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Virginia Libraries

Current editors:
Beth DeFrancis defrancb@georgetown.edu, Editor
John Connolly jconnolly@nsl.org, Assistant Editor

July-September, 2000
Volume 46, Number 3

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Virginia Books

Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia

Julie A. Campbell, Editor

Peter S. Onuf, Jefferson's Empire: The Language of American Nationhood. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000. xi + 250 pp. $27.95 (hardcover).

Peter Onuf, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation professor of history at the University of Virginia, offers an interesting new perspective on Jefferson's political philosophy, defining it in terms of nationhood. In 1776, Onuf writes, Jefferson and his fellow colonists believed that they should be accepted as equals into the British imperial system. However, rather than welcome them with open arms, a corrupt ministry attempted to enslave the Americans. The thirteen colonies responded by rebelling and establishing a new nation based on natural rights and liberty. Jefferson believed that this new nation would lead an immoral Europe and the world into a republican millenium.

Jefferson, Onuf contends, viewed the American experiment as a lesson in republican self-government. When virtuous citizens came together in political units, they formed states. When these states came together, they formed a union of equal, yet distinct, entities committed to the common goals of the Revolution as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, establishing an empire of liberty. Even Native Americans and enslaved African Americans were to benefit from this example of republicanism and liberty, eventually taking their rightful places as equals in the pantheon of nations.

Yet Onuf also reveals the limitations of Jefferson's ideal of nationhood. Native Americans became a savage people when they blocked the expansion of Jefferson's empire of liberty. African Americans changed from people unfairly enslaved to hostile enemies within the Union's borders. Political opponents were no longer equal members in the republic, but became corrupted foreigners threatening the nation's survival. Onuf skillfully traces Jefferson's route from optimism for the nation's future to pessimism about its ability to survive and overcome.

No brief review can do full credit to Onuf's well-crafted and nuanced essays. It is an excellent work by the foremost Jeffersonian scholar of our time.

-reviewed by Trenton Hizer, Private Papers Archivist

David Robarge, A Chief Justice's Progress: John Marshall from Revolutionary Virginia to the Supreme Court. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. xxv + 364 pp. $65.00 (hardcover).

More than three-quarters of this study of John Marshall treats his life before he became chief justice of the United States in 1801. It also includes chapters on Marshall as a Federalist member of the House of Representatives, as a diplomat, and as secretary of state. The overall theme is John Marshall as an American nationalist.

Marshall was one of those men who thought continentally, as opposed to locally. As a veteran of the Continental Army who came of age during the struggle for American independence, Marshall thought of himself as an American more than as a Virginian. The perspective set him apart from some of his contemporary Virginians (Patrick Henry comes first to mind) and helps explain his support for ratification of the Constitution of the United States at the 1788 Virginia Ratification Convention.

It also underlies his most famous and influential decisions as chief justice, when he interpreted the Constitution in a way that favored national views rather than parochial interests.

Robarge makes excellent use of Marshall's brief autobiography, of his surviving letters, and of an impressive array of other evidence and recent scholarship. It is the most thorough and best-researched study we have on Marshall the attorney and Marshall the Virginia politician.

-reviewed by Brent Tarter, Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Gene A. Smith, Thomas ap Catesby Jones: Commodore of Manifest Destiny. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2000. xvii + 223 pp. $34.95 (hardcover).

Prior to the publication of this book, Virginia-born naval officer Thomas ap Catesby Jones (1790-1858) was best known for ordering a premature seizure of Monterey, California, from Mexican officials in 1842. Jones was then commander of the Pacific Squadron. Amid rumors that the British were scheming to occupy California and believing that a state of war existed between the United States and Great Britain, he hoisted the U.S. flag over the seaport in a bloodless operation. His achievement was celebrated with fanfare before it ended in embarrassment when he realized his mistake. Jones immediately relinquished the town and set about to repair relations, but it was too late to avoid the diplomatic damage and the stain on his service record.

Jones was born on a plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia, in 1790. When he was appointed a midshipman in the U.S. Navy fifteen years later, he was, as the author points out, somewhat older than the branch of service in which he hoped to enjoy a life-long career. He served as a gunboat commander in the Gulf of Mexico and was promoted to lieutenant before being wounded and taken prisoner by the British during the War of 1812. After his release, he worked his way up the ranks in a career that paralleled the western expansion of the United States.

For several years after the 1842 debacle in California, Jones aggressively sought reappointment as the commander of the Pacific Squadron, finally receiving it in 1847. But three years later, he again overstepped his authority and was court-martialed. Although President Millard Fillmore remitted his sentence, the case effectively ended Jones's naval career.

During this period of manifest destiny, the navy underwent remarkable changes, evolving from a small fleet of gunboats charged with coastal defense to a powerful force capable of establishing its presence around the world. The career of Thomas ap Catesby Jones, a minor but controversial figure, unfolded against the backdrop of these events. One can learn much in this book about the immense changes both in Jones's profession and in the nation he dedicated himself to defending. Those who are interested in nineteenth-century naval history and who relish a good story will enjoy this well-written biography of a little-known but colorful Virginian.

-reviewed by Don Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Virginia Bookends

The University Press of Virginia adds a title to its Virginia Book- shelf series of reprints: Edna Lewis's In Pursuit of Flavor (2000, viii + 323 pp. $14.95 softcover). The book was cowritten with Mary Goodbody and originally published in 1988. Lewis grew up in Freetown, Orange County, a community of former slaves that her grandfather founded after the Civil War. She learned cooking at her mother's side, "and I suppose I just naturally followed her example," she writes. "In those days, we lived by the seasons, and I quickly discovered that food tastes best when it is naturally ripe and ready to eat." Lewis shares her knowledge with such delicious-sounding recipes as Whipped Cornmeal with Okra, Guinea Fowl in a Clay Pot, Pear Chutney, and Red Currant Pie. The recipes are garnished with nice line drawings by Louisa Jones Waller and Lewis's warm recollections of country life and good food.

Virginia author Christopher Camuto lives in Rockbridge County, has taught at Washington and Lee and the University of Virginia, has published nonfiction books about the Appalachian Mountains, and writes columns for such magazines as Audubon and Trout. He headed to North Carolina to chronicle Cherokee Indians and wolves in Another Country: Journeying Toward the Cherokee Mountains, originally published in 1997 and reprinted by the University of Georgia Press (2000, xii + 351 pp. $16.95 softcover). "In the southern Appalachians, beautiful as they still are, it gets harder each season and each year to imagine a more luminous world," Camuto writes in the prologue, "especially the nature and culture of life in these mountains before the troubling rumor of [Hernando] de Soto's approach came through the woods."

In 1902, Granville Davisson Hall published a massively detailed account of the formation of West Virginia, The Rending of Virginia: A History. Ninety-eight years later, the University of Tennessee Press has reissued it with an introduction by John Edmund Stealey III (2000, xlvii + 622 pp. $38.00 softcover) as part of its Appalachian Echoes series. Hall was the secretary of state of West Virginia, a newspaper editor, and a novelist — and above all a Unionist. He witnessed the momentous events of the time and knew all the participants. His goal was lofty: ha"The design of this volume is to tell the story of the severance of Virginia into two commonwealths, prefacing with some account of the causes leading up to the event: on the one hand, the internal antagonisms...; on the other, the Southern Rebellion... . To this narrow estate has Virginia shrunken from an imperial domain." Stealey, a professor of history at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, contributes a succinct biographical sketch that provides welcome context.

Civil War Bookends

Touchstone Books has reissued Jeffry D. Wert's 1998 book, A Brotherhood of Valor: The Common Soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, C.S.A., and the Iron Brigade, U.S.A. (2000, 413 pp. $15.00 softcover). The author teaches history at a Pennsylvania high school and has written four other books about the Civil War. With this title, says the publisher, "what Stephen Ambrose has done for the common soldiers of World War II... , Jeffry D. Wert has now done for the fighting men of the Civil War."

William Henry Singleton was born into slavery in North Car- olina in the 1840s and escaped into freedom in 1862. While in the employ of General Ambrose Burnside, Singleton spent time at Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he met President Abraham Lincoln, whom he remembered as "a tall, dark complexioned raw boned man, with a pleasant face." Singleton later fulfilled his desire to fight for the Union. He wrote all this down and in 1922 published Recollections of My Slavery Days in a newspaper and as a pamphlet. Nearly eighty years later, scholars Katherine Mellen Charron and David S. Cecelski have edited and annotated his account and turned it into this interesting and useful book (2000, xvii + 124 pp. $16.00 hardcover). You can obtain it from Historical Publications Section (N), Division of Archives and History, 4622 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4622. After a very long life, most of it lived in the North, Singleton died in 1938 after marching in a Grand Army of the Republic parade in Des Moines, Iowa.

When Mississippian Georgia Lee Tatum wrote Disloyalty in the Confederacy in 1934, she had to pay a $500 subsidy to her publisher, the University of North Carolina Press, in case it didn't sell. Although some southerners frothed at the mouth at the mere thought of its publication, others, especially historians, thought it made a good contribution to the history of the South. Modern readers can decide for themselves with the Bison Books reprint from the University of Nebraska Press (2000, xxvi + 176 pp. $10.00 softcover.) David Williams, a professor of history at Valdosta State University, Georgia, wrote the new introduction.

Also emanating from Nebraska's Bison Books series is Horace Porter's 1897 work, Campaigning with Grant (2000, xxviii + 546 pp. $19.95 softcover), with a new introduction by Brooks D. Simpson, a professor of history at Arizona State University. Porter served as Gen. U.S. Grant's aide and was present at Appomattox in 1865. When Porter and the other witnesses were allowed to enter the room containing Grant and Gen. Robert E. Lee, "we walked in softly, and ranged ourselves quietly about the sides of the room," he wrote, "very much as people enter a sick-chamber when they expect to find the patient dangerously ill."

-reviewed by Julie A. Campbell

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