As Louis Hartz brilliantly pointed out in The Liberal Tradition in America (1955), political theorists of the Left and the Right have always been frustrated by the fact that America skipped the feudal stage of history. The lack of a feudal experience means first of all that we lack a socialist tradition, for the hidden origin of socialist thought in Western societies, says Hartz, is to be found in the class consciousness of the feudal ethos. And the absence of a socialist tradition means in turn that we have never developed a tradition of reaction; lacking Robespierre, we also lack Maistre. What dominates our politics instead is a widely shared belief in the American Way of Life, which traces back through a series of transformations to revolutionary America’s attachment to the liberalism of John Locke. Confronted by this maddeningly monolithic heritage, the disaffected analyst of modern American politics is hard put to discover home-grown precedents for an alternative philosophy of government. It therefore behooves him, says Hartz, to transcend the American past, rather than to attempt to recapture it. “As for a child who is leaving adolescence, there is no going home again for America.”
The leftist (formerly rightist) writer Garry Wills, however, refuses to believe that America can’t go home again. In his inventive new book, Inventing America,1 he sets out to recapture the Declaration of Independence by reinterpreting it. Wills’s thesis is that the Declaration is not grounded in Lockean individualism, as we have been accustomed to think, but is a communitarian manifesto deriving from the common-sense philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment—Kames, Hutcheson, Reid, Dugald Stewart, et al. It would have been a stunning accomplishment if Wills had succeeded in substantiating this bold proposition. At one stroke he would have altered our whole sense of the American experiment in self-government as Jefferson envisioned it. A new nation, conceived in liberty, would have been transmogrified into a new nation, conceived in communality.
But Wills does not build a credible case. Far from being a careful work of scholarship, Inventing America is the tendentious report of a highly political writer whose unannounced but nonetheless obvious aim is to supply the history of the Republic with as pink a dawn as possible. That his book has been prominently reviewed and lavishly praised—by academic authorities no less than by newspapermen—is a telling indication of the intellectual temper of the times. In an age of ideology, the inventions of ideologues have come to seem plausible, even though they are fantastic. Inventing America does not help us to understand Thomas Jefferson, but its totally unearned acclaim tells us a good deal about modern-day intellectuals and their terrible need for radical myths.
In the introduction he provided a couple of years ago to Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time, Wills spewed out a wholesale contempt for the political spirit of post-World War II America. The same lack of discrimination here marks his attitude toward previous commentators on Jefferson. From Abraham Lincoln to Erik Erikson, from Gilbert Chinard, Dumas Malone, Julian Boyd, and Howard Mumford Jones to Adrienne Koch, Daniel J. Boorstin, Merrill D. Peterson, and Fawn Brodie, no one is exempt from Wills’s critical swipes. But his severest attacks are aimed at Carl Becker, for Becker’s classic study, The Declaration of Independence (1922), is the principal obstacle in the path of his revisionism.
What has made Becker’s book so conclusive, asks Wills, that even half a century later authorities on Jefferson have found nothing important to add to it? Merrill D. Peterson, he concedes, does express “misgivings” in The Jefferson Image in the American Mind (1960) about Becker’s relativistic belief that the realities of the modern world have undermined the supposedly self-evident truths of the Declaration. Nevertheless, says Wills, Peterson agrees with every other well-known scholar in the field that Becker’s book is a masterpiece—and the author of Inventing America is sure he knows why. “The secret of this universal acclaim lies in the inability of any later student to challenge Becker’s basic thesis—that Jefferson found in John Locke [the emphasis is Wills’s] ‘the ideas which he put into the Declaration.’” Although Wills comes down very hard on what he refers to as the “misreadings” by other students of Jefferson, he himself is a spectacular mis-reader, surpassing even the redoubtable Fawn Brodie, as the foregoing quotations at least begin to make clear. Not only does Peterson not express misgivings about Becker’s relativism, but it is not Becker’s basic thesis that Jefferson found the ideas he put into the Declaration in the writings of John Locke. His thesis, rather, is that Jefferson found the Declaration’s ideas in “the American mind,” as Jefferson himself declared he did.
Becker’s exposition begins with the important reminder that the document which we call the Declaration of Independence did not represent the formal act of separation from Great Britain—that step had already been taken by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776—but was ah argument designed to convince a “candid world” that the separation was necessary and right. According to Becker, the argument rests on two premises: (1) that all men have imprescriptible natural rights; (2) that the British empire is a voluntary federation of independent states. Jefferson did not dream up these premises for the occasion, Becker emphasizes. The doctrine of natural rights had long been regarded as a commonplace. The theory that the British empire was a federal union and that Parliament had no authority over the colonies was more novel, having arisen out of the decade-long dispute with Britain over colonial rights. Yet by the summer of 1776, this theory too was being taken for granted.
In later years, John Adams made the Declaration’s lack of intellectual originality a ground for minimizing Jefferson’s achievement. “There is not an idea in it,” Adams wrote to Timothy Pickering, “but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before.” Becker contends, however, that this criticism is wholly irrelevant, since the strength of the Declaration was precisely that it said what most colonists were thinking. Nothing would have been more futile than an attempt to justify a revolution on principles which no one had ever heard of before. As Jefferson patiently explained in 1825, the year before his death, his task in the Declaration had been
not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent. . . . Neither aiming at originality of principles or sentiments, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind. . . . All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.
It was not a path-breaking philosopher, or even the disciple of one, who was asked to draft the Declaration, but a writer who combined an extraordinary intellectual sensitivity with what John Adams called “a peculiar felicity of expression,” and who could therefore be counted on to state the American case with uncommon clarity and eloquence.
Both in its form and in its phraseology, the Declaration so closely follows certain sentences in the second of Locke’s Two Treatises on Government that Becker was convinced that Jefferson had not merely “absorbed” the ideas of the Treatise secondhand, the way other colonists had, but had read the text several times over. Yet while he found it “interesting” to establish this connection, Becker was more concerned with the question of why Jefferson and his contemporaries were ready to be impressed by the Whig apologist for the Revolution of 1688. Unlike Garry Wills, who talks about Jefferson’s mind as if it were a blob of hot sealing wax passively submitting to the imprint of European ideas, Becker believed that “Generally speaking, men are influenced by books which clarify their own thought, which express their own notions well, or which suggest to them ideas which their minds are already predisposed to accept.” Therefore, anyone interested in the origin of the Declaration’s ideas must look for “the origin of those common underlying preconceptions that made the minds of many men, in different countries, run along the same track in their political thinking.” In making that search, Becker found a congruence between the American rebellion against George the Third and the protracted parliamentary struggle with the monarchy in 17th-century England. A strong antipathy to kings predisposed the spokesman for the American mind, as it had predisposed Locke, to turn toward some new sanction for political authority. The Lockean philosophy in the Declaration expressed American notions well.
Because Becker’s book adheres to Jefferson’s own commentary on the Declaration, Wills has to explain away the latter in order to discredit the former. Thus he begins his critique with an attempt to minimize Jefferson’s statement that the Declaration is an expression of the American mind. Jefferson was “probably referring,” says Wills, only to the list of grievances which makes up the lengthiest part of the Declaration, and not to the preamble. There is not a shred of evidence—not even the slightest hint of ambiguity—to justify this notion. Jefferson’s 1825 commentary (which Wills erroneously says was written in 1814) straightforwardly refers to the document as a whole. Nevertheless, Wills claims to see a distinction because he is determined to turn an argument based on the imprescriptible rights of individuals into an enunciation of brotherhood, and this effort requires him to do whatever he can to separate Jefferson’s thinking from that of his more humdrum compatriots. Wills’s reinterpretation of the Declaration consists in large part of an analysis of passages which precede the list of grievances; therefore, he cannot bring himself to admit that these passages merely express generally accepted sentiments of the day, rather than the very special vision of a very special man. All that one can say in defense of Wills in this matter is that at least he has the restraint to offer his novel idea as no more than probably true. Twenty-five pages later, alas, restraint vanishes: “Jefferson was expressing a common American mind on the concrete grievances that filled the practical debates at Philadelphia.” That the rest of the document also expresses the American mind has been dropped into oblivion.
Another statement in Jefferson’s commentary that Wills finds acutely embarrassing is the assertion that a portion of the Declaration’s authority rests on ideas in “the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.” Wills dearly wishes, of course, that Jefferson had not mentioned Locke’s name, and he does his best to contain the damage by arguing that Jefferson “is deliberately citing works of general regard, rather than a set of specific influences on him.” But the whole point of Jefferson’s commentary is that the American mind was the specific influence on him, and that that influence was compounded of conversation, letters, essays, and books, including Locke’s.
Wills’s main assault on Becker is on his literary criticism. Becker said that a number of phrases in the Declaration echoed phrases in Locke’s second Treatise on Government, but he failed to single them out. To Wills, this means that they do not exist. There is no verbal echo of the Treatise in the Declaration, says Wills. “There is, indeed, no demonstrable verbal echo of the Treatise in all of Jefferson’s vast body of writings.” With this statement Wills challenges Becker’s scholarly authority in the teeth of his supposed strength, for throughout his career Becker was repeatedly praised for his sensitivity to other people’s writings as well as for his own exceedingly graceful literary style. Yet if Becker were alive today, he would have no trouble defending himself, thanks to the fact that the Declaration contains many parallels to Locke, as two examples will suggest.
- Jefferson says that “all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” In the corresponding passage in his Treatise, Locke says that “the People, who are more disposed to suffer than right themselves by Resistance, are not apt to stir.”
- Jefferson says, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism. . . .” Locke says, “But if a long train of Abuses, Prevarications, and Artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the People. . . .”
In the light of such comparisons, there can be little doubt that Becker was right when he said that Jefferson, “having read Locke’s Treatise, was so taken with it that he read it again, and still again, so that afterwards its very phrases reappear in his own writing.”
In Inventing America, Wills gets to show us what he can do as a literary critic. Indeed, he is virtually compelled to show us, for external evidence of the ideas that were on Jefferson’s mind at the time he wrote the Declaration is in extraordinarily short supply. On February 1, 1770, the twenty-six-year-old Jefferson suffered a catastrophe. His house in Albemarle burned to the ground, together with his books and papers. In the ensuing six years he not only failed to reconstruct a written record of his early life, but did not write nearly as many letters about his current activities as we would like to have had. This means that Wills, in order to convince us of the Scottish Enlightenment’s formative influence on the mind of the Declaration’s author, has to resort to textual analysis of the document itself. Wills does his best to marshal other evidence in addition, but it is woefully thin, especially since Jefferson’s retrospective commentary of 1825 is of no help to his interpretation.
In an attempt to extract some supporting facts from Jefferson’s college days, Wills points out that William Small, Jefferson’s favorite teacher at William and Mary, was a Scotsman who had studied with John Gregory, the center of a philosophical circle in Aberdeen in the 1750’s. Small taught practically everything during Jefferson’s years as an undergraduate. But Wills cannot pin down what, precisely, Small imparted to Jefferson. In Scotland, says Wills, men like Francis Hutcheson and Adam Smith used the ethics course to expound their central philosophical tenets, connecting them with the sciences through mathematics and with rhetoric through a philosophy of beauty. “This seems to be,” says Wills—and the tentativeness of his language reveals that he does not really know—what Small attempted in his course on Ethics, Rhetoric, and Belles-Lettres. Yet even if it was, we do not know that the young Jefferson was impressed by what he learned about political science from the ideas of Hutcheson and Smith. In The Commonplace Book, which represents the notes taken by Jefferson on law, political science, and religion starting from the time when he was either a student of law or a young lawyer, there are no entries from the works of Hutcheson or Smith and no citation of either name. There is, on the other hand, an entry from Postlethwayt’s Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce (1751), which Jefferson would trot out many years later in refutation of the theories of Adam Smith (see the letter to John W. Eppes, November 6, 1813). The fact that Jefferson copied Postlethwayt but not Smith into his Commonplace Book does not encourage belief in the idea that the mind of the man who wrote the Declaration was shaped by Scottish thinkers.
In 1764, the year of William Small’s return to Scotland, Wills doggedly continues, the Scottish philospher Thomas Reid, a figure on the Aberdeen scene, published his Inquiry Into the Human Mind. Small was “bound to have met” Reid upon his return, and the gossip about Aberdeen philosophers that Small relayed to his former student in America (how Wills knows that he relayed such gossip, I have no idea) “must have made” Jefferson greet the publication of Reid’s book with special interest. Once again, Wills’s phrasing indicates that he is just guessing. Jefferson’s Commonplace Book has nothing in it from the Inquiry, or from any other book by Reid, and makes no reference to his name. The Inquiry does appear on a long list of books drawn up by Jefferson for his friend Robert Skipwith in 1771, but this scarcely justifies Wills’s conclusion that Jefferson “came to know” Reid’s book some time before the drawing up of the Skipwith list. Wills’s further statement that Jefferson’s knowledge of Reid grew through his friendship with Reid’s student, Dugald Stewart, is irrelevant to the question of Reid’s influence on the Declaration, because Jefferson did not come to know Stewart until many years later.
Wills mainly tries to persuade us of the truth of his thesis by the force of textual analysis. Unfortunately for him, he is neither sensitive to literature nor sensible about it. He first reveals his deficiencies as a literary critic in the prologue to Inventing America. In the midst of criticizing Abraham Lincoln for what Wills regards as a romantic misreading of the Declaration, he pauses to pay tribute to the stylistic powers of the author of the Gettysburg Address. “Abraham Lincoln was a great and conscious verbal craftsman. The man who writes, ‘The world will little note, nor long remember, what we do here,’ has done his best—by mere ripple and interplay of liquids—to make sure the world will remember; as it has.” But what the world remembers is that Lincoln said, “what we say here.” The tin-eared critic then proceeds to mangle the music of the First Inaugural: “The mystic cords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union. . . .” How could any student of the American language not know that those were “chords” that would yet swell the chorus of the Union?
Hard upon the heels of misquotation comes critical absurdity. “Thomas Jefferson . . . was not, like Lincoln, a 19th-century romantic living in the full glow of transcendentalism (that school of faintly necrophiliac spirituality).” But the full glow of transcendentalism had faded by the time Lincoln became a national political figure, and in any event he had no interest in its doctrines. As for the alleged necrophilia of the so-called transcendetalist “school,” I assume Wills means Emerson, the poet of the blowing clover and the falling rain, and Thoreau, the celebrator of vernal renewals. The charge that these writers were a little in love with dead bodies or carrion is altogether grotesque.
Wills’s literary criticism gets down to Jeffersonian cases in the chapter dealing with the Declaration’s opening phrase: “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary. . . .” This opening is “Newtonian,” we are told. “It lays down the law. . . . In the flow of things there is perceivable necessity, a fixity within flux.” With these words, Wills launches into an eighteen-page discussion of 18th-century science, strewing references to Diderot, Rittenhouse, Dr. Arbuthnot, Chastellux, Francis Hutcheson, Antoine Le Camus, J. L. Moreau de la Sarthe, Voltaire, Daniel Defoe, and Newton, among others, as he goes. Finally, in the closing paragraph, we return to the text of the Declaration. If Jefferson did not mean the opening phrase of the Declaration in a Newtonian sense, Wills astonishingly declares, then he has “seriously misled us,” for he knew well “how large the claim was when he spoke of the separation of one people from another as ‘necessary.’” At the last possible moment, in other words, Wills confronts the possibility that the flat statement with which he had begun the chapter may not be true after all. Driven into a corner by his inability to substantiate his claim, he responds to this threat to his intellectual reputation by impugning Jefferson’s. If, in Nixon Agonistes, Wills shows real insight into Nixon’s trapped-rat psychology, it may be because he shares it.
A less combative critic would have pointed out that in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “necessary” in the modest sense of “needful to be done,” two of the six examples given are from the 17th century and two are from the 18th. To the world of Jefferson, “necessary” had more than one meaning, and the opening of the Declaration is not prima facie Newtonian. Which meaning did the author and his audience have in mind? When we look at the accompanying verb, “becomes,” we have our answer. Fixities within fluxes do not “become.”
The aim of this opening exercise in textual analysis is to get us in an 18th-century mood for what is to follow. Becker had emphasized that a 17th-century inspiration lay behind the political theory and practice of revolutionary America. But Wills wants us to regard the Declaration as a thoroughly modern document, smacking of science, and suffused with the communitarianism of the Scottish Enlightenment. According to Wills, the principal difference between Locke and the Scottish thinkers is that Locke conceived of man in a state of nature as an autonomous entity, whereas Kames, Hutcheson, Stewart, and company believed that pre-governmental man was already bound to his fellows by ties of affection and instinctive benevolence. All men were born with a moral sense, an intuitional perceptionism, Which enabled them to tell the difference between right and wrong. When men came together in society, they did so in order to guarantee, in Hutcheson’s famous formula, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.”
Thus happiness had a public meaning for the Scottish thinkers, says Wills, a communitarian meaning. He also insists that they thought of equality in a different way than Locke did. In the Lockean system of natural rights, men were equal because they all were entitled to life, liberty, and property. But for the Scots, says Wills, equality was rooted in human nature; in spite of differences in intelligence, strength, cultural advantage, and wealth, all men had an innate moral faculty.
The reverse side of Wills’s claim that there are no direct textual parallels between Locke’s second Treatise and the Declaration is his assertion that parallels to the Declaration can be found everywhere in the writings of the Scottish school. The passages he offers by way of proof merely remind us that Wills has no feeling for the cadences of language. What his textual comparatism finally comes down to is a philosophical dissection of individual words in the Declaration in which Wills discerns a dominant Scottish influence. As in his chapter on “necessary,” he wanders far afield in search of support for his interpretations. He also has no qualms about citing references from the older Jefferson in order to demonstrate what the thirty-three-year-old author of the Declaration had in mind.
For example, he backs up his contention that Jefferson in 1776 was a moral-sense egalitarian by quoting from the letter Jefferson wrote to his nephew, Peter Carr, in 1787: “The moral sense, or conscience, is . . . given to all human beings. . . . State a moral case to a plowman and a professor. The former will decide it as well and often better than the latter.” What Wills neglects to tell us, however, is that when Jefferson wrote to Carr he was in Paris, his nephew in America. The spectacle of the idle, corrupt society of European courtiers disgusted Jefferson, and aroused in him admiring thoughts of hardworking American farmers and of the harmony and dignity of Indian tribal life. The anti-intellectual egalitarianism he voiced in this letter was not a worked out, consistently held philosophy, but a temporary means of identifying himself with the untainted life of simple people. It is a sign of Wills’s lack of historical imagination, as well as of his relentless ideological bias, that he does not provide us with this context for the Carr letter.
Furthermore, even if Jefferson had been a consistent believer in moral-sense philosophy, this would not have made him an egalitarian, for Wills has magnified the extent to which the Scottish philosophers believed in the uniformity of human nature. Lord Kames, the one Scottish thinker whom the young Jefferson quoted in his Commonplace Book at copious length, explicitly denied that the moral sense was a fully formed and instinctively operating faculty in all men. The moral sense, said Kames, “improves gradually like our other powers and faculties.” In the margin of one of Karnes’s Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, Jefferson penned a note expressing his complete agreement with Karnes’s developmental conception, and even in the letter to Peter Carr he says at one point that moral sense is given to all human beings “in a stronger or weaker degree.” All men, in sum, were not created equal, morally speaking. Some men had less well developed moral faculties than others, and while inferior faculties were susceptible of “refinement,” as Jefferson noted in his marginal comment in Kames, the process required centuries of historical change. The claim that the author of the Declaration believed in the moral equality of 18th-century men (black as well as white, we are assured) represents Wills’s most blatant effort to rewrite the Declaration in his own ideological terms.
“The pursuit of happiness” is a phrase which has puzzled many interpreters. Their best guess has been that Jefferson, not wishing to repeat the familiar Lockean triad of “life, liberty, and property,” gave it a rhetorically different twist but did not alter the meaning. Wills thinks otherwise. “Property” connoted private selfishness to the 18th century; but to many thinkers, the alternative term employed by Jefferson referred to the common weal. Hutcheson, Chastellux, and other quantifying Scotsmen and Frenchmen believed that public happiness was a measurable phenomenon and could be augmented by conscious planning. Increased happiness was within the range of social possibility, and men pursued it.
Jefferson shared the quantifiers’ faith, according to Wills. Chastellux in the early 1770’s had proclaimed that one of the major indices of happiness in any culture was population density; the higher the density, the happier the people. A decade later, in one of the chapters in Notes on the State of Virginia (1784—85), Jefferson also addressed himself to the problem of population growth. He opposed a large-scale immigration to Virginia because American society had not had much experience of self-rule and could not absorb many immigrants without endangering a precarious social harmony. “Suppose 20 millions of republican Americans thrown all of a sudden into France, what would be the condition of that kingdom? If it would be more turbulent, less happy, less strong, we may believe that the addition of half a million foreigners to our present numbers would produce a similar effect here.” The passage would seem to indicate that Jefferson did not agree with Chastellux that large population was a key to public happiness, but Wills says that in fact the passage “implies” agreement. “Notice how, in that quote,” says Wills—and the upcoming emphasis is his—“the amount of happiness is forecast on the basis of numbers.”
Wills leaves out even more evidence than he distorts. As William Peden has pointed out, Jefferson wrote Notes on Virginia almost in spite of himself. The book was begun and all but completed during the darkest period of his life, in the final months of his governorship of an invaded Virginia and in the period of retirement that followed. The motivation behind the book was the urgent desire of the French government to acquire information about the American states. The French wanted facts and figures because they were becoming progressively more involved with a political rebellion that was in deep trouble. At about the same time as the battle of Camden, in which demoralized Virginia soldiers were put to rout, François Marbois, the secretary of the French legation at Philadelphia, distributed a semi-official questionnaire about the American states among members of the Continental Congress. Jefferson agreed to answer for Virginia.
He took up the question of Virginia’s population because Marbois specifically asked him about it. He argued against the idea of rapidly populating the state with immigrants, on the grounds both of America’s inexperience with self-rule and of the amount of unarable land in Virginia. Yet at the same time Jefferson sought to reassure the numbers-conscious French that eventually Virginia would achieve a “competent population” by natural propagation. That word, “competent,” is significant. In effect, what Jefferson was saying in his chapter on population was that America was destined to become a viable nation and that the French need have no fears about an American alliance.
Notes on Virginia does not assert that man has an unalienable right to pursue public happiness. Indeed, happiness as a concept is not dealt with in the Notes in any form. In the quotation from the book that Wills himself cites, the word does not even appear. Jefferson uses three adjectives in sequence, “turbulent,” “happy,” and “strong.” Wills converts the second into a noun, ignores the first and third, and bids us notice how Jefferson forecasts happiness On the basis of numbers—whereas Jefferson is really talking about social stability and how best to achieve it, as our curiously conservative revolutionists were wont to do. It is on shell games like this that Wills builds his reinterpretation of the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration.
Inventing America is careless about language, displays no feeling for historical circumstance, is badly organized, rebarbatively written, and replete with factual errors. In addition to the mistakes already cited, I was particularly struck by the misdating of the appearance of Notes on Virginia by four years and of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations by two years, by the reference to Winthrop Jordan’s White Over Black as Black Over White, and by the neatest-trick-of-the-week statement that “copies of the 1814 edition of Locke’s works can be found, at some point before 1776, in 23 per cent of the known colonial libraries.”
Yet in spite of its ridiculous mistakes, large and small, Inventing America has had a great critical success, for in the world of the 70’s the cult of egality and “human rights” is served by many priests, including some who may be unconscious of what they are doing. David Brion Davis, Edmund S. Morgan, and other reviewers have hailed Inventing America as a superbly researched and brilliantly illuminating work of history without once mentioning its shameless pandering to the Zeitgeist that has affected their own judgment. “Who would think it possible,” exclaims Professor Morgan in the New York Review of Books, “to redirect historical scholarship by explaining what Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence?” After Carl Becker’s book, one would have thought it nearly impossible. But where there’s a Wills, there’s a way.
1 Doubleday, 371 pp., $10.00.