Benjamin Banneker : biography
A United States postage stamp and the names of a number of recreational and cultural facilities, schools, streets and other facilities and institutions throughout the United States have commemorated Banneker’s documented and mythical accomplishments throughout the years since he lived.
Correspondence with Thomas Jefferson
On August 19, 1791, after departing the federal capital area, Banneker wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, who in 1776 had drafted the United States Declaration of Independence and in 1791 was serving as the United States Secretary of State.(1) "COPY OF A LETTER FROM BENJAMIN BANNEKER, &c. Maryland, Baltimore County, August 19, 1791", in , pp. 3–10. in official website of . Retrieved 2009-02-02.(2) (3) Bedini 1999, p. 163 in official website of the . Retrieved 2009-08-23. Quoting language in the Declaration, the letter expressed a plea for justice for African Americans. To further support this plea, Banneker included within the letter a handwritten manuscript of an almanac for 1792 containing his ephemeris with his astronomical calculations.
In the letter, Banneker accused Jefferson of criminally using fraud and violence to oppress his slaves by stating:
…Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves. in "COPY OF A LETTER FROM BENJAMIN BANNEKER, &c. Maryland, Baltimore County, August 19, 1791", in , p. 8. in official website of . Retrieved 2010-06-18.
The letter ended:
And now, Sir, I shall conclude, and subscribe myself, with the most profound respect,Your most obedient humble servant,BENJAMIN BANNEKER. in "COPY OF A LETTER FROM BENJAMIN BANNEKER, &c. Maryland, Baltimore County, August 19, 1791", in , p. 10. in official website of . Retrieved 2009-02-02.
An English abolitionist, Thomas Day, had earlier written in a 1776 letter:
If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.Armitage, David (2007), The Declaration Of Independence: A Global History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, p. 77. ISBN 978-0-674-02282-9.
Thomas Jefferson’s own actions and statements on slavery and on the treatment of slaves were ambiguous and paradoxical (see: Thomas Jefferson and slavery). He reportedly instructed overseers at his home at Monticello to not whip his slaves, but the overseers often ignored his wishes during his frequent absences. A researcher has found no reliable document that portrays Jefferson in the act of applying physical correction.
Without directly responding to Banneker’s accusation, Jefferson replied to Banneker’s letter in a series of nuanced statements that expressed his interest in the advancement of the equality of America’s black population. Jefferson’s reply stated: Philadelphia Aug. 30. 1791.Sir,I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th. instant and for the Almanac it contained. no body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colours of men, & that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America. I can add with truth that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body & mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecillity of their present existence, and other circumstance which cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic society because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them. I am with great esteem, Sir,Your most obedt. humble servt.Th. Jefferson