Historians expect deference on TJ's cruelty
To back up her accusation that I have misled my readers, Cinder Stanton refers darkly, and very vaguely, to truncated quotations, twisted chronology, unnamed misinterpretations. What are they? I have not misled anyone; nor did I ever think of myself as a prosecutor. [November 1 letter: "Wiencek misled readers on Jefferson's record"] I have presented information taken directly from the documents, and I stand by my interpretations.
As one unsavory piece of information after another surfaced in the documents, I simply lost patience with Jefferson and all his apologists, who have spread a fog of denial over a repugnant system. Stanton and others cling to the fantasy that Jefferson devised a rational, humane, benevolent mode of slavery. Why then was one of his overseers called a "terror" by the other planters in Albemarle County? Why did Jefferson's own relative write, "I fear the poor Negroes fare hard?" Why did Thomas Mann Randolph denounce the plantation system as "a hideous monster"? Stanton knows that quote–she cited another part of Randolph's letter in her recent work, but she chose not to mention Randolph's devastating indictment of the horrors he had seen.
It is astonishing that Stanton pounds me for being "unfair" to the late Edwin M. Betts, the editor of Jefferson’s Farm Book, and that she heaps praise on Betts, when it was Betts who misled her and scores of other historians by deliberately– yes, deliberately– deleting a line about "the small ones" being whipped at Jefferson's nail factory. Stanton never knew that Betts had cooked the books until I told her. She never looked at the full text, as I did. So she never knew that for years she had been basing her research on a sanitized document. Now that the full text is before the public, she is scrambling to minimize it because it shakes the foundation of her view of Jefferson.
She says the youngest child who got whipped was not ten years old but twelve. Does that change anything? She omits to say that Thomas Mann Randolph, the eyewitness to the whippings, referred to the victims as "the small ones." Stanton says the whippings took place without Jefferson's knowledge; but Randolph told Jefferson about them and Jefferson did nothing to stop it. She also omits to mention that Jefferson specifically instructed the nailery's overseer to extract the maximum productivity from the children: "I hope Lilly keeps the small nailers engaged so as to supply our customers." No wonder Jefferson let the punishments continue.
I'm glad that Stanton brought up the story of James Hubbard, which is very revealing of the psychology of slavery at Monticello. She says, "The more interesting point, which Wiencek does not explore, is that Jefferson was experimenting with methods of discipline that might help minimize use of the whip." In fact, I explore those experiments in depth and detail, partly through Hubbard's story. He was one of the "favored" slaves whom Jefferson tried to keep happy and productive by offering him privileges and the chance to earn cash. What did Hubbard do? He ran away. For him, Jefferson's experimental system of "rewards and incentives" was a fraud. He wanted freedom, not submission, not a slightly more comfortable life as a slave.
If "respect" for previous historians means "deference," Stanton is right – I do not defer to other historians if I think they're wrong. I did not want my book to be an interminable "engagement with the historiography" but a fresh look at Jefferson as a slave master, with new information others have missed or ignored.