On this day in 1800, Thomas Jefferson responded to a letter sent to him by Governor James Monroe. A few weeks earlier, a planned slave uprising that came to be known as Gabriel’s Conspiracy had been quashed. Now the state was busy executing the conspirators, and the body count was beginning to rack up. Once the first ten men had been hanged, Monroe had queried Jefferson as to how many dead slaves were necessary to prevent another uprising. By the time Jefferson put pen to paper, another five men had been executed, and Mr. J reported that his neighbors thought there had been enough: “the other states & the world at large will for ever condemn us if we indulge a principle of revenge, or go one step beyond absolute necessity.”
In the end, the governor judged another eleven executions to be necessary. But no more.
IMAGES: Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Governor James Monroe, September 20, 1800 (Library of Congress); George Meadows, a victim of lynching, January 15, 1889 (Library of Congress)