Tag Archives: slavery

The Shepherd Returns

Abraham Lincoln had to sneak through… the city of Baltimore on the road to his inauguration.  His election had stirred a hornet’s nest in that town as violence and secession were proving to be inseparable.  Plots were discovered to kill Lincoln as he passed through the city- so much for the rule of law, republican elections, and the will of the people.  Lincoln would effectively deconstruct the illogical foundation of secession in his inaugural address, the violent streets of Baltimore served as living proof of its absurdity.

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A violent, pro-secession mob shed first blood… in the American Civil War.  Massachusetts militiamen were assaulted on the streets of Baltimore while traveling to Washington DC.  Lincoln used the provocation to suspend habeas corpus in Maryland. The city was placed under martial law and the mayor, members of the town council, and eventually one third of the state legislature were arrested.  All involved, at least in part, played a role in inciting the violence.  Lincoln had to enforce ALL the laws, in ALL states- Maryland wanted special treatment, in a sense to be ABOVE the Union.

 

  In April of 1864 Lincoln returned… to Baltimore with a message.  The city was still hostile, but pacified under Lincoln’s direction.  He reminded the people there that liberty was not a word they owned- it had a bigger, more profound meaning.  He told them, “The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty…”     Self interest and narrow-minded politics influenced the violence in Baltimore- and the Civil War.  Lincoln was the shepherd guiding the country toward the truth.

 

 

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Throwing Stones Through Conception Windows

At the center of the Jefferson/Hemings controversy... is the contention that Thomas Jefferson was in residence at Monticello 9 months prior to the births of Sally Hemings’s  four surviving children.  These ‘conception windows’ now serve as one of the three legs of the case for Jefferson’s paternity(along with the inconclusive DNA and inconsistent oral history.)

Behind closed doors?

Behind closed doors?

Fraser Neiman’s 2000 analysis... published in William and Mary Quarterly seemed to be just the type of evidence the paternity advocates wanted, the proverbial smoking gun.  Jefferson was at Monticello when Hemings conceived her children– case closed.  This is just the kind of scholarship that sells books, but at the same time,  assails history.  When it comes to the Jefferson/Hemings controversy, minds were made up before the DNA results, Annette Gordon-Reed’s revisionism, and Neiman’s loosely connected dots…whatever circumstantial evidence produced is now seen as definitive– scholarship be damned.

Be true, keep it real

Be true, keep it real

  • Neiman bases his assumptions solely on recorded birth dates in Jefferson’s Farm Book.  Jefferson was not present for all the births and there is no way of knowing when he recorded the events.
  • The conception windows are established by Neiman counting backward 267 days- a full term pregnancy.  There is no proof Sally Hemings carried all her children to term. It seems unlikely that a woman in the 19th century would have six full term pregnancies.
  • Jefferson was present at Monticello for  long stretches where Hemings did not give birth.  Neiman implies throughout his study that Jefferson’s visits consisted of sexual liaisons. Jefferson was at Monticello for nearly two years before the birth of Harriet Hemings(there were two Harriets)  in January 1795.   There are three year gaps between two of her births- Jefferson’s visits to Monticello did not result in a Hemings pregnancy.
  • Beverly Hemings’s conception date was set prior to July 8, 1797- yet Jefferson doesn’t arrive at Monticello until July 11.  Neiman cleverly fudges the numbers in this case.
  • Hemings’s next birth was not discovered in the Farm Book, but in a letter to Jefferson’s son-in-law, John Wayles Eppes.  Jefferson relates the birth  to “Maria’s maid.”  Maria was not living at Monticello during this time (Spring of 1799.)  Sally Hemings’s residence at Monticello is never firmly established.
  • Harriet Hemings was born in May of 1801, shortly after Jefferson became President.  Evidence suggests he was in the Charlottesville area during the conception window, but also reveals he was rarely at Monticello during the crucial period of August-September 1800.
  • Madison Hemings(one of the original sources in the oral history) was conceived during April of 1804.  Neiman wants us to believe that Jefferson did this during the final days of his daughter Maria’s life(she died April 17) and her funeral–with large number of extended family present.
  • There is evidence Sally Hemings worked outside the Monticello community.  When Martha Jefferson Randolph  informed her father of Harriet Hemings’s death, she wrote the letter from her home at Bellmont.  Jefferson referred to “Polly’s maid” giving birth in 1799.  If Sally was Martha’s maid at this time- they were not living at Monticello.
  • Sally Hemings conceived her last child, Eston, when Jefferson was 64 years old.  Jefferson took up permanent residence at Monticello in 1809- Sally Hemings stopped having children.  She was 35 at that time.  Wouldn’t Jefferson’s presence mean more births?

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A True Love Affair

Thomas Jefferson began his courtship… of young widow, Martha Wayles Skelton in 1770.  Music helped strengthen the bond between the young couple,  Jefferson played the violin and Martha the harpsichord.  The courtship took place at The Forest, Martha’s father’s plantation, where Jefferson was a frequent guest during the summer of 1770.  The warm afternoons were filled with romantic duets so passionately rendered, other suitors left without further inquiry.  The couple was married New Years Day, 1772.

“the horrible dreariness of such a house”

Thomas Jefferson led Martha to his mountain… through one of the worst snowstorms in Virginia history.  The newlyweds were forced to abandon their carriage and trudge the last several miles on horseback.  Martha was dismayed at the sight of the tiny south pavilion, Jefferson had yet to construct the house most associated with his mountaintop.  Jefferson rummaged through some books and found a bottle of wine, and so the couple began their married life.  Nine months later, Patsy was born.

Jefferson’s career dragged him from Monticello… months at a time, but he considered the ten years of his marriage the happiest of his life.  Martha gave him six children, but only three survived infancy.  Historians believe that Martha suffered from diabetes;  Each of their children were larger at birth, the last child Lucy Elizabeth, may have been 16 pounds.  She never recovered from Lucy’s birth in May of 1782.    Jefferson was at her side during that long summer, tending to her every need.  Near the end, when Martha could no longer speak, the couple penned lines from their favorite novel, Tristram Shandy:

Martha began-  Time wastes too fast: every letter I trace tells me with what rapidity life follows my pen. The days and hours of it are flying over our heads like clouds of windy day never to return– more. Every thing presses on–  Too weak to finish, Jefferson completed the passage-and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make! 

“for what good end could the sensations of grief be intended?”

Martha made Jefferson promise to never remarry… she couldn’t bear the thought of the children being raised by a stepmother as she was.  After she closed her eyes on September 6th, Jefferson had to be carried from the room.  He was inconsolable for weeks, only his daughter Patsy was able to help him through the ordeal.  Jefferson kept the slip of paper, in his wife’s hand, at his bedside the rest of his life.  It was discovered decades later, fragile after being folded and unfolded hundreds of times.  Inside were locks of hair from Martha and their deceased children.

This is a love story excluded from current… Jefferson scholarship, and for good reason.  It does not fit the salacious narrative that dominates popular opinion about our third President.  A man who felt deeply and loved deeply is contrary to the image of the wicked slave owner.  Pseudo-scholarship promoting this revisionist view of Jefferson is pervasive in our society, even earning some of the highest literary honors.  Decades of scholarship cannot be ignored for the sake of political correctness.

“And were we to love none but with imperfection, this world would be a desert for our love”

 

 

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Heart of the Matter

At the heart of historical revisionism is distrust… a lack of faith in previous interpretations of the historical record.  This blog has bitterly observed the crass consumerism and intellectual vanity that often drive outlandish revisions in our history.  But, a closer examination reveals the true divide between revisionist and traditionalist- trust.

Maybe there's hope

Maybe there’s hope

As historians rush to laud Alan Taylor’s new revisionof the American Revolutionary movement, the distrust is laid bare.  If revisionist historians refuse to come out and proclaim all previous work wrong, then there must be a lack of trust.  Was Gordon Wood trying to deceive us when explaining how radical our Revolution was?  Did Dumas Malone wish to hide Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and freedom?  Was Edmund Morgan deliberately distorting history when explaining racial diversity in Colonial Virginia?  All revisionists will say is that works like Taylor’s are now “the standards.”   To hell with what came before…

Unite us, David

Unite us, David

There is no mass historical conspiracy to disregard… races or classes of people.  Gordon Wood should be read in first year graduate courses and beyond.  In their zeal to legitimize controversial interpretations, revisionists like Taylor and Annette Gordon-Reed propagate the distrust of these noteworthy predecessors.

 

 

 

 

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Wolf by the Ears

Jefferson wrote to John Holmes of the Missouri Compromise- “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

Wolf by the ears...

Wolf by the ears…

 Missouri’s admission to the Union as a slave state… threatened the tenuous balance- 22 states, 11 with slavery, 11 without.  Missouri was the first territory carved from the Louisiana Purchase to apply for statehood.  Jefferson’s vision of America as a land of small, republican farmers was in danger of devolving further into the plantation gang labor system dominating the tidewater south. 

Henry Clay of Kentucky

Henry Clay of Kentucky

Henry Clay’s solution to the crisis is often reviled… by historians for perpetuating slavery and providing the United States the opportunity to conquer more land.  This New Left interpretation of history overlooks the contributions Clay made to our republic during its formative years.  His American System had revitalized the nation following destructive War of 1812.  Clay had convinced Madison, the National Bank’s most vocal critic, to recharter it in 1816.  He had rewritten the rules of the House of Representatives and established the post of Speaker as the force we know it today.  Firebrands bent on defending slavery at all costs- even peace and prosperity for all- could not be allowed to derail Clay’s vision.  The Missouri Compromise has to be studied from all points of view.

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A Man for His Time

If Jefferson was wrong, then America is wrong…  This was the foundation for a generation of Jefferson scholarship.  James Parton to Dumas Malone to Joseph Ellis-  all were able to succinctly explain the Jeffersonian contradictions regarding slavery by following this simple guideline.

 "Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free."

“Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.”

Modern scholars see America as wrong…. therefore, Jefferson was wrong.  Not only was he wrong, but his attitudes and actions were utterly repugnant and hold no place in our national conscience.  The sooner we expunge his legacy, the sooner we can move closer to a true America.  Jefferson has no place in the history of our country’s quest for civil liberties…..they want you to believe this, from Leonard Levy to Fawn Brodie to Annette Gordon-Reed and Paul Finkelman.

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Jefferson did say this about slavery… in the only book he ever published:

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other…Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.” 

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Facts in Five

Daniel Webster edition

  • Webster is one of two men to serve as United States Secretary of State under three Presidents: Harrison, Tyler, and Fillmore.
  • Webster represented New Hampshire in the House of Representatives and Massachusetts in the Senate.
  • The leading Constitutional scholar of his day, Webster argued 223 cases in front of the Supreme Court.
  • Support for Clay’s Compromise of 1850 led to his resignation from the Senate that same year. 
  • Webster sought the Whig Party nomination for President three times… he never secured it. 
"I wish to speak today not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man but as an American..."

“I wish to speak today not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man but as an American…”

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