Jefferson's link to the slave states
<B>Jefferson's link to the slave states</B> Like many prospective readers, I fear, my first thought when I spotted the words "Negro President" emblazoned across a portrait of Thomas Jefferson was, "Do we really need another book about Sally Hemings?" To my delight I discovered inside not the familiar story of Jefferson and his slave mistress but a fresh and provocative interpretation of the influence of the slave states on the third president.
Garry Wills, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of <I>Lincoln at Gettysburg</I>, has published two previous books looking at Jefferson as author of the Declaration of Independence and as founder of the University of Virginia. In his new book, <B>Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power</B>, Wills examines how the power of the Southern slave states defined and shaped Jefferson's presidency from its inception.
Jefferson was dubbed the "Negro President" in the wake of the election of 1800, when the Electoral College deadlocked, forcing the election into the House of Representatives. There, by a mere eight votes, the Virginian wrested the presidency from incumbent president John Adams, thanks to the provision in the Constitution that allowed Southern states to count their slaves as three-fifths of a person when determining a state's representation in Congress and the Electoral College. As Wills makes clear, the curious three-fifths ratio gave the South disproportionate control of the government up to the Civil War.
Although Jefferson recognized the evils of slavery, he felt powerless to challenge it. "Though everyone recognizes that Jefferson depended on slaves for his economic existence," Wills insists, "fewer reflect that he depended on them for his political existence."Brimming with cogent arguments gracefully expressed, this volume will become a standard source on the Sage of Monticello and his time. <I>Dr. Thomas Appleton is professor of history at Eastern Kentucky University.</I>