education of the black man: “Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state [.. . ]? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made [.. . ]”. These factors, according to him, would lead to the division, social disruption, and extermination of one “race” by another. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIV, p. 145. Jefferson could have made similar claims in relation to the Native American. There must therefore be a different reason for his desire to assimilate and integrate them. The appropriation of land and the ensuing development would appear to be logical reasons. See his letter to Edward Coles of 25 August 1814, in Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, pp. 285-6.
  • [136]
    Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 362-4.
  • [137]
    Jefferson, cited in Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 221.
  • [138]
    Letter to Harrison, 27 February 1803, in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, pp. 369-73.
  • [139]
  • [140]
    Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 222.
  • [141]
    Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 224-5 and 273-5.
  • [142]
    Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 226 and 274.
  • [143]
    See Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians, 224.
  • [144]
    Bragaw, “Thomas Jefferson and the American Indian Nations”, 161-3.
  • [145]
    Locke, Two Treatises, § 57, p. 88.
  • [146]
    Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Q. XIV, p. 145.
  • [147]
  • [148]
    Appleby, “Economics”, p. 157; letter to Harrison, 27 February 1803, in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, pp. 369-70.
  • [149]
    Appleby, “Economics”, p. 157.
  • [150]
    Conversation with George Washington, 27 December 1792, in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1, p. 341; letter to Harrison, 27 February 1803, in Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, pp. 370-1.
  • [151]
    For a similar observation, cf. William Howard Adams, The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1997, 158.

Our goal is to understand the basis of Thomas Jefferson's conception of the Natives. Central are his liberal thought and his knowledge of contemporary scientific developments. The raison d'être of a social element must be compatible with an expansionist, agrarian and capitalist agenda inherent to America's territorial and economic needs. For Jefferson, contrary to Blacks, Natives ought to be equals to realize a peaceful process of territorial appropriation and social assimilation, preconditions to each citizen's prosperity. The Native's rationality permits first to negotiate, and eventually to settle tribe members, completing thus the requisites for an agenda at the hearth of America's realization.


  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Native American
  • Liberalism
  • Colonialism
David Bergeron
Canadian by origin, David Bergeron holds a Ph.D. in philosophy (2015) and two master’s degrees, in history and theology. He has published Les templiers et leur procès. Boucs émissaires ou culte ésotérique?, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2011. His research focuses on the Anglo-American tradition in political philosophy, the history of political thinking in North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the history of indigenous peoples and representations of the relevant political and legal actors. John Locke’s philosophy and Thomas Jefferson’s thinking are central to his research (Department of Philosophy and Applied Ethics, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Université de Sherbrooke, J1K 2R1 Sherbrooke, Canada, <>).
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