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Book cover of "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power

"Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power

by Garry Wills

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 9780618343980

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Synopsis of "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power

In “Negro President” the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Garry Wills explores a pivotal moment in American history through the lens of Thomas Jefferson and the now largely forgotten Timothy Pickering, and “prods readers to appreciate essential aspects of our distressed but well-intentioned representative democracy” (Chicago Tribune).

In 1800 Jefferson won the presidential election with Electoral College votes derived from the three-fifths representation of slaves — slaves who could not vote but were still partially counted as citizens. Moving beyond the recent revisionist debate over Jefferson’s own slaves and his relationship with Sally Hemings, Wills instead probes the heart of Jefferson’s presidency and political life, revealing how the might of the slave states remained a concern behind his most important policies and decisions.

In an eye-opening, ingeniously argued exposé, Wills restores Timothy Pickering and the Federalists’ dramatic struggle to our understanding of Jefferson, the creation of the new nation, and the evolution of our representative democracy.

“Garry Wills is a thinker of first rate. He combines the vigor of the social critic with the depth of the historian, and to these he adds the even rarer gifts of the philosopher.” — New Republic

“A thorough political analysis of another founding father’s involvement in slavery.” — San Francisco Chronicle

Garry Wills, a distinguished historian and critic, is the author of numerous books, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Lincoln at Gettysburg, Saint Augustine, the best-selling Why I Am a Catholic, and Henry Adams and the Making of America.

Publishers Weekly

While Pulitzer-winner Wills (Lincoln at Gettysburg, etc.) rarely writes a book without a distinctive take on its subject, in this shaggy work he's off his game. Originally a set of lectures, this book is only loosely stitched together. Its author is typically combative, but he doesn't stay on subject long, writing instead about what suddenly strikes him. Not that the work doesn't show Wills's characteristic keen intelligence. He bears down hard, for example, on the permeating consequences of the Constitution's three-fifths clause for pre-Civil War history and raises tough questions about conventional accounts of Jefferson's election in 1800 (which depended partly on the "slave vote") and the selection of a site for the capital in slave-holding country. But he never lingers long on what the book purports to be aboutJefferson's determination to preserve slavery and the South's power in the U.S.nor does it add much to what we already know and think about Jefferson's agonizing, often hypocritical, struggle with race and slavery. Much of what Wills writes about the hold of slave power on the nation has been written before and more extensively by others. What's freshest is his effort to rehabilitate one of Jefferson's arch-opponents, Federalist Timothy Pickering, an attractive if flawed second-rank character of the early nation. Pickering hated slavery and helped lay the groundwork for later abolitionism. But Wills uses him tendentiously as a foil to Jefferson and never brings him fully to life. So what's the book about? About many fascinating issues surrounding the influence of slavery in the U.S. between 1790 and 1848. But don't look here for coherence and sustained history. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Nov. 1) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

About the Author, Garry Wills

One of our foremost Catholic intellectuals, bestselling author Garry Wills writes thoughtful, provocative nonfiction that roams across history, politics, and religion.

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