Book Review- “Most Blessed of Patriarchs”

Peter Onuf, Annette Gordon-Reed, Most Blessed of Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of Imagination, New York, Norton & Co., 2016  ISBN-13: 978-0871404428


Two intellectuals dabble in history to satisfy their personal desires which radically alter the public’s view of history to advance present day human rights. 


Professor Peter Onuf occupied the position at the University of Virginia once held by the likes of Dumas Malone and Merrill Peterson.  Here is where the similarities end.  He has teamed with law professor, turned “historian” Annette Gordon-Reed to produce the most scurrilous work on Jefferson since Fawn Brodie.

Both claim to understand Jefferson’s “sense of himself;”  a remarkable accomplishment considering that renowned scholars like Malone and Peterson never attempted such pretension.  Onuf and Gordon-Reed present conjecture and innuendo as indisputable fact.  Readers are presented with what the authors believe about Jefferson; we’re just supposed to take their word for it-  historical evidence be damned.

Gordon-Reed continues to promote the highly debatable “fact” that Jefferson fathered all of Sally Hemings’s children.  The tiny clique of scholars operating Monticello unquestionably agrees, but Gordon-Reed isn’t satisfied with this historical canard being accepted.  She doubles-down with an unbelievably irrational and irresponsible “discussion of white male insecurity.”  No historical citations here as she tells us about Jefferson….

“He said nothing, however, about black men’s organs of regeneration, and the widespread belief that black males had larger p..s than white males…White males’ sexual anxieties also played an integral role in their competition with and fears about black men … ” and Jefferson “evinced much more concern about black men having sex with white women than about white men having sex with black women … These deep feelings expressed themselves most often in fantasies of what black men might do if not controlled and in the spreading of canards about their basic nature.”

Notice she was clever enough to explain Jefferson never said this, but she wants readers to believe it is what he really felt.  Someone clearly feels this way on the topic- there’s absolutely no evidence it was Thomas Jefferson.

The authors claim a “mountain of evidence” defends their highly suspect assertions.  It is strange how few of the citations are from Jefferson himself, a man who left over 20,000 letters.  Rather than acknowledge the gaps in the historical record, the authors substitute their own personal views for historical facts.  Jefferson did not want his deepest, most personal feelings known; Onuf and Gordon-Reed offer little beyond inflammatory speculation and historical innuendo.  The realm of imagination is clearly theirs.

A better one-volume of Jefferson’s life is Peterson’s epic “Thomas Jefferson and A New Nation.”




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