GEORGE WASHINGTON AND SLAVERY

A DOCUMENTARY PORTRAYAL

Recently several writers (e.g., Conor Cruise O'Brien in The Long Affair) have critically examined the racial hypocrisy of Thomas Jefferson, who preached equality but practiced slavery. Now fellow Virginia slaveholder George Washington receives like treatment. Hirschfeld, the editor of the John Hancock Papers, shows that in the pre-Revolutionary era Washington ran a successful plantation with slave labor and participated in the most brutal aspects of the slave system: He purchased and sold slaves, pursued runaways with vigor, and subjected wayward slaves to harsh punishments. The Revolutionary War and its Enlightenment ideology changed that: both because of concerns about his reputation and rapidly developing moral doubts about the justice of slavery. Mostly drawing on Washington's own correspondence and diaries and those of contemporaries, Hirschfeld shows how Washington's attitudes toward slavery evolved during his life. Prewar plantation records show that he assembled a large slave population, apparently without moral qualms, as his landholdings expanded, but in 1775 he reversed an earlier decision to bar African-Americans from military service. By 1779 he was expressing a distaste for the slave trade, and in 1786 he even wrote, ``I never mean . . . to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by the legislature by which slavery in this Country may be abolished by slow, sure, & imperceptible degrees.'' He refrained from breaking up slave families, even though this practice made his plantation unprofitable, and finally in his will he freed his slaves. Hirschfeld shows that Washington's private dislike of slavery didn't lead him as president to exercise his moral leadership to end the institution. Hirschfeld speculates that Washington understandably didn't want to jeopardize the new nation's unity. Describing his final attitude as ``lukewarm abolitionism,'' the author concludes that Washington's was a mixed legacy. A thoughtful and well-documented work that does not diminish Washington's greatness, but shows the iconic Gilbert Stuart figure at his most morally vulnerable. (20 illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8262-1135-6

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Univ. of Missouri

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1997

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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