JOURNAL OF THE EARLY REPUBLIC (Summer 2012) of natural history' '' (108) is particularly revealing in this context. As Indians ``vanished'' westward, Jefferson--with the help of Meriwether Lewis and other informants--sought to learn more about them, but he remained curiously incurious about enslaved Africans and African Americans. His willful ignorance enabled him to indulge ``suspicions'' of black inferiority, to uncharacteristically theorize beyond the limits of the natural historian's empirical knowledge. Of course, Jefferson's limited and self-serving observations and the suspicions they evoked soon hardened into ``racial science.'' But Jefferson could console himself with his putative modesty and reticence: Eschewing any claim to being a natural philosopher, he could remain faithful to his belief that ``it was a fundamental fact of nature that all men are created equal'' (122). A Passion for Nature is marred by a few errors: Jefferson did not sell his library to Congress in 1783; the 1787 Stockdale edition of Notes was published in England, not America; and John Ledyard's plan was to walk across Russia to Kamchatka, not travel there by ship. But these are minor missteps, easily correctible in another edition. In the meantime, Thomson has given us an extraordinarily lucid and informative
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: May 5, 2012
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