Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchaseby Roger G. Kennedy
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Thomas Jefferson advocated a republic of small farmers -- free and independent yeomen. Yet as president he presided over a massive expansion of the slaveholding plantation system -- particularly with the Louisiana Purchase -- squeezing the yeomanry to the fringes and to less desirable farmland. Now Roger G. Kennedy conducts an eye-opening examination of that gap between Jefferson's stated aspirations and what actually happened. Kennedy reveals how the Louisiana Purchase had a major impact on land use and the growth of slavery. He examines the great financial interests (such as the powerful land companies that speculated in new territories and the British textile interests) that carried the day against slavery's many opponents in the South itself (Native Americans, African Americans, Appalachian farmers, and conscientious opponents of slavery). He describes how slaveholders' cash crops (first tobacco, then cotton) sickened the soil and how the planters moved from one desolated tract to the next. Soon the dominant culture of the entire region -- from Maryland to Florida, from Carolina to Texas -- was that of owners and slaves producing staple crops for international markets. The earth itself was impoverished, in many places beyond redemption.
None of this, Kennedy argues, was inevitable. He focuses on the character, ideas, and ambitions of Thomas Jefferson to show how he and other Southerners struggled with the moral dilemmas presented by the presence of Indian farmers on land they coveted, by the enslavement of their workforce, by the betrayal of their stated hopes, and by the manifest damage being done to the earth itself. The pressures upon him, both psychological and economic, are detailed, as are the occasions on which decisions were made determining the future course of American history and the health of the land. Jefferson emerges as a tragic figure in a tragic period. As a former director of the National Park Service and before that of the National Museum of American History, Roger Kennedy has a rich background in history and environmental studies. In this superb volume, he weaves together environmental, political, economic, and intellectual history to paint a startlingly original portrait of the creation of the slaveholding South.
"Forces us to reconsider settled opinions."Wall Street Journal
"Well-researched, well-written and provocative."Santa Fe New Mexican
"A good look at the economics that drove the early years of the nation."St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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Meet the Author
Roger Kennedy is Director Emeritus of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, and a past Director of the National Park Service. He has had a long and distinguished career in public service during which he has served six presidents. His books include Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson and (as general editor and contributor) the twelve-volume Smithsonian Guide to Historic America.
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This book is the best history book I've ever read! It's easy to understand and brings you close to what is happening.