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Wiencek's take on Jefferson is factual, direct, and anchored in first hand accounts, including those from Jefferson's own Farm Book. But it is a damning account, and is intended to counteract our tradition of excusing Jefferson's slaveholding or overshadowing it with his Enlightenment ideals about Liberty. We like to tell ourselves that Jefferson was a reluctant slaveholder, who tried to make the most humanistic version of this inhuman practice, but Wiencek will not allow us the comfort of doing so. He makes his case for Jefferson the willing master, who continued to enforce the institution of slavery to the end of his life, and who refused to work directly for its abolition even when he could have and was asked to. Wiencek refuses to let a paragraph, even a sentence, go by in his book without reminding us of the stain that this casts on our image of Jefferson. In terms of style, this (over)emphasis is a bit tedious and difficult to slog through for the course of the book. But, someone has to do it, and I commend Wiencek for taking the unpopular position and for pricking our consciences when what we would like to do is glorify the legacy of a great thinker and leader. Not a fun book to read, not uplifting, but also not untrue, and not insignificant even for Jefferson lovers.
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The Civil War by Shelby Foote
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Master of the Mountain is more than a study of Jefferson and his treatment of his slaves. Jefferson defined the aspirations of liberty and human equality of the American revolution. But his ability to give expression to those worthy aspirations contrasted sharply with exploitative and oppressive practices that he quietly encouraged and in some ways made unavoidable by his reluctance to regard the enslaved as anything but property, (with few exceptions). Part of this story is the running, building up and financing of Monticello. Another part is his relationship with Sally Hemings. Still another part of this story, is how historians have colluded to burnish Jefferson's image, by sanitizing accounts of his relations to his slaves, and his policies. How the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson became practically irrefutable is explained (I was not previously aware of the controversy). The treatment of this relationship by biographers since Jefferson is related, but especially the story of the breakthrough in the 1990s, is told, and is fascinating in itself. The narration was excellent. I couldn't put it down.
3 of 5 people found this review helpful