Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery? The answer is a resounding yes. Wiencek's eloquent, persuasive book--based on new information coming from archaeological work at Monticello and on overlooked evidence in Jefferson's papers--opens up a huge, poorly understood dimension of Jefferson's world.Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery? The answer is a resounding yes. Wiencek's eloquent, persuasive book--based on new information coming from archaeological work at Monticello and on overlooked evidence in Jefferson's papers--opens up a huge, poorly understood dimension of Jefferson's world.Read Less
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Why are the Founding Fathers such a touchy subject? Is it because we have all been indoctrinated with tales of cherry trees and kites? Is it a holdover from the Cold War? Has Americana become a secular religion? The surprising thing about the Thomas Jefferson slave controversy is that there are still apologists for the ?Peculiar Institution? over 150 years after the commencement of the Civil War. But Henry Wiencek is not one of them. In ?Master of the Mountain? this author gets down to brass tacks. And what we find is not a pretty picture.
For the longest time Thomas Jefferson has been portrayed as a frustrated humanist who was held back by the reactionary forces of his day from achieving the goal of full equality for all Americans. He was made out to be a compromiser who accepted defeat in one battle, (the ending of slavery), in order to achieve victory in the big war, (the formation of a free republic).
In 1974 Fawn Brodie released ?Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History?, which was the first major blow against the Thomas Jefferson image. The backlash was severe but Ms. Brodie was sustained, (long after her own death), by DNA testing that proved that our third president did indeed procreate children with his slave Sally Hemings. (Or to put it a better way, the testing proved that Jefferson, or a close relative, had been involved.) It has been the view ever since, (by some), that Jefferson?s ardent abolitionism was tamed by his desire to keep his loved ones near, (or some approximate version thereof).
According to Mr. Wiencek Mr. Jefferson?s motives were much more American than that. You see, it all comes down to profit. The youthful idealogue gave way to the elder plantation owner. There was money in slavery, (and exploitation and cruelty). The ?Man of the People? figured out that considering for a normal reproduction rate among his slaves he could count on a 4% yearly growth rate for his ?operation?. Earlier promises to international colleagues, (like Lafayette and Kosciusko), to end slavery, were postponed indefinitely. In fact, our great liberationist was in favor of extending the institution into the territories acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, (which happened during his presidency).
The author here has not been fooled by the Jeffersonian rhetoric. That has been the biggest problem up until now. Words have obfuscated actions, (which is true of all politicians). But let us not rationalize here because Jefferson was not like any other politician. This is a big deal. The conscience of the American experiment has always been The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, (Jefferson?s major contributions). What had been left out came back to haunt us. Now we can clearly see the reason for the omissions, (the maintenance of privilege).
Part of the Monticello marketing plan was the design itself. Guests were driven in on roadways that bypassed the ?dirty side? of the property, (the slave quarters and the production and manufacturing buildings). Jefferson hired brutal overseers who whipped children who didn?t produce enough. He bought and sold humans at will, often breaking up families. He tracked down runaways. In other words, this may not be the Jefferson you have been familiar with. If you want to find out the truth, read this book.
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