Friday, October 19, 2012

Is Henry Wiencek the Left's David Barton? Or, is Thomas Jefferson a Demon?

As many of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, David Barton's book The Jefferson Lies portrayed Thomas Jefferson as a benevolent slaveholder, if not an abolitionist, who would have freed his slaves if it were not for those pesky Virginia laws that forbade him from doing it.  The book has been universally panned by historians and Thomas Nelson Publishers took the book out of print as a result of its many errors.

Now it looks as if questions are being raised about Henry Wiencek's recent biography of Jefferson: The Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves.  Over at Slate, Annette Gordon-Reed, a scholar who knows a thing or two about Jefferson and his slaves (have I mentioned she will be at Messiah College in a few weeks?), has written a pretty scathing review of the book. She writes that Wiencek's book "fails as a work of scholarship."  Here is a taste of her review:

Suffice it to say that the problems with Master of the Mountain are too numerous to allow it to be taken seriously as a book that tells us anything new about Thomas Jefferson and slavery, and what it does say is too often wrong. It is, instead, a book about Henry Wiencek—with Jefferson, enslaved people, and the mountain thrown in for scenery. As he seeks to destroy Jefferson, Wiencek seeks to put himself in the place of the “Master of the Mountain” and become the true protector of the enslaved people of Monticello. He injects himself into the narrative, touring Monticello, walking the grounds that Jefferson walked, cataloging the injustices to the enslaved people as if they had finally, after all these years, found a champion.


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csccat said...

This book might lead to a very interesting debate.

I'm sorry that Professor Gordon-Reed is speaking on election night. I might have tried to get a group of students together to attend, but I'll be hosting an election returns party that night at my uni. I guess I'll have to content myself with watching Gordon-Reed on CSPAN reruns.