Jefferson: The ‘Myth-Makers

The Monster of Monticello

New York

In the New York Times, a wonderful new essay by Paul Finkelman on Thomas Jefferson which gives us some real insight into how Jewish legal historians perceive the Founding Fathers:

“THOMAS JEFFERSON is in the news again, nearly 200 years after his death – alongside a high-profile biography by the journalist Jon Meacham comes a damning portrait of the third president by the independent scholar Henry Wiencek.

We are endlessly fascinated with Jefferson, in part because we seem unable to reconcile the rhetoric of liberty in his writing with the reality of his slave owning and his lifetime support for slavery. Time and again, we play down the latter in favor of the former, or write off the paradox as somehow indicative of his complex depths.

 

Neither Mr. Meacham, who mostly ignores Jefferson’s slave ownership, nor Mr. Wiencek, who sees him as a sort of fallen angel who comes to slavery only after discovering how profitable it could be, seem willing to confront the ugly truth: the third president was a creepy, brutal hypocrite…”

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