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M. Andrew Holowchak

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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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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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The Jefferson Hemings Myth

Did Thomas Jefferson father any children with Sally Hemings? The historical profession argues, yes. But the evidence does not support this conclusion as Professor M. Andrew Holowchak explains in this video. https://youtu.be/GweMqp4zdjw
abbeinstitute
July 4, 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