THE WOLF BY THE EARS: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery by John Chester Miller

THE WOLF BY THE EARS: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery

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This examination of Jefferson's political and personal views of slavery finds him an increasing defender of the system's expansion after his efforts in the 1780s to ban it from the western territories. As president, he ""opened up a new world"" for chattel holders by allowing them to move into the new Louisiana Purchase for economic reasons; and as of 1819-21, Miller writes, he became an ""ardent exponent"" of the spread of slavery to Missouri and elsewhere. Jefferson never abandoned his belief that the institution was degrading to whites; his preference for the deportation of blacks, or his fear that to let ""the wolf"" go through abolition would result in interracial war. In practical terms, this meant that he became enmired in defense of a plantation economy that had to encroach on new land to survive. This predicament has already been described with somewhat more explanatory force by Robert McColley in Slavery and Jeffersonian Virginia (1964); what Miller adds is scrutiny of Jefferson's alleged liaison with his quadroon slave Sally Hemings, a half-sister of his deceased wife. Partly from a horrified disbelief that Jefferson would ""cross the color line,"" and partly because the originator of the story was a wholly disreputable British journalist, Miller thinks that the affair never occurred, either as the love match depicted in Fawn Brodie's Jefferson: An Intimate History (1974) or as an exploitative relationship. Jefferson's romantic friendships with other--usually married--women are also surveyed and found innocuous. An inconclusive restatement of a saddening story.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
ISBN: 0813913659
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan