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Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and…

Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves (2012)

by Henry Wiencek

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The author does a great job throughout most of the book describing the life of the slave at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's plantation home. The first 75% of the book draws a great picture of Jefferson's ability to separate himself from the cruelty that is imposed on those whom he owns. Though it was interesting reading, the last 25% of the book digresses into a discussion of whether or not Jefferson fathered a child with Sally Hemings. I would rather the author continue with the original discussion. Regardless of this detour, it was still a keen insight into one of the nation's founding fathers. ( )
1 vote scartertn | Jun 22, 2014 |
This book has forever changed the way I will think of the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence. It's a compelling and utterly damning picture of a man we have been taught to admire on the most lofty plain. When it came to slavery, he said one thing and did quite the opposite. History books, especially those used in classrooms, need to be revised to show his true beliefs about the economy and commerce of slavery.
This is a very good book, well-researched and written in a very accessible manner. Recommended for folks interested in American history and the lives of the 'founding fathers'. ( )
1 vote m2snick | Feb 19, 2014 |
Wiencek confronts the paradox that has long attached itself to Thomas Jefferson: How to reconcile the author of the Declaration of Independence, a man of the Enlightenment, with the slave owner? Not satisfied with the familiar contrivances excusing Jefferson—he was a product of his time, he had misgivings, he did what he could under trying circumstances, he was nice to his slaves—Wiencek uses family letters, genealogies, oral histories, farm records, and the archaeology of Monticello to reveal the dissembling behind the high-flown rhetoric.

Thomas Jefferson was the master of a plantation. He profited and lived comfortably for decades from the labor of long generations of slave families held as his property. The labor and profit he extracted from his slaves depended on a system of routine violence that Jefferson well understood and encouraged. The book is no hatchet job, yet what comes through most clearly here is Jefferson’s own disregard for the humanity of people he owned. The times do not excuse him; many others refused to participate, or repudiated the institution and freed their slaves, or courageously worked and fought on behalf of that fundamental human dignity that Jefferson could only write about.
1 vote HectorSwell | Mar 29, 2013 |
A much more jaundiced view of Jefferson than unusual, but it certainly made sense of the contradiction between his principled statements against slavery and his failure to free his slaves. He profited from their labor and, indeed, wouldn't live the life he did without them. They were his main asset and their progeny represented his return on capital. He used them as he needed to to maximize what profit he could find. It did change my view of Jefferson, but mainly to add more complexity, not to diminish him. ( )
1 vote gbelik | Jan 16, 2013 |
Showing 4 of 4
In this deeply provocative and crisply written journey into the dark heart of slavery of Monticello, Henry Wiencek brings into focus a side of Jefferson that Americans have largely failed--or not cared--to see. This book will change forever the way that we think about the author of the Declaration of Independence.
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Fergus M. Bordewich (Nov 2, 2012)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374299560, Hardcover)

Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery? The answer is a resounding yes. Master of the Mountain, Henry Wiencek’s eloquent, persuasive book—based on new information coming from archaeological work at Monticello and on hitherto overlooked or disregarded evidence in Jefferson’s papers—opens up a huge, poorly understood dimension of Jefferson’s world. We must, Wiencek suggests, follow the money.

So far, historians have offered only easy irony or paradox to explain this extraordinary Founding Father who was an emancipationist in his youth and then recoiled from his own inspiring rhetoric and equivocated about slavery; who enjoyed his renown as a revolutionary leader yet kept some of his own children as slaves. But Wiencek’s Jefferson is a man of business and public affairs who makes a success of his debt-ridden plantation thanks to what he calls the “silent profits” gained from his slaves—and thanks to a skewed moral universe that he and thousands of others readily inhabited. We see Jefferson taking out a slave-equity line of credit with a Dutch bank to finance the building of Monticello and deftly creating smoke screens when visitors are dismayed by his apparent endorsement of a system they thought he’d vowed to overturn. It is not a pretty story. Slave boys are whipped to make them work in the nail factory at Monticello that pays Jefferson’s grocery bills. Parents are divided from children—in his ledgers they are recast as money—while he composes theories that obscure the dynamics of what some of his friends call “a vile commerce.”

Many people of Jefferson’s time saw a catastrophe coming and tried to stop it, but not Jefferson. The pursuit of happiness had been badly distorted, and an oligarchy was getting very rich. Is this the quintessential American story?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:50 -0400)

"Master of the Mountain," Henry Wiencek's eloquent, persuasive book--based on new information coming from archaeological work at Monticello and on hitherto overlooked or disregarded evidence in Jefferson's papers--opens up a huge, poorly understood dimension of Jefferson's world."--… (more)

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