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

[George] Mason’s obvious legacy is in his contribution to America’s founding documents: the Declaration of Independence through the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Constitution through his role at the Philadelphia Convention, and the Bill of Rights through his dogged opposition to a Constitution without one. Mason may have taken a circumscribed view of the rights he advocated — limiting the right of representation to white men or restricting freedom of the press to a ban on prior restraint — but he put words on paper that could be given more expansive meanings by later generations.

Jeff Broadwater
George Mason: Forgotten Founder (2006)