Cover image for "Negro president" : Jefferson and the slave power
"Negro president" : Jefferson and the slave power
Wills, Garry, 1934-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiv, 274 pages ; 22 cm
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E332.2 .W57 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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In "Negro President," the best-selling historian Garry Wills explores a controversial and neglected aspect of Thomas Jefferson's presidency: it was achieved by virtue of slave "representation," and conducted to preserve that advantage.
Wills goes far beyond the recent revisionist debate over Jefferson's own slaves and his relationship with Sally Heming to look at the political relationship between the president and slavery. Jefferson won the election of 1800 with Electoral College votes derived from the three-fifths representation of slaves, who could not vote but who were partially counted as citizens. That count was known as "the slave power" granted to southern states, and it made some Federalists call Jefferson the Negro President -- one elected only by the slave count's margin.
Probing the heart of Jefferson's presidency, Wills reveals how the might of the slave states was a concern behind Jefferson's most important decisions and policies, including his strategy to expand the nation west. But the president met with resistance: Timothy Pickering, now largely forgotten, was elected to Congress to wage a fight against Jefferson and the institutions that supported him. Wills restores Pickering and his allies' dramatic struggle to our understanding of Jefferson and thecreation of the new nation.
In "Negro President," Wills offers a bold rethinking of one of American history's greatest icons.

Author Notes

Garry Wills, 1934 - Garry Wills was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1934. Wills received a B.A. from St. Louis University in 1957, an M.A. from Xavier University of Cincinnati in 1958, an M.A. (1959) and a Ph.D. (1961) in classics from Yale. Wills was a junior fellow of the Center for Hellenic Studies from 1961-62, an associate professor of classics and adjunct professor of humanities at Johns Hopkins University from 1962-80.

Wills was the first Washington Irving Professor of Modern American History and Literature at Union College, and was also a Regents Professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, Silliman Seminarist at Yale, Christian Gauss Lecturer at Princeton, W.W. Cook Lecturer at the University of Michigan Law School, Hubert Humphrey Seminarist at Macalester College, Welch Professor of American Studies at Notre Dame University and Henry R. Luce Professor of American Culture and Public Policy at Northwestern University (1980-88). Wills is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and his articles appear frequently in The New York Review of Books.

Wills is the author of "Lincoln at Gettysburg," which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1993 and the NEH Presidential Medal, "John Wayne's America," "A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government" and "The Kennedy Imprisonment." Other awards received by Wills include the National Book Critics Award, the Merle Curti Award of the organization of American Historians, the Wilbur Cross Medal from Yale Graduate School, the Harold Washington Book Award and the Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting, which was for writing and narrating the 1988 "Frontline" documentary "The Candidates."

(Bowker Author Biography) Garry Wills is a Pulitzer-prize winning historian and cultural critic. A former professor of Greek at Yale University, his many books include Lincoln at Gettysburg, Reagan's America, Witches and Jesuits, and a biography of Saint Augustine. He lives in Evanston, Indiana.

(Publisher Provided) Garry Wills is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and The New York Review of Books. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

In this provocative study, noted historian Wills (Northwestern Univ.) makes a compelling case that Jefferson was a benefactor and defender of "Slave Power." Jefferson won the presidency in 1800 only because he received the electoral votes of southern states, which enjoyed the advantage of having their slaves count as three-fifths of persons. Once in office, Jefferson "did everything he could to protect and extend the slave system," struggling with determined critics like Timothy Pickering, who dubbed him "the Negro President." Some readers, however, may suggest that Wills's study is not sufficiently balanced, in that it does not emphasize evidence (such as that cited in Fawn Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, CH, Jun'74) that Jefferson was deeply troubled by slavery, wanted to end the slave trade, and favored gradual emancipation. Such demurrals aside, Wills makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of Jefferson and the new American nation. This and other recent works, such as Henry Wiencek's An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America (CH, Jun'04), give us a better grasp of the unsettling reality about the role of slavery in the minds and actions of some of our nation's key founders. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Public and university libraries alike. R. Detweiler California Polytechnic State University--San Luis Obispo

Booklist Review

Bashing Thomas Jefferson threatens to become a national pastime. Many of the recent attacks on Jefferson, particularly those by Joseph Ellis, are unfair and mean spirited. However, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Wills is an unabashed admirer of Jefferson. So, his analyses of some of Jefferson's actions as secretary of state, president, and the sage of Monticello after his presidency cannot be easily dismissed. Wills begins with the premise that the three-fifths compromise at the Constitutional Convention ensured southern slave-state domination of the Federal government until the eve of the Civil War. With slave populations counted, southern states were granted unfair representation in the House of Representatives. They also had inflated power in the electoral college, which gave Jefferson victory in the extremely close election of 1800. Jefferson believed passionately in agrarian virtues, and he feared the growing economic and political power of the northern states. Wills asserts that many of Jefferson's actions, including his hostility to the Haitian revolution and his opposition to the Missouri Compromise, were efforts to fight dilution of the political power of southern states. The result of his actions, of course, was to maintain the slave power of a relatively small number of plantation owners. Wills takes no joy in his criticism. Rather, he views Jefferson as well as many other southern politicians as trapped by an evil system they still felt obliged to defend. This is an important and disturbing book, which will undoubtedly intensify the ongoing controversy regarding Jefferson and slavery. --Jay Freeman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Library Journal Review

As Wills shows, Jefferson was called the "Negro President" not because he empathized with blacks but because he won the 1800 election with votes based on the three-quarters representation of slaves-who could not themselves vote, of course. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Introduction: The Three-Fifths ClauseThe election of Mr. Jefferson to the presidency was, upon sectional feelings, the triumph of the South over the North - of the slave representation over the purely free. - John Quincy AdamsWhat did Thomas Jeffersons Federalist critics mean, after 1800, when they called him the "Negro President"? A person first encountering the term might, in the not too distant past, have thought it referred to Jeffersons private life at Monticello. In those hagiographical days, calling him a "Negro president" might have been interpreted to mean that he was a pro-Negro president, an ami des noirs who sympathized with the plight of slaves, though he could not do much about it. That was the line I heard when I first visited Monticello more than forty years ago. More recently still, the term might be taken to mean that he loved his own slave Sally Hemings, or exploited her, or both. But those first calling him the "Negro President" were not prying into his private life. They were challenging his public boast that the election of 1800 was a "Second Revolution" based on the expressed will of a popular majority. It was no such thing, they argued. In terms of the number of actual votes cast, John Adams was re-elected. The Second Revolution never occurred.Jeffersons ElectionIf real votes alone had been counted, Adams would have been returned to office. But, of course, the "vote" did not depend solely on voters. Though Jefferson, admittedly, received eight more votes than Adams in the Electoral College, at least twelve of his votes were not based on the citizenry that could express its will but on the blacks owned by southern masters. A bargain had been struck at the Constitutional Convention - one of the famous compromises on which the document was formed, this one intended to secure ratification in the South. The negotiated agreement decreed that each slave held in the United States would count as three-fifths of a person - the so-called federal ratio - for establishing the representation of a state in the House of Representatives (and consequently in the Electoral College, which was based on the House and Senate numbers for each state in Congress). It galled the Federalists that Jefferson hailed his 1800 victory as a triumph of democracy and majority rule when, as the Mercury and New- England Palladium of Boston said (January 20, 1801), he had made his "ride into the temple of Liberty on the shoulders of slaves." He was president only because of "somber" or "sable" non-votes, and the Columbian Centinel noted (December 24, 1800) that the half-million slaves affecting the outcome had no more will in the matter than "New England horses, cows, and oxen." Timothy Pickering, the former secretary of state under Washington and Adams, coined the term "Negro President" and made it current among his Federalist allies - along with references to Negro electors, Negro voters, and Negro congressmen. Senator William Plu Excerpted from Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power by Garry Wills All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Key to Brief Citationsp. xi
Prologue: Coming to Terms with Jeffersonp. xii
Introduction: The Three-Fifths Clausep. 1
I. Before 1800p. 15
1. Pickering vs. Jefferson: The Northwestp. 18
2. Pickering vs. Jefferson: Toussaintp. 33
II. "Second Revolution"p. 47
3. 1800: Why Were Slaves Counted?p. 50
4. 1800: The Negro-Burr Electionp. 62
5. 1801: Jefferson or Burr?p. 73
6. 1801 Aftermath: Turning Out the Federalistsp. 90
III. Pickering in Congressp. 103
7. 1803: The Twelfth Amendmentp. 106
8. 1803: Louisianap. 114
9. 1804: Pickering and Burrp. 127
10. 1804-1805: Impeachmentsp. 140
11. 1808: Embargop. 147
12. 1808: Pickering and Governor Sullivanp. 159
13. 1808: Pickering and J. Q. Adamsp. 171
14. 1809-1815: Pickering and Madisonp. 182
IV. The Pickering Legacyp. 195
15. J. Q. Adams: The Federal (Slave) Districtp. 200
16. J. Q. Adams: Petition Battlesp. 214
Epilogue: Farewell to Pickeringp. 226
Notesp. 233
Acknowledgmentsp. 259
Indexp. 260