Two new high-profile biographies of Thomas Jefferson are out, and both go way too easy on him over slavery, writes Albany Law School professor Paul Finkelman in the New York Times. They're guilty of the sin committed by many Jefferson biographies—they either gloss over his slave-owning ways or use the old he-was-a-complicated-man-in-complicated-times defense. Please, writes Finkelman. The "ugly truth" is that Jefferson "was a creepy, brutal hypocrite."
Jefferson's personal writings make clear he viewed black people as inferior to whites, nearly sub-human, writes Finkelman. He sold individual slaves away from their families as punishment or to pay for his wine and art collections. His will freed only five, and they were relatives of mistress Sally Hemings. We have to face it: The man was OK with slavery. He may have written the Declaration of Independence, but in the subsequent 50 years, even as George Washington and others freed their slaves, Jefferson remained "a buyer and seller of human beings." Read the full column here.