To Gov. Patrick Henry
Curles 5 mo. 28. 1777
Respected Friend
A knowledge of thy sentiments, a remembrance of former favors, and thy present exalted station, induceth me to offer a few hints to thy consideration, which being as I apprehend, of great importance, may not be unworthy a serious thought at some leisure moment. It is in respect to Slavery, of which thou art not altogether a stranger to mine, as well as some others of our friends sentiments, and perhaps too thou may have been informed, that some of us from a full conviction of the injustice and an apprehension of duty, have been induced to embrace the present favorable juncture, when the representations of the people have nobly declared all men equally free to manumit divers of our negroes and propose, without any desire to offend or thereby to injure any person, to invest more of them with the same inestimable previledge: This I conceive was necessary to inform the Governor of, especially as I have been told that there hath not been wanting some busie medling people, who have threatened to put in force the former most unjust and unreasionable law (empowering the Church wardens to take up and sell such manumitted negroes for slaves) and that application hath actually been made to thee for this very purpose; altho from a knowledge of thy sentiments on this subject, I am far from thinking such application would meet with any encouragement from thee. Indeed few, very few, are now so insensible of the injustice of holding our fellow men in Bondage as to undertake to vindicate it; nor can it be done, in my apprehension, without condemning the present measures in America, for if less injury offered to ourselves from the Mother Country, can justi1 the expence of so much Blood and Treasure, how can we impose with propriety absolute Slavery on others?
It hath often appeared to me as if this very matter was one, if not the principal cause of our present troubles, and that we ought first to have cleansed our own hands, before we could consistently oppose the measures of others, tending to the same purpose: and I firmly believe the doing of this justice to the injured Africans would be an acceptable offering to him who "Rules in the kingdom of men," And giveth Wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding" and for a purpose too of his own J and happy will it be for us, if we apply our Talents accordingly; for such it is that are often made a Blessing to themselves to their posterity, and to mankind in General. But if on the contrary we seek our own glory, and present interest by forbidden means, how can we expect peace here, or happiness hereafter? 0 may we therefor, "break of our sins by Righteousness; and our inequities by showing mercy to the poor, if haply it may be a lengthening of our tranquility." The declaration of Rights is indeed Noble, and I can but wish and hope, thy great abilities and interest may be exerted towards a full and clear explanation and confirmation thereof: for without that, the present struggle for Liberty, if successful, would be but partial, and instead of abolishing, might lay the foundation of greater imposition and Terany to our posterity than any we have yet known: And considering the uncertainty of future events, and all humane foresight, the immediate posterity of those now in power might be affected by such partiality, as well as others whose grievances might remain unredressed. It would therefore become the interest as well as duty of a wise and virtuous Legislature in forming a government, to establish a general uniform and consistant Liberty as well Civil as religious; for this end, I just propose to drop a hint which hath appeared to me as likely to accomplish the great and wise end of a general freedom, with out the dangers and inconveniences which some apprehend from a present total abolition of slavery, as any thing that hath occured to me and perhaps might be as generally approved; which is to Enact that all children of slaves to be born in future be absolutely free at the usual ages of 18 and 21, and that all such who are convinced of the injustice of keeping slaves, and willing to give up the property which the law hath invested them with may under certain regulations (so as not at an age to become chargable, or from other impediments obnoctious to the community) have free liberty to do it. By such a Law I apprehend the children would be educated with proper notions of freedom, and be better fitted for the enjoyment of it, than many now are; the State secured from intestine Enemies and convultions (which some think would attend a total and immediate discharge) its true interest promoted, in proportion to the number of freemen interested in its peace and prosperity and above all, to do that justice to others which we contend for and claim as ‘the unalterable birth-right' of every man. It surely can never be consistant with Reason or equity, for a law to invest me with absolute property in my fellow creatures and at the same time do bar me from disposing of that property according to my own will and desire; this as far as my knowledge in History contends was never disallowed under any form of government, when Slavery was the general lot of the Captive taken in War; and should Christians so fare degenerate from the practice of heathens, as not only with them to enslave Captives, but intact Bondage on their innocent offspring and then on their unhappy possessors forever? I must now beg thy excuse for the freedom and plainness of these Remarks. And wishing thy present and future happiness, I remain very respect fully Thy assured Friend
Robert Pleasants
Source: Virginia Historical Society.
(Letter transcribed from the original with unaltered spelling and punctuation.]