Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves

Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves

by Henry Wiencek
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Hardcover(First Edition)

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Overview

Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves by Henry Wiencek

Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery? The answer is a resounding yes. 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 debtridden 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?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374299569
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 10/16/2012
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.38(w) x 9.12(h) x 1.14(d)
Lexile: 1260L (what's this?)

About the Author

Henry Wiencek, a nationally prominent historian and writer, is the author of several books, including The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1999, and An Imperfect God (FSG, 2003). He lives with his wife in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
BillJackson49 More than 1 year ago
I felt so sad finishing this remarkable history; not depressed, as I still am so grateful every day of my life that Jefferson lived, and lived when he did. But this historian really captures the “perverse irony” that while Jefferson wrote the Declaration, and openly advocated over 15 or more years for emancipation of the slaves, he backed off from this during and after his presidency. There were many opportunities for him to carry the torch of freedom for the slaves, but he only did this privately after about 1800, not publicly. Most of the public does not know that many of the people that Jefferson and his wife Martha owned were in fact family members. All historians have known these facts, but what this author does is to finally lay out Jefferson as the great “American paradox.” Jefferson knew that the public was not ready for emancipation, so that lack of readiness served his greater need, which was to “increase” his own economy through the birth of more slaves, (what he called the 4% increase, as if talking about stocks or interest). He lived in great debt, and needed slavery to support his interests and family life. He was indifferent to the slaves, even those who were related to him, which is so sad. Many of the family-relations amongst the slaves were even indistinguishable from Caucasians, except that they were still treated as property, by Jefferson. My sadness was a little bit ameliorated by many of Jefferson’s children, cousins, and grandchildren standing up strongly for emancipation in later years. And it helps my sadness about Jefferson that this history shines more light on how Washington, who freed his own slaves, was not the paradox of public versus private stands on issues as was Jefferson. This is a very important book, as it adds so much to the complex story of one of history’s most important heroes, a deeply flawed hero, but one of the greatest people who ever lived.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This well documented account shows a Jefferson obviously in conflict with his own stated views of society and the meaning of equality as stated in the Declaration of Independence. He had to convince himself of the intellectual inferiority of the Africans his society had enslaved in order to justify his actions regarding his own slaves including Sally Hemmings. He apparently placed his own economic well-being ahead of his principles and supported his actions with his rationalizations concerning race. As a significant part of the wealth of the Southern planter society was base on the value of the slaves, their labors, and their fecundity, slavery was a moral dilemma of overwhelming proportions for those who chose to dwell upon it. It would be of great interest to know of Jefferson's actual personal relationship with his concubine who was probably of at least three-quarters caucasian ancestry and reportedly resembled Jefferson's wife, her half sister. This is a very thought-provoking book, well worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read and an excellent gift to someone for Christmas. Full of history and it will make you say, "now I did not know that"! I promise you won't put it down.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i've read aif j. mapps jr. book on the passionate pilgrim.which open my mine on the thrid pres.he was truly americas great paradox. thank you mr. henry wiencek, a truly a great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very negative. The author tells us what Jefferson thinks. Unbelievable. Please give me balanced facts and allow me to form my own conclusions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One should read this, but also read David Barton's book: The Jefferson Lies--its well documented with original sources and debunks alot of this author's suppositions including the Sally Hemmings fable and the real truth about Jefferson's slaves. Let the reader then decide for him/herself on the matter.