Author: Chad Vanderford

associate professor of history at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He died in 2017.
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A Dissertation on Slavery: With a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of It, In the State of Virginia (1796)

A Dissertation on Slavery: With a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of It, In the State of Virginia (1796), is an essay by St. George Tucker. When he submitted it to the General Assembly in 1796, Tucker was a law professor at the College of William and Mary and a judge on the bench of the General Court. In A Dissertation on Slavery, he discusses the history of slavery, the Virginia slave code, and the morality of slaveholding, and presents a plan for ending slavery. He wrestles with the tensions between the natural rights philosophy of the American Revolution (1775–1783) and the continued existence of slavery. Tucker’s attempt to resolve this tension had little immediate effect—the House of Delegates tabled his proposal and Tucker believed that many of the assembly’s members refused even to read it—but it did point to a society that somewhat resembled late nineteenth and early twentieth century Virginia. In his essay, Tucker proposed that enslaved African Americans be freed, but, for various reasons, should not enjoy the full rights and privileges of citizenship. Some historians have since pointed out that this circumstance actually came to pass, if not in precisely the manner that Tucker had prescribed.

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