That the author of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves, likely fathered several children with a slave, and used slaves as collateral to borrow funds to build Monticello is widely acknowledged. Historians often explain this paradox by claiming Jefferson was powerless to change the system, accusing those who now criticize Jefferson of “presentism.” Yet NBCC Award–winning historian Wiencek (The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White) reveals that many of Jefferson’s contemporaries, such as Quaker plantation owners in the 1770s and a prominent Virginian, Edward Coles, in 1819, freed their slaves. Coles begged Jefferson to lend his voice to the antislavery movement, as did fellow revolutionaries such as Lafayette and Thomas Paine. But, Wiencek says that the founder who referred to blacks as “degraded and different” with “no place in our country,” had a “fundamental belief in the righteousness of his power.” Jefferson, asserts Wiencek, began to prevaricate about slavery after computing “the silent profit” of 4% per year from the birth of slave children. This meticulous account indicts not only Jefferson but modern apologists who wish to retain him as a moral standard of liberty. Wiencek’s vivid, detailed history casts a new slant on a complex man. 8 pages b&w illus. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 05/28/2012 Release date: 10/16/2012 Genre: Nonfiction
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