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

The Federalists of the 1780s had a glimpse of what America was to become — a scrambling business society dominated by the pecuniary interests of ordinary people — and they did not like what they saw. This premonition of America’s future lay behind their sense of crisis and their horrified hyperbolic rhetoric. The wholesale pursuits of private interest and private luxury were, they thought, undermining America’s capacity for republican government. They designed the Constitution in order to save American republicanism from the deadly effects of the private pursuits of happiness.

Gordon S. Wood
The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States (2011)