978-0-674-00066-7 / 0674000668

Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans

by Wallace, Anthony F. C.

Publisher:Belknap Press



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About the book:

Thomas Jefferson's complex attitudes about race have been dissected for nearly two centuries, but the greatest focus, for obvious reasons, has always been on Jefferson's attitudes toward blacks. In this study by historical anthropologist Anthony F.C. Wallace, the way Jefferson the scholar, plantation owner, politician, and president viewed Native Americans is examined in illuminating detail. Wallace, a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, is sensitive to the paradoxes in Jefferson's observations of and dealings with the Indians. On the one hand, Jefferson seemed to revere native culture, devoting considerable time to studying it, to the extent of compiling extensive documentation of native languages. Yet Jefferson--the son of a land speculator, and a lawyer himself--had few compunctions about expelling native inhabitants from their lands so the United States could expand westward. Professor Wallace presents a very readable chronological narrative, and while he offers what is essentially an intellectual study of Jefferson, he dutifully notes that Jefferson's ideas were not always rarefied. The Virginia of Jefferson's day was a raucous frontier, and the third president's ideas of how to deal with the Indians were based on what he'd heard in rural taverns as well as in the halls of the American Philosophical Society. This is a fascinating, comprehensive, and lively look at how Jefferson's lifelong observations of Native Americans affected his thoughts and deeds. --Robert J. McNamara

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