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M. Andrew Holowchak

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Jefferson on the Pleasure of Pleasure Gardening

Thomas Jefferson, like others of his day, was a patron and admirer of the fine arts, which were “fine” because they were autotelic—viz., enjoyed as ends in themselves. The number of the Fine Arts was a matter of debate in his day. To granddaughter Ellen Wayles Randolph (10 July 1805), President Jefferson writes: I must observe that neither the number…
M. Andrew Holowchak
February 27, 2024
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Thomas Jefferson’s “Holy War”

In a singular letter late in life to John Wayles Eppes (6 Nov. 1813), Thomas Jefferson describes the American Revolution as a “holy war.” He writes, “If ever there was a holy war, it was that which saved our liberties and gave us independance.” The letter rather mundanely concerns Jefferson’s abhorrence of banks and paper money. The letter I consider…
M. Andrew Holowchak
February 20, 2024
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How Northern Stupidity and Plundering Saved a Southern City

Lynchburg, Virginia, today displays many markers of its Civil War history. There are several signs in and around the city that indicate where Confederate forces were placed in defense of the city. There is a statue of a Confederate infantryman at the top of Monument Terrace. In Riverside Park, what is left of the hull of Marshall, which carried the…
M. Andrew Holowchak
February 8, 2024
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Jefferson’s Use of Grids and Octagons was Racist?

Irene Cheng's "The Racial Geometry of the Nation: Thomas Jefferson's Grids and Octagons" is indicative of the wokeist/Postmodernist plight of academic scholarship today vis-à-vis Thomas Jefferson. There is a smoothness to the essay and a structure, and there are sprinkled in several “technical” terms to give the essay quasi-intellectual feel. Yet that is on the level of “feel.” Careful critical…
M. Andrew Holowchak
January 23, 2024
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Setting Aside Historical Accuracy

The recent video, “The Fall of Minneapolis,” by journalist Liz Collin and Dr. J.C. Chaix, is chillingly eye-opening. The documentary, following the book, “They’re Lying: The Media, The Left, and the Death of George Floyd, is painstakingly researched. It shows convincingly that the four officers, who were involved in the arrest of George Floyd on the day of his passing,…
M. Andrew Holowchak
January 8, 2024
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Sally Hemings’ Bedroom

“Historians have made a discovery just in time for the July 4th holiday” (2018), writes Natalie Dreier of the National/World News. “They have found the living quarters for Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore six children to one of the country’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.” Where at Monticello is this bedroom? Michael Cottman of NBC News says that Hemings’ bedroom was…
M. Andrew Holowchak
December 13, 2023
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Profiteering from Farcicality

In August 2019, The New York Times, prompted by a notion of Nikole Hannah-Jones, began its 1619 Project—an attempt to rewrite completely America’s history by considering the year 1619 as the real birth of the American nation. In the words of New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief, Jay Silverstein: 1619 is not a year that most Americans know as a notable…
M. Andrew Holowchak
November 20, 2023
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What Would Jefferson Do?

One of the most difficult tasks of any historian is to show how knowing history is today relevant—that is, to show that history is heterotelic, that it is not its own end. The “Father of History,” the Greek Herodotus, who chronicled the events of the Persian War (490–479 B.C.) and aimed to cover both Greek and Persian motives, writes (my…
M. Andrew Holowchak
November 14, 2023
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Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Attraction of Policial Decency

Scholars are wont to paint antipodally Jefferson and Madison. Most depictions show, in effect, that by psychological disposition, Madison was better suited to be a Hamiltonian Federalist than a Jeffersonian Republican. I offer a few illustrations. Merrill D. Peterson, in his Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, states that Madison had a “more penetrating mind, sharp, probing, and persistent,” while…
M. Andrew Holowchak
October 24, 2023
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Thomas Jefferson, Architect

A review of Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals (Yale, 2019) by Lloyd Dewitt, ed. Excluding the foreword and introduction, there are seven essays on Jefferson qua architect and a large number of plates at the book’s end. The book begins with Howard Burns’ “Thomas Jefferson, the Making of an Architect.” Burns aims at…
M. Andrew Holowchak
October 13, 2023
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Master of the Metaphor

“Nietzschean nuggets and verbal furbelows” in Henry Wiencek’s Master of the Mountain Henry Wiencek in his introduction to Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves begins metaphorically, “Thomas Jefferson’s mansion stands atop his mountain like the Platonic ideal of a house: a perfect creation existing in an ethereal realm, literally above the clouds.” And the metaphors just keep…
M. Andrew Holowchak
September 29, 2023
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A “Proof” Gone Bad in the Jefferson Paternity Issue

After the 1998 DNA study in Nature indicted Thomas Jefferson apropos of the paternity of Eston Hemings and the rest of Sally Hemings’ children, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation (hereafter, TJMF)—now merely the Thomas Jefferson Foundation—formed a committee to examine the DNA study and strands of historical evidence. In 2000, the foundation declared, “The DNA study, combined with multiple strands…
M. Andrew Holowchak
September 13, 2023
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Randolph Visits Monticello, with Perks

The epistolary exchange between Thomas Jefferson and Randolph Jefferson, younger by 12 years and acknowledged by almost all historians to be cognitively challenged, is sparse. It begins during Jefferson’s last year in Paris, 1789. Thomas begins the letter thus, “The occurrences of this part of the globe are of a nature to interest you so little that I have never…
M. Andrew Holowchak
September 6, 2023
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The Argument for Preserving Our Early American Symbols

Annie Gowan of The Washington Post writes of an incident a few years ago, June 2020, where a group of Portland, Oregon, protestors, gathered a high school and used bungee cords, wires, and human muscle to topple a statue of Thomas Jefferson off its pedestal and into the cement. Says 26-year-old removalist Triston Crowl, “When it came down, we could…
M. Andrew Holowchak
August 21, 2023
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Why We Love Thomas Jefferson

“For ever this, the tribes of men lived on earth, remote and free from the ills and hard toil and heavy sickness which bring the Fates on men. … Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home under the rim of a great jar, and did not fly out the door; for ever that, the lid of the jar stopped…
M. Andrew Holowchak
July 26, 2023
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Assessing the Consilience Argument for Jefferson’s Paternity of Sally Hemings’ Children

It is too common today, vis-à-vis Jefferson’s avowed sexual involvement with Sally Hemings, to fall back on what I call the Consilience Argument: in effect, the argument everything (biological and historical evidence) argues for a relationship and nothing argues against it. That begins with the 2000 Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation’s 2000 study of the DNA evidence and historical evidence. They…
M. Andrew Holowchak
July 21, 2023
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Jefferson and Moral Equality

In the prior section and independent of my argument on Jefferson’s first draft of his Declaration, I have shown that Jefferson observed there to be a rough sense of human equality while living in Colonial America, which did not have the social stratification of European countries. Yet the Colonists embraced the institution of slavery, where people, Whites and Blacks, were…
M. Andrew Holowchak
July 13, 2023
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Jefferson and Equality

From "The disease of liberty": Thomas Jefferson on History and Liberty (Wilmington, DE: Vernon Press, 2023) “All men are created equal,” I aim to show, is the axial “self-evidence truth” that Thomas Jefferson expresses in his Declaration of Independence. What, then, is one to make of the curious, unobvious claim? That cannot be answered until one expiscates what Jefferson means…
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Jefferson’s Platonic Republicanism

Jefferson was never shy about his execration of Plato. He told John Adams (5 July 1814) that reading Plato’s Republic—fraught with whimsies, puerilities, and unintelligible jargon—was “the heaviest task-work I ever went through.” It is not so astonishing that Jefferson would have had such an unsympathetic, even hostile, view of Plato and his Republic, as Jefferson was a practical man…
M. Andrew Holowchak
June 28, 2023
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Thomas Jefferson as a “Southern Cosmopolitan”

Xenophon in his Memorabilia (II.i.21–34) cites Prodicus’ account of Herakles (L., Hercules), “passing from boyhood to youth’s estate,” at a crossroads. He went to a quiet place to consider his course of life, when he was visited by two goddesses—Hēdonē (Pleasure) and Aretē (Virtue). “The one was fair to see and of high bearing; and her limbs were adorned with…
M. Andrew Holowchak
June 15, 2023
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The Putrid Sink of Today’s Jeffersonian Scholarship

Historians today with interest in historiography—what is often characterized simply and somewhat misleadingly as the history of history—seem to be in general agreement that the aims and methods of “historians” over millennia have changed. Study of history, as the argument goes, unquestionable shows that. There was yesterday’s history, there is today’s history, and there will be tomorrow’s history, and there…
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Jefferson’s Plan for “Healthy” Cities

In a prior essay, “Thomas Jefferson’s Prophetic Anti-City Sentiments” (Abbeville), I wrote about Jefferson’s dislike of cities—the larger, the worse. In this essay, I discuss his plan making cities healthy—viz., if there must be cities, Jefferson’s plan for what we can do keep corruptions from them. Yellow fever, in 1793, struck Philadelphia, then the capitol of the United States. There…
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Thomas Jefferson’s Prophetic Anti-City Sentiments

Thomas Jefferson, it is well known to historians, had marked anticity sentiments. “I am not a friend to placing growing men in populous cities,” writes Jefferson to Dr. Caspar Wistar (21 June 1807), “because they acquire there habits; partialities which do not contribute to the happiness of their after life.” Years earlier (23 Sept. 1800), he says to Dr. Benjamin…
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Monticello as a Southern Pleasure Garden

(A selection from Thomas Jefferson and the Fine Arts) Jefferson did not consider husbandry to be a fine art, certainly because husbandry did not aim at beauty, but yield. Nonetheless, the gentleman farmer could make his entire estate a garden. As Philip Southcote, designer of an estate at Woburn in Surrey, England, said, “Why may not a whole estate be…
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The Moral Underpinning of Jeffersonian Republicanism

Liberty for Jefferson is a concept readily grasped, but one, he learns throughout the decades, of great difficulty in application. It is easy to understand what it means for government to be only minimally involved in the affairs of its citizens—to be involved in directing its foreign affairs and in protecting citizens’ liberties—but difficult to put into praxis such thin…
M. Andrew Holowchak
April 26, 2023
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When Civil Rights Activism Runs Afoul

In recent years, Thomas Jefferson, father of University of Virginia and first citizen of Charlottesville, has been the target of vitriolic assaults from countless persons, scholars among them, and groups in America. What is most surprising is that many of the assaults today come from persons or groups in or around his hometown, Charlottesville, where, one might expect, the citizens…
M. Andrew Holowchak
April 18, 2023
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Could Jefferson Have Done More to End Slavery?

It is today all too customarily asserted that anyone who owned slaves in the pageantry of American history was racist. The argument goes something like this: Slave-owning is a racist practice, so, anyone owning slaves is racist. There is, of course, much to unpack in the argument. First, it wrongly assumes that all slavery comprised Whites owning Blacks. Second, it…
M. Andrew Holowchak
April 6, 2023
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The Establishment Love of “Racism” in Southern History

It is the task of historians to create what might be dubbed useful “fictions”—the “isms” of history, like colonialism, imperialism, liberalism, stadialism, and medialism. What is an ism? Philosopher and psychologist William James is noted for stating that an infant’s first experiences with the world are essentially “a blooming buzzing confusion.” As the infant matures and interacts with adults, he…
M. Andrew Holowchak
March 30, 2023
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The University of Virginia

Circumstantially Southern, Scientifically American (A Story Told in the Present Tense) When Thomas Jefferson retires from the presidency after his second term and following the example of George Washington, he cannot merely withdraw to his residence at Monticello and oversee his plantation. Retirement and withdrawal are not in his DNA, as it were. He does what he can do, while…
M. Andrew Holowchak
March 15, 2023
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Was Randolph Jefferson Just a “Muddy Boots Farmer”?

In 2011, Bernard Mayo edited the collection of letters between Thomas Jefferson and younger brother Randolph in Thomas Jefferson and His Unknown Brother Randolph. In the short book, Mayo proffers a four-page introduction to the thin correspondence. The letters exchanged, says Mayo, “are primarily interesting because they reveal Thomas Jefferson’s solicitousness: his “affection, patient kindness, and desire to help a…
M. Andrew Holowchak
March 6, 2023
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The No-So-Enlightened Patriarch of Monticello

A Review of Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf’s Most Blessed of the Patriarchs (Liveright, 2016) by M. Andrew Holowchak While Pete Onuf’s somewhat incoherent 2007 book on Jefferson, The Mind of Thomas Jefferson—it is mere a rag-tag collection of his thoughts on various topics related to Jefferson—betrays unsubtly a bitter, even angry, Onuf, intent in belittling Jefferson, his 2016 collaboration…
M. Andrew Holowchak
March 2, 2023
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A Jefferson Styled Love Letter

Thomas Jefferson was never comfortable in allowing direct expression of his emotions. When he did, the results were general catastrophic—e.g., his tongue-tied attempts at expressing his love as a youth to Rebecca Burwell and his seeming inability emotionally to recover himself after the passing of his wife Martha on September 6, 1782. Jefferson eventually accepted a post as delegate to…
M. Andrew Holowchak
February 14, 2023
BlogReview Posts

Can Jefferson’s America Return?

A review of Chaining down Leviathan: The American Dream of Self-Government, 1776–1865 (Abbeville Institute Press, 2021) by Luigi Marco Bassani Bassani begins his book with a sockdolager. “This book is not part of the 1619 project. It is an intellectual history that barely mentions the problem of slavery. If you believe that American history is nothing but a cover up…
M. Andrew Holowchak
February 7, 2023
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“The Thinking Power Called an Idea”

As the duties of the various members of a president’s cabinet in Jefferson’s day were much less fixed than they are now, Jefferson was often asked by President Washington to do many tasks that that would seem strange for today’s Secretary of State to do. One such task was to oversee an office directing the granting of patents for new…
M. Andrew Holowchak
February 2, 2023
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Did Thomas Jefferson Have a Sexual Relationship with Bob Hemings?

The children of Elizabeth “Betty” Hemings—a slave owned by Thomas Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles, a white English sea captain—occupied a special place at Jefferson’s Monticello. That might be because six of Betty’s 10 children—Robert, James, Thenia, Critta, Peter, and Sally—were said to be fathered by John Wayles. Yet we do not know about paternity in either case. Much depends on…
M. Andrew Holowchak
January 17, 2023
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The Glory Days of the Kanawha Canal

Southern essayist and former Lynchburger Dr. George W. Bagby (1828–1883) described departure of one of the bateaux on a trip from Richmond to Lynchburg on the Kanawha Canal, while he was then a lad, in a short piece titled “Canal Reminiscences”: At last we were off, slowly pushed along under the bridge on Seventh Street; then the horses were hitched…
M. Andrew Holowchak
January 9, 2023
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Thomas Jefferson and the Proper End of a Good Life

After giving a talk on Jefferson's conceptions of reason and the moral sense at UVa (11 Apr. 2015), a gentleman brought up the issue of slavery and mentioned how he found unpalatable Jefferson’s repeated claim, especially later in life, that he refused to do more to eliminate the heinous institution because the time was not yet right. The gentleman, of…
M. Andrew Holowchak
January 2, 2023
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Jefferson’s “Textured Republicanism”

Both parties, says Jefferson to Abigail Adams (11 Sept. 1804), agree that the proper object of governing is the public good, yet they disagree concerning how it is best to promote that good. One fears most the ignorance of the people; the other, the selfishness of rulers independent of them. Which is right, time and experience will prove. We think…
M. Andrew Holowchak
December 13, 2022
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A “Cretinous” Construal of Jefferson’s “Diffusion Argument”

While attending a talk at Poplar Forest on Thomas Jefferson and the Missouri Crisis in the summer of 2019, the speaker, a historian at one of the local universities in Lynchburg, broached Jefferson’s letter to Congressman John Holmes (22 Apr. 1820) about eradication of the institution of slavery by diffusion. This historian called the argument, without further commentary, pure poppycock.…
M. Andrew Holowchak
December 6, 2022
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Suppression of Free Speech at Poplar Forest

On November 3, 2022, in response to an invitation of group of Thomas Jefferson mavens, I went to Jefferson’s get-away residence at Poplar Forest. I was asked to join their tour, to begin at 12:30 p.m., and to field questions after the tour. I was asked also to bring any books on Jefferson that I wished to sign and to…
M. Andrew Holowchak
November 14, 2022
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Indentured Servitude in Early America

French politician and author Jean-Nicholas Démeunier, in 1786, published his Essai sur les États-Unis. Prior to its publication, the essay, intended for Encyclopédie Méthodique, was in the words of Jefferson’s secretary William Short in a letter to William Nelson (25 Oct. 1786), “as false as might be expected from a man who had made the Abbe Raynal his model, and…
M. Andrew Holowchak
April 8, 2022
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“Moral the Question Certainly is Not”

Filmmaker Arlen Parsa has recently undertaken a project that blots out the faces of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence in John Trumbull’s famous painting “The Declaration of Independence.” The stunt has unsurprisingly gained the filmmaker much notoriety. While the project might seem to have been a frivolous undertaking for Parsa—something to pass the time in these Coronavirus…
M. Andrew Holowchak
March 3, 2022
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Is the Public Getting a Skewed Idea of Thomas Jefferson?

This article was originally published by History News Network. In a recent article on Thomas Jefferson’s mythic and contradictory legacy for Time, Joseph Ellis begins with an account of an encounter during a book tour with an outraged woman. She snaps: “Mr. Ellis, you are a mere pigeon on the great statue of Thomas Jefferson.” Ellis has a decisive retort.…
M. Andrew Holowchak
October 2, 2015
Review Posts

Was Jefferson a “Scientific Racist”?

Originally published by the History News Network, 11 November 2014. “In one of my seminar discussions,” writes UVA professor Peter Onuf (now emeritus) in The Mind of Thomas Jefferson, “one young woman described suddenly feeling the she ‘did not belong here,’ that Jefferson was telling her that there was no place for her in his ‘academical village.’ ” He continues,…
M. Andrew Holowchak
April 14, 2015
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Searching for Jefferson and Finding Ourselves

Why Historians Cannot Readily Situate Jefferson Finding Jefferson’s Shadow In his watershed work The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (1961), Merrill D. Peterson argues that our task as Jeffersonian historians is in some sense Sisyphean. Aiming to situate Jefferson—to find the real Jefferson—we merely wind up with an image, a shad-ow, which is as obfuscatory as it is disconcerting.…
M. Andrew Holowchak
January 13, 2015
Review Posts

“Monster of Self-Deception” or “Sentimental Traveller”?

A Critique of Onufian Revisionism and Jefferson’s “Contradictions” Robert Booth Fowler writes: “The monuments to Stalin that have come down in recent years in Eastern Europe mark the fall of a former hero and the fall of the values the hero supposedly embodied. The situation with Jefferson, however, is different. The values celebrated by the Jefferson Memorial have not lost…
M. Andrew Holowchak
December 9, 2014
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An Easy Moral Superiority over Our Dead Heroes

This article was originally published by the History News Network and is reprinted here by permission. Henry Wiencek’s Master of the Mountain (2012), which depicted Jefferson as a greedy and racist slave-owner, sold well but was given an ambivalent reception. Though the book has been fairly well received by the general public,its author has been censured severely by Jeffersonian scholars…
M. Andrew Holowchak
December 2, 2014