The Rumpus over “Master of the Mountain”

Finkelman illustration

Master of the Mountain has caused quite a rumpus among Jeffersonians, with attacks from Annette Gordon-Reed in Slate, Jan Ellen Lewis in The Daily Beast, and Lucia Stanton in The Hook, Charlottesville’s weekly newspaper. The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an excellent, fair-minded analysis of the debate by Beth McMurtrie. Jenny Schuessler lent her weight to the Jeffersonians in the New York Times. Last week I appeared on MSNBC’s “The Cycle” for several minutes of questioning from the four hosts. And now Professor Paul Finkelman, a top legal scholar and historian, has offered an opinion on the book in a NYT op-ed that scorches Mr. Jefferson. (The headline, “The Monster of Monticello,” may have been a sly response to Gordon-Reed’s headline in Slate: “Thomas Jefferson Was Not a Monster.”) Referring to my book and Jon Meacham’s new biography, Prof. Finkelman writes:

“Neither Mr. Meacham, who mostly ignores Jefferson’s slave ownership, nor Mr. Wiencek, who sees him as a sort of fallen angel who comes to slavery only after discovering how profitable it could be, seem willing to confront the ugly truth: the third president was a creepy, brutal hypocrite.

“Contrary to Mr. Wiencek’s depiction, Jefferson was always deeply committed to slavery, and even more deeply hostile to the welfare of blacks, slave or free. His proslavery views were shaped not only by money and status but also by his deeply racist views, which he tried to justify through pseudoscience.”


Finkelman’s comment on my book is a fair one. I see the young Jefferson as a committed emancipator and Finkelman doesn’t.

I have posted responses to the other criticisms on the Smithsonian website:

I’ve been away on a very busy and successful book tour over the last few weeks and I’ll be updating this site more often.

(The NYT illustration above is by Tamara Shopsin)

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