The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson

  • The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson seems a provocative enough title, but in the October 2012 issue of Smithsonian magazine, Henry Wiencek devastatingly details how Jefferson actually treated his (100 +) slaves at Monticello. Rather than the lenient master often described by historians, Mr. Wiencek (acknowledging that Jefferson liked to avoid conflict) demonstrates that Jefferson employed brutal overseers to maximize his profit. And Jefferson personally involved himself to embark on a comprehensive program to modernize slavery, diversify it and industrialize it.

     

    Mr. Wiencek also takes to task eminent Jefferson scholars — Merrill Peterson, Dumas Malone, Joseph Ellis — for perpetuating the story that Thomas Jefferson was a benign owner of slaves. Too bad for his reputation, but this new view of Jefferson by Mr. Wiencek, as well as by a new generation of historians, is a necessary correction to the record.

JDN | 22-Oct-2012

Lafayette’s years in America had given him the most glorious career it was possible for a youth of his disposition to imagine. He had fought for a noble cause, and won the love of a nation. George Washington sent him admiring and heart-sore letters after the marquis returned to France; the state of Virginia presented a bust of him to the city of Paris; the island of Nantucket sent him a 500-pound cheese. Lafayette cherished the love he had earned overseas, and never let the French forget it. When his first two children were born, he named the boy George Washington and the girl Virginia. At his Paris household, his family spoke English, and his messenger was dressed as an American Indian.

Richard Brookhiser
Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution (2003)