Thomas Jefferson: not an enthusiastic, brutal slaver

Wagner James Au writes, "Annette Gordon-Reed, a Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning, African-American academic at Harvard, has a brutal takedown of the new Jefferson biography by Henry Wiencek mentioned last month in Boing Boing which purports to prove Jefferson was a brutal slave owner. According to Gordon-Reed, Wiencek's citations are highly misleading. Sample:"

He then quotes Jefferson: "I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers."

The problem with what Wiencek calls the "4 percent theorem" or "formula" is that Jefferson was not speaking about his slaves at Monticello--he was speaking about farms in Virginia generally. The quoted "four per cent" line is from his "Notes on Arthur Young's Letter to George Washington," written, while Jefferson was serving in Washington's Cabinet, in response to a request for a comparison of free labor to enslaved labor. Jefferson, who could never resist an opportunity to count and compute, joined in to "calculate, in the Virginia way, the employment" of slave labor. When he speaks of allowing "nothing for losses by death," he is explaining what variables are going into his calculations about how to determine the value of enslaved labor--not opining on any policy he had at Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson Was Not a Monster (Thanks, James!)