Long Journey with Mr Jefferson - The Life of Dumas Malone, William G. Hyland Jr.

Long Journey with Mr Jefferson - The Life of Dumas Malone, William G. Hyland Jr.

Dumas Malone was a distinguished American historian best known for producing a six volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, the original author of the American Declaration of Independence, third President of the United States and an impressively active figure in a wide range of other areas. This book is aimed thus at a rather specialised audience, either those interested in the life of a historian (i.e. other historians) or those with great interest in Thomas Jefferson.

I must admit I hadn't heard of Dumas Malone or his six volume biography of Thomas Jefferson - perhaps unsurprisingly such a monumental biography of a Founding Father is more famous in the United States than elsewhere. This does make it rather hard to judge a biography of its author, especially as Hyland has deliberately chosen not to discuss the Jefferson biography in much detail. The book itself is an interesting read and Malone was an impressive character.

The one digression away from Malone into the life of his subject looks at the claims that Jefferson had children with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves. Here we look at Malone's own research into that topic and his conclusion that there was very little evidence to support the idea and plenty against it (Jefferson's age and health being one of them). Since Malone died some DNA evidence has emerged, and Hyland looks at this in an appendix. This evidence has almost certainly proved that at least some of Hemings' children were fathered by a Jefferson male, but not by which one. Thomas Jefferson's brother Randolph emerges as the most likely candidate - certainly as a more convincing candidate that Thomas. Wasn’t isn’t quite so clear is why it would be a problem if the widower Thomas Jefferson had been the father - again this is an area where an American reader might be more familiar with the arguments and so some general background would have been useful. Malone's irritation with the rather sensationalist and unhistorical books that champion this story is rather better documents and much easier to understand!

As a historian I found this an interesting read, with some useful insights into the working methods of Malone and his contemporaries (reminds me what I'm doing wrong).

1 - The White House
2 - Reflections
3 - The Deep South
4 - A Marine
5 - Brothers
6 - Yale
7 - Along the Lawn
8 - Elisabeth
9 - The Dictionary
10 - Harvard University Press
11 - Columbia
12 - On Writing and Politics
13 - Jefferson, the Virginian
14 - Douglas Southall Freeman
15 - Sally Hemings
16 - Malone vs. CBS
17 - The Pulitzer Prize
18 - Fame and the Famous
19 - Blindness
20 - Death on the Mountain

Author: William G. Hyland Jr
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 336
Publisher: Potomac Books
Year: 2013

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