When in 1852 Frederick Douglass hailed whaling in the Pacific Ocean as labor that black and white men did together, and in 1851 when Herman Melville cited Thomas Jefferson's "Observations on the Whale Fishery" in the opening extracts of Moby-Dick, both Douglass and Melville alluded to a history of the entanglements of whaling, national identity, and slavery that had been a long time in the making. When Jefferson wrote his "Observations" in 1788, he was putting his thinking about a warming climate, the rivers and coasts that connected the American interior to the Atlantic Ocean, and the political transformations of a revolutionary Atlantic world to work in the service of a very particular vision of the future. He was certainly doing much more than representing the interests of Nantucket whalers, the purported goal of the report. Indeed, he was attempting to graft his vision of republicanism onto an oceanic world of contested geopolitics and natural history. The issue of whaling implicated Jefferson's entire body of thought and with it the Jeffersonian project of continental expansion and agrarian political economy, the viability of American empire, and the legal and environmental security of white supremacy and planter enlightenment.


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