by Diane Rufino, July 6, 2019
On July 2, the Charlottesville (Virginia) City Council voted to no longer recognize Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, April 13, as a celebrated a paid holiday. Charlottesville is the hometown of our country’s most renown Founding Father. It is the home his sprawling hilltop estate, Monticello. In fact, it’s hard to think of Charlottesville, Virginia, without thinking of Jefferson. He was born there in 1743 and he died there, and Monticello was always the place he called home and the place where he found his greatest inspiration and greatest comfort.
Monticello draws almost half a million visitors annually and the town benefits greatly from that tourism.
According to local news, “city officials voted to scrap the holiday in honor of the slave-owning third president of the United States and instead adopt Liberation and Freedom Day, to be celebrated each March 3.” The city council’s decision came just days after James Fields Jr., the 22-year-old driver convicted of killing a woman and injuring dozens of other people at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, was sentenced to life behind bars.
Jason Hill, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago, said: “I think this was a great man that helped found this country. If we start by retroactively looking at the sins of great figures who have made enormous contributions to western philosophy, we are going to be left with a decimated history.” Professor Hill is an African-American who is not one of those who is unable to review history except thru the lens of slavery. While he refers to slavery as a “birth defect” of the United States, he acknowledges that Jefferson’s legacy, the Declaration of Independence in particular, was ultimately used to freed people from its bonds.
Hill accuses Jefferson of being a flawed man, as evidenced by his ownership of slaves, but his legacy which includes enormous contributions to America far outweighs that single flaw.
It should be mentioned that since slavery was an established institution in the states, and since it was recognized and protected by the Constitution, that almost all of our Founding Fathers from the more southern states and tied to an agrarian economy can be accused of practicing something that was perfectly legal and acceptable at the time. We will be hard-pressed to find any of our Founding Fathers or leading historical figures from any of the southern states who either didn’t own slaves or who didn’t say even something that might be taken as insensitive by today’s civil rights standards. The fact is that today’s hyper-sensitivity to our pre-13th Amendment past prejudices southern historical figures. We cannot judge our forefathers by the social norms of our current times.
What disturbs me, intellectually, aside from the very public snub of the man who gave us our “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” and who gave us the notion of inalienable rights, as opposed to government-granted rights, thereby establishing our American system that values the protection and security of those rights over the longevity of government, is that Chancellorsville choice to observe a far more offensive event. The Charlottesville City Council voted to substitute March 3 – that day in 1865 when Union General Philip Sheridan’s troops entered the town and found a population that was majority African-American (most of them being slaves) – as the new “official holiday.”
Why do I say this event is offensive? First of all, the act of the Northern states, having control of the federal government, attacking, invading, and subjugating the Southern states back into the union was the ultimate act of government tyranny. It was unconstitutional on every single level, including an outright violation of paragraph two of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The Southern states had duly and lawfully left the union and established an independent and sovereign new nation. The invasion of the South had nothing to do with slavery, as an honest historian and researcher well knows. It was about the North deciding that the union needed the southern states and that an independent Confederate States of America posed great threats to the interests of the North. Virginia did not secede to protect slavery or to maintain slavery; when Virginia finally voted to secede, it was because Abraham Lincoln demanded the state send its share of 750,000 troops to fight its southern neighbors. Virginia, respecting the principles in the Declaration and respecting the understanding the states had when they adopted the Constitution and agreeing to be loosely-held in a union, knew that the Constitution would never sanction the government demanding that one state take up arms against another state. Jefferson, as it turned out, was the most vocal proponent of the proper remedies states are entitled to when they simply no longer get along or find enough common interests – with the most fundamental being secession. After all, the colonies seceded from Great Britain with the Declaration – a secessionist document. [The first paragraph opens up: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…” (ie, It becomes necessary to secede from the government it has been associated with and establish an independence). And the last final paragraph reads: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”]
Second, Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, by executive order, on January 1, 1863. It did nothing to free any slave in the southern states because the southern states had seceded from the union and therefore dissolved its association with the federal government. It was intended as a war measure to incite slave rebellions in the South, and particularly against the women and children who were left home on the farms/plantations (while the men were off fighting). It was an insidious war measure but Lincoln hoped the men fighting would leave the battlefield and go back to their homes and their farms/plantations. What the Emancipation did allow, however, was the freeing of slaves in any territory that the Union forces captured and took control of. This certainly would have been something, right? But the truth is that essentially not a single Union general exercised his discretion to free the slaves. And this was what happened in Charlottesville. While some of the slaves may have used the Union occupation to try to escape their condition, it was not Sheridan who granted them freedom. It was not the Emancipation Proclamation which freed them. Sheridan was a cold killer. After the Civil War, he was given the task of slaughtering the American Indians and moving them off land that the federal government wanted.
So what exactly did the Charlottesville City Council vote to endorse while impugning Thomas Jefferson? They chose to endorse slavery. They chose to endorse the view by the Union that slaves should not be freed, even when agents of that government (Union generals) had the discretion to do so. They chose to endorse the notion that the federal government has the absolute right to order one state to invade, wreak violence, and subjugate another state with whom it disagrees with. They chose to endorse the notion that the federal government is supreme and has the right to subjugate the states to its views and to its whims, including as dictated and coopted by an absolute tyrant.
Charlottesville not only voted to reject Thomas Jefferson but it voted to reject the Declaration of Independence as well.
Virginia sure has come a long way. An how utterly shameful it has become.
In March of this year, some students at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. called for the removal of a Jefferson statue from the campus, claiming he represented racism and slavery. I find it troubling that they would associate Thomas Jefferson with racism and slavery rather than as the author of the Declaration of Independence or the father to the liberties and rights that they obviously take for granted. I find it troubling that college students are that unintelligent and that uninformed as to our country’s history, although after listening to college students speak these days, I am not surprised.
I am sorry that our country has a checkered history. I am sorry that the British imposed slavery on our colonies and that the colonies embraced the ownership and forced labor of fellow human beings. I am, however, grateful that several of our founders tried very hard to abolish it early on – before we formed our union of states. Truth be told, the very man that modern liberals like to demonize, Thomas Jefferson, had several plans to abolish slavery or at least to minimize it and to transition to freedom. Even prior to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Thomas Jefferson proposed (in 1779) a policy of gradual emancipation, education and training, and possible re-location and colonization as a practical solution to end the legal enslavement of human beings (ie, chattel slavery). He believed education and training were absolutely necessary and must be part of the plan to abolish slavery because liberating people who were unprepared for total freedom would be a recipe for disaster. They would need to be able to support themselves and live in dignity. He wanted Africans to be successful and to build successful black communities. In 1784, Jefferson proposed federal legislation that would ban slavery in the New Territories of the North and South after 1800, which ended up failing to pass Congress by only one vote. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, which he published in 1785, Jefferson expressed the beliefs that slavery corrupted both masters and slaves alike and promoted the idea that African-Americans were inferior in intelligence. Again, Jefferson seemed to be looking out for Africans and not looking to keep them in bondage. In 1807, President Jefferson signed legislation to finally abolish the slave trade to the United States.
I am sorry that today’s liberals are so fragile-minded, so fragile psychologically and emotionally, so intellectually stunted, and so intolerant that the sight of Thomas Jefferson or even the mention of his name shatters their fragility and reduces them to absolute moron-ity. I’m sorry that today’s liberals have taken a position to move our notions of civility backwards in the United States. Modern Americans are the very examples of what our Founders hoped could be avoided by giving individuals a country devoted to freedom (and finally, to equality) and instilling in them the responsibility to defend it. Today’s liberals are mental midgets, more obsessed with a long-dead institution than with the health and stability of our country. I’m sorry that slavery continues to dominate our national discourse and taint our ability to come together to celebrate shared values, shared ideals, and shared dreams. I’m sorry that the history of one particular race continues to dictate what can be discussed, celebrated, acknowledged, taught, or included on plaques, memorialized in statue form, inscribed on buildings, in this country. I’m sorry that certain individuals are completely incapable of seeing things without looking at them through a lens of color.
I wish these individuals, these loud-mouths, these trouble-makers and rubble-rousers, would exercise the same tolerance that they demand of others.
Nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it guarantee that individuals have a right NOT to be offended or to feel offended, or the right NOT to be confronted by events in history that happen to offend them. In fact, these rights are not even included in the progressives’ version of the Bill of Rights (authored by FDR who referred to it as “The Second Bill of Rights). This “Second Bill of Rights,” pushed so strongly by FDR, then Truman, then LBJ, then Nixon, then Clinton, and then, to some extent George Bush was an attempt by liberal/progressive-minded presidents to mitigate the “evils” that naturally arise in a free market, capitalistic society – one based on competition and ambition and hard work. The results of our American system (the “evils”), as FDR believed, are primarily economic inequality and to a lesser degree, social inequality. This “Second Bill of Rights” includes the “right” to a job, food, a home clothing, healthcare, a good education, and recreation, and the freedom from the “fear” of unemployment, old age, sickness, and unfair competition.
The First Amendment guarantees the right of FREE speech – not sensitive speech, not politically-correct speech, not sanitized speech… but FREE speech. The First Amendment guarantees that every spoken word, every written word, every historical event, every statue, every plaque, every painting, every work of art is an opportunity for discussion and debate. It is an opportunity for more speech. It is always a learning or teaching opportunity – something to sharpen our minds and our understanding, and NOT to foreclose it to views that others, including government, want to dominate.
The sad thing is that there is a group of individuals – a group much larger than the current liberal snowflakes I am referring to above – that has no connection to slavery, has no part in any efforts to discriminate or any past action of discrimination, and has no discriminatory mindset or discriminatory heart, but who absolutely loves this country, recognizes its history (both good and bad), and values the lessons we had to learn as a fledgling nation predicated on the equal rights of man. Our entire history has made us the country we are today, for good or for bad – but always as a subject for discussion and political views. I am a second or third generation American, depending on whether you look from my mother’s side of the family or my father’s. My family came to the United States from Italy prior to WWI, with little money in their pockets and with no safety net or entitlements to help them. Italians in the day were not a popular ethnic group and as our immigration laws in the 1920’s showed (set limits on the number of immigrants from Italy to limit their population in the US) and as employment signed showed (“No Italians need apply”), they were generally not welcome. But Italians don’t languish over their mistreatment; rather, they quickly became one of the most patriotic and loyal of ethnic groups
The people that I know and that I associate with (mostly white since I am a white woman) do not possess the thought process that says that just because a person has a different skin color, he or she is of a different worth or has less dignity as a human being. We often don’t possess the thought process that directs us to review and scrutinize everything we write and say to make sure that absolutely nothing can be misconstrued, mistaken, or twisted into showing us to be discriminatory or to be otherwise insensitive to others. It’s because we come from a place where we don’t discriminate and we don’t set out in any way, shape, or form to be insensitive to others. Most of us are like this because of our deep foundation in religion. We respect one another because we are taught to love one another; strong communities are founded on mutual respect and a fondness for one another. The problem is that our current culture of racial divide, the constant flinging of the terms “racist” and “white supremist” are imputing on well-intentioned white people a tendency – always a tendency, as President Obama, Michele Obama, and Hillary Clinton publicly stated – to be these terrible things and to inherently look down on black people. It’s not fair to the vast majority of white persons and this problem needs to be addressed. Something needs to done to protect white people and their free exercise of the First Amendment, without the automatic presumption of discrimination.
Maybe we’ve dwelled on slavery and on past discrimination for too long. Maybe we’ve retreated to political correctness for too long to avoid honest conversations about the state of race relations and the effect of history on our current status. Perhaps we’ve allowed African-Americans, too fragile to think outside the “slavery and discrimination” box, to control the dialogue for too long. Thomas Sowell once said: “When people get used to preferential treatment, equal treatment seems like discrimination.” Maybe for once we should really trying treating everyone as equals rather than as special.
It is a true denial of the free speech rights of others and an exercise of true intolerance when certain individuals refuse to see things without looking at them through a lens of color. How far can it go? I think the Charlottesville city council vote is one example. In their myopathy, they chose to discard Thomas Jefferson in favor of another form of acceptance of slavery and in favor of government tyranny. Of course, the war against Confederate monuments and leaders is another example.
In closing, I want to emphasize again that I wish today’s liberals and race mongers would exercise the same tolerance that they demand of others.
Reference: “Charlottesville Will No Longer Celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday in His Virginia Hometown,” FOX News. Referenced at: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/charlottesville-will-no-longer-celebrate-thomas-jeffersons-birthday-in-his-virginia-hometown-report
“We cannot judge our forefathers by the social norms of our current times.”
Okay, I’ll agree with that. But it’s also not germane. To call Thomas Jefferson a racist is not to judge him by the social norms of our times. It is simply to appeal to logic, and to invoke a cold, impartial argument from definition.
Racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”
If that’s so, one simply can’t be a slaveholder and not be a racist, and slavery could not have existed without the racist premise that black people are inherently inferior to white people.
“Hill accuses Jefferson of being a flawed man, as evidenced by his ownership of slaves, but his legacy which includes enormous contributions to America far outweighs that single flaw.”
I would agree with Professor Hill. But what you seem strangely unwilling to acknowledge is that that “single flaw” is indeed racism, unadulterated.
Simple yes or no question: was Thomas Jefferson a racist?
Hello John Shureen, I agree with your understanding of “racist” and I agree that back in the days when Africans were taken from their continent and shipped and sold into slavery, it was done under the universal understanding that black people (natives from Africa) were an inferior race – uncivilized while most of the rest of the world was civilized or becoming so. The Dred Scott decision, as vile, despicable, and offensive as it was, explained the station of Africans around the world. It explained why blacks were thought of as they were. This is not to say it was right because it clearly it wasn’t. But the races were as far apart as night and day, so you can see where the attitudes came from. Again, this is not to say it was right. It was a highly offensive trade – in human beings. Whatever possessed other human beings to do such a thing, especially at that time in world history? But we would have to ask the Muslims about that, right? They were the ones, in collaboration with Africans themselves, who started the slave trade. We know slavery had been practiced throughout history, against all peoples by all peoples. Romans used captured peoples as slaves; Romans also used lower-class Romans as slaves. The Egyptians enslaved Israelites and used them until they died from exhaustion. Americans essentially used Chinese as indentured servants believing they had no value as human beings. (Immigration of Chinese was blocked even into the 1920’s). Early Americans thought that native American Indians were inferior to Africans (although many of our Founders thought otherwise, which I won’t go into right now). Racism according to your definition was rampant in earlier times, against all different peoples. “Italians Need Not Apply.” “Irish Need Not Apply.” The only problem I see is that you are using contemporary standards and norms to judge Thomas Jefferson and frankly, to judge every single American who helped to found the country and who lived up until the 13th amendment. Even Abraham Lincoln spoke publicly about Africans being an inferior race. The point is that universal understanding at the time was that Africans were an inferior race. There is contemporary commentary to underscore why colonists and early Americans held the universal belief they did. They wrote about the uncivilized condition of Africans when they first came to America. This is disheartening to have to write and we hate to think there was a time when our social norms were so objectively and subjectively inhuman, but it was a different time. We are all products of our time. Luckily, this is a far better time. Luckily slavery died out (mostly peacefully throughout the world – but not here in the US) and we should no longer hold any misguided views that persons of black skin are inherently inferior in any way. We are all born with the same potential (absent some genetics, such as having parents who are geniuses or specially gifted). It’s always what we do with that potential that makes all the difference.