Research and Conjecture- Jefferson Dilemma

Annette Gordon-Reed tries to explain… the suicide of James Hemings by excusing the biggest fault in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, lack of evidence.

“He(Hemings)  had his own private world…that we simply cannot retrieve.

She has no problem discounting this inherent weakness when explaining every sinister motive and lustful desire found in Thomas Jefferson.  Here, Gordon-Reed is an authority; she knows exactly what was going through Jefferson’s mind as he allegedly exploited his slave, Sally Hemings.  No corroboration from fellow scholars is offered when she speculates on their relationship, Gordon-Reed’s confidence is apparent…we dare not question the writer who according to the MacArthur Foundation, “has dramatically changed the course of Jeffersonian scholarship.”


History writers are taught to avoid… “squishy” words and phrases.  If you are not sure, or cannot prove it, leave it out.  Weak historical writing deals in speculation, unsubstantiated opinions, and baseless generalities.

  • Many, Most, average, conducive, highly, nearly, majority– imprecise words disguising a lack of statistical data
  • Common ground, conducive to, seems to indicate,  obvious deduction, tends to support, highly conducive–  masking generalities and unsubstantiated opinions of the writer, these phrases insinuate expertise where it is lacking.
  • There is no reason, no reasonable person, logic dictates, one can only conclude, it is reasonable to assume–   a subtle, yet effective way at dissuading dissent.  The writer is basically saying they are the only reasonable voice.

A study filled with generalities, opinion, and conjecture… wins every major non-fiction award in 2009?  The tide of “new” Jefferson scholarship is ceaseless and can even sweep away the Pulitzer Committee.  Somewhere, Dumas Malone is smiling, for we have most definitely blazed a crooked path since his Pulitzer victory for Jefferson scholarship in 1975.

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