Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 4-23-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

David T Konig


This dissertation posits that in the five decades following the American Revolution, there was a movement among the elite of Virginia's rising generation to envision a future different from the path that would ultimately take the state toward the retrenchment of slavery and even secession. This younger generation, claiming the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, demonstrated that the liberal side of the Enlightenment had a life in Virginia that went beyond the Founders' generation, and that the Enlightenment in the South offered possibilities for social and political reform. The primary types of reform animating liberal elite reformers in this generation were those requiring state action organized through the political process, and they included such reforms as the promotion of internal improvements, public education, the gradual abolition of slavery, and the democratization of the state itself. Although these reformers did not succeed in fundamentally changing the trajectory of Virginia's future, they attempted to offer an alternative, while at the same time confronting their own ambivalences and the realities of a society that was becoming more overtly proslavery.


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