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A historical perspective of Thomas Jefferson

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November 16, 2015

10:59 PM

Discussion is one of the most powerful, effective and necessary components of a progressive society. Individuals must challenge preconceived notions, break through barriers of concrete morality and shape a future for humanity. This all involves a high level of open-mindedness, which I deem absent from a current protest on campus. Recently, the Thomas Jefferson statue was covered in notes saying “rapist,” “bigot,” etc. Upon seeing this, I could not help but become overwhelmingly irritated at the aggressive and one-dimensional manner of the protest. The notes effectively sparked discussion, yes, but their message is entirely a product of a society that sees the world as black and white; you’re either politically correct, or you’re wrong.

Our country’s history is a multi-dimensional realm of stories and lessons; one that requires open-minded discussions to be made useful for our modern day world.

Thomas Jefferson indeed committed humanitarian crimes. I am not negating that, nor am I downplaying the gravity of his heinous actions. What I will do is put these actions into proper context. Thomas Jefferson lived in an America where privileged white males had servants and slaves, and where women were bound by rules of the patriarchy. He lived at a time when African Americans were considered 3/5 human. This was an age where abuse, ownership and cruelty were not thought twice about. These were the sins of his society: the darkness contrasting the revolutionary light, a collective wrong.

That all being said, does this mean his reverence, his statue, his status as a founding father should be removed?

No, it does not.

If you peruse a history textbook, or simply walk around campus, it should be clear to see that humanity’s past has built upon itself to give us our present day. Every single event in history has contributed to what our society is, and what it will be. Our country’s history is a multi-dimensional realm of stories and lessons; one that requires open-minded discussions to be made useful for our modern day world. Calling for the removal of a statue because a white male lawyer in the 18th century owned a slave is not logical, nor does it make us a progressive society.

Progression results from understanding all aspects of who Jefferson was. It is looking at his statue and comprehending the evils, revering the intellect and combining both into a lesson for a better tomorrow. Just as we do not tear up the Constitution (which happened to be written by white, bigoted male lawyers), we do not remove a symbol of America’s founding. It is certainly not just to turn a blind eye on the evils of the past, but it is not right to ignore the greatness that might have dwelled in the same century, and even in the same man.

Email Jenny Cosgrove at [email protected]

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About Author

  • Jennifer Cosgrove

  • Patrick Lee

    For those who would take Cosgrove’s thoughts to heart and be challenged to investigate Mr. Jefferson more completely, a good place to start would be his blog.
    Yes, even Thomas Jefferson blogs now! Several times each week, he posts briefly on a variety of topics.
    Last Friday’s post was, “I am very anxious to obtain the disease here.”
    Yesterday’s was, “Wrestling with hypotheticals is a time-suck.”
    Check out the blog at 573 posts and counting …

  • naksuthin

    We give Thomas Jefferson too much credit. He lived in an age when only white men were considered “men”. His references to “life , liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was strictly confined to members of his own race…and only the male members.
    Today we take his words and twist them in a way that Thomas Jefferson would object to. Today “men” means everyone…men and women, black and white.
    That’s NOT what Jefferson ever intended those words to mean.

    4 years before his death In his 1820 letter to John Wayles Eppes Jefferson said of women slaves: “I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm,” Jefferson remarked in 1820. “What she
    produces is an addition to the capital, while his labors disappear in
    mere consumption.”

    Those are not the words of someone who believes that “all men are created equal”.
    Those are the words of a slave owner and businessman

  • TriciaS

    History – as in current times – is populated by imperfect, fallible human beings. Each man or woman is a product of his DNA, his family, his society, and the culture around him. All that leads to an amalgamation of both good and bad character traits, thoughts, and deeds. To call for the destruction of Thomas Jefferson’s statue is unintellectual and displays an ignorance of human nature.

    No person we honor is perfect! MLK Jr was notorious for his extramarital affairs; Mahatma Gandhi called blacks “savages” and “uncivilized” and had opinions on women that don’t even approach a high bar of chauvinistic; and automaker Henry Ford was a raging anti-Semite – he was the only American mentioned in “Mein Kampf and was given a medal by Hitler.”

    Is the correct response a Soviet-style one, to strike their names from every building, statue or public edifice in order to “erase the shame” of their existence? These men above, including Thomas Jefferson, have given our modern times greater gifts than the sum total of their personal deficits. Let us do justice to the education that William & Mary has helped us acquire and have both discussions and decisions give evidence of our intelligence, candor, and good will.
    Tricia Stevenson, Class of 1989