Weekly History News Roundup

King Tut recreated through digital imagerybone scans yield surprising results


Monument to black Revolutionary War soldiers… designers approved to build $6million project on National Mall


Colleges don’t require historysurvey of graduation requirements discovers lack of history and government courses  at most schools


John and Abigail Adams celebrate 250th anniversary… historical sites around Boston prepared for celebrations


Hull of the CSA Hunley becoming visible… restoration is slowly exposing the Confederate submarine’s shell


250 years of history...and happiness

250 years of history…and happiness

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Go Where the Research Takes You

Jefferson scholarship has become a topic in its own right…. The study of our most elusive Founder keeps evolving- Jefferson scholars of every stripe are prone to several mistakes- common misjudgements students of history need to be aware of….  The 5 Big Mistakes of Jefferson Scholarship

Be true, keep it real

Be true, keep it real

  • The Source- For historical convenience, James T. Callender has become a reliable journalist of the early republic.  Studies based on the notion of Jefferson fathering the children of Sally Hemings need Callender to be believable.  Trouble is, he was anything but trustworthy.  His entire muckraking career was a sham, but the mistake is to give him unwarranted credibility.
  • Psychobiography, DNA, conception windows- oh my!- No one is going to exhume Jefferson for a definitive DNA test, so the 1998 Nature analysis is not conclusive.  Fawn Brodie’s methods of historical research and interpretation were discredited long ago.  Fraser Neiman’s argument that Jefferson’s visits coincide with Hemings’s conceptions is built upon far too many assumptions.  These three ‘theories’ are the foundation of all Sally Hemings claims;  None are proven with acceptable certainty.
  • Rose colored, 3D glasses-  Historians trained in the methodology of the New Left are perfectly comfortable judging historical figures by current standards.  Political Correctness creates just the standard that no Founding Father can reach.  Jefferson was a man of his age, not Lincoln’s, and definitely not ours.  More effort should be spent studying what Jefferson did and why, not explaining what he should have done or said.
  • Love is not a river- Too much ink has been wasted attempting to explain Jefferson’s love life.  The historical record shows a deeply private and discrete man, his inner most feelings are not written down.  Scholars refuse to accept the mystery, so volumes of conjectural nonsense have been written about Jefferson’s loves, desires, and indiscretions.  We should all just admit that we know little about his feelings, and he wanted it that way.
  • Proper perspective never hurts- It is far too easy for a modern scholar to defend their work by dismissing previous scholarship.  Every writer wants their book to be read by as many as possible.  Diverting attention away from well established studies is par-for-the-course in Jefferson scholarship.  Too many writers have built their studies on the mistakes already listed here- while more deliberate historians are cast aside as ‘insufficient.’   Dumas Malone, Merrill Petersen, and William S. Randall produced what were the standard works on Jefferson for decades.  We should not be so quick to discard their insights.


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The Impenetrable Man


There is excellent Jefferson scholarship… available to interested readers.  Current scholars seem bound by political correctness to debase the Jeffersonian legacy with tales of slave concubines and youthful indiscretions.  Look to the work of the established Jefferson scholars to find the elusive inroads to one of America’s greatest, but most enigmatic minds.

Jefferson and the New Nation by Merrill D. Peterson– At over 1,000 pages, there is no more detailed one volume biography of Jefferson.  Peterson was a history professor at the University of Virginia for over 30 years and specialized in analyzing Jefferson’s impact on the American character.  Peterson passed away in 2009, but his research remains vital in understanding Jefferson’s mind.

Thomas Jefferson; A Life by Willard Sterne Randall– The calm before the Sally storm, Randall’s biography focused primarily on Jefferson’s diplomatic career.  Largely lost in the deluge of revisionist biographies that emerged in the late 90’s, Randall’s volume provides new interpretations of Jefferson’s political life.


Jefferson and His Time; Vol. 1  Jefferson the Virginian by Dumas Malone– No history library is complete without the definitive Jefferson biography.  A massive undertaking of six volumes spanning Jefferson’s life, Malone is definitely the final word.  Volume 1 traces Jefferson’s youth, education, marriage, and the construction of Monticello.  A deeply personal look into Jefferson’s character, this book examines his life prior to his public career.  No Jefferson scholar is more maligned by the revisionists than Malone.  The vitriol used against Malone’s work is evidence of his influence.



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Book Review

Meacham, Jon, Thomas Jefferson; The Art of Power, Random                       House, New York, 2012.  ISBN 978-0679-64536-8


     Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham is swept away by the flood of shoddy Jefferson scholarship in his latest book, Thomas Jefferson; The Art of Power.   Meacham promises a bold new look at Jefferson’s mastery of political power, but his study falls prey to the same flimsy scholarship lesser studies are built upon.  The result fails to show what kind of study Meacham wanted this book to be.

“It was a world of desire and denial…sex between owner and property…The strange intermingling of blood and affection and silence suffused the world of the Forest that Jefferson came to know in 1770…”    Meacham explains how Jefferson learned the proper way of keeping a slave concubine from his Father-in-law John Wayles.   A strange beginning to a study of Jefferson’s poltical prowess.   But, thus is the state of Jefferson scholarship in 2013;  political correctness dictates a scholar must reconcile Jefferson the icon, with Jefferson the flawed man- in this case, sex fiend.  Meacham wastes considerable print on the sexual proclivities of our third President, when more effort was needed in the analysis of Jefferson’s troubled Virginia governorship( this period receives a scant 7 pages.)   In the same breath, Meacham gives us the idyllic Jefferson, ” loved his family; he loved Virginia; he loved his nascent nation;”  and the sexual predator “self-evidently an ardent lover…”  Jefferson’s desires kept the women close to him pregnant- vital analysis of the statesman we thought we knew.

Meacham is unsure of the book he intended to write.  A new perspective on Jefferson’s wielding of political power would have been a welcomed edition.  Unfortunately, Meacham wants it both ways; he wants to analyze Jefferson’s diplomacy in France and deduce the likelihood of a sexual encounter with Maria Cosway.  Several passages show commendable  restraint from the author, especially the misunderstood Embargo of 1807 and Jefferson’s failed attempts at abolishing slavery.  If only he had invested more energy in Jefferson’s artistic use of power, rather than pondering whether Sally Hemings resembled Martha Wayles Jefferson.   Studies such as this insure Fawn Brodie’s brand of authoritative conjecture will live on and continue to malign the good name of Thomas Jefferson.  There is a book to be found in Meacham’s efforts, sad it escaped him this time.


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Facts in Five

Jefferson : Foreign Policy edition

  • First War on Terror-  Jefferson never supported large standing armies until he was forced to send a fleet to the Mediterranean and Marines to the shores of Tripoli  in 1801.  Jefferson signed the bill creating the US Military academy at West Point.
  • Deal for the ages-  Always a strict constructionist, Jefferson quickly altered his interpretation of the Constitution when the French government offered the Louisiana territory for three cents an acre.  No nation had ever purchased an empire. 
  • Getting a jump on things-  Before the ink was dry on the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson had commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The Corps of Discovery were to explore the Northwest Passage and lay claim to land on the Pacific coast.
  • Snake in the Grass-  Frustrated by his rejections in the political circles of Washington and New York, Vice-President Aaron Burr organized a private militia and openly spoke of organizing the Louisiana Territory into an independent state.  Jefferson called out the troops and had Burr arrested for treason. 
Commander-in-Chief  when needs be

Commander-in-Chief when needs be

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Revisited Myth # 30: Mirrors were usually made of two or more pieces to avoid the tax levied on large pieces.

Originally posted on History Myths Debunked:


The dreaded mirror tax, like the closet tax, the second story tax, and other mythological excise taxes never existed. The reason large mirrors were made in two or more pieces was because it was extremely difficult to manufacture large, flat pieces of glass, and even harder to transport them without breaking, and therefore they were much more expensive.

parliament ny assemb actThe legend may have its origin in the Townshend Revenue Acts of 1767 (left), which mandated duties on certain imported items coming from England to the American colonies, including glass. “For every hundred weight avoirdupois of crown, plate, flint, and white glass, four shillings and eight pence,” it reads. The term “plate glass” refers to a thin, polished glass containing few impurities that was used for both mirrors and large windows.

But after vigorous protest, Parliament repealed the Townshend duties in 1770 (famously, all except the one on tea), so any duties…

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Cedar Creek 150th

Originally posted on Emerging Civil War:

Lots going on this weekend at Cedar Creek for the sesquicentennial of the battle. Check out the schedule! If you stop by the battlefield, be on the lookout for ECW’s own Phill Greenwalt.


Belle Grove plantation (photo by Chris Mackowski)

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