Category Archives: History

Jefferson Fought Slavery Throughout His Life

by Robert F. Turner

Thomas Jefferson famously declared that “all men are created equal,” yet he owned hundreds of human beings during his lifetime. Does he deserve our respect?

Slavery was obviously a heinous institution and Thomas Jefferson did own slaves. That has led some very decent people to denounce him as a hypocrite and demand the removal of his statues and the renaming of public buildings—including our own regional public library — as we seek a more just and inclusive society. But I believe they are profoundly mistaken. Having studied Jefferson for a half-century, I view him as a hero who should be loved by friends of liberty and justice across political and racial lines and around the globe.

Certainly, his critics are correct that Jefferson owned slaves and that slavery was, in Jefferson’s own words: “a moral and political depravity,” “an abomination,” and a “hideous blot.” But there is much more to the story. When Jefferson inherited slaves upon the deaths of his father and father-in-law, it was illegal to free them. It was Thomas Jefferson who drafted the law in 1769 — ultimately enacted 13 years later — that permitted the manumission of Virginia slaves. Continue reading

Open Letter to Lily West

Double click on image to see legible version of the ad.

Letter from Jefferson Council board member Joel Gardner to Lily West, president of the University of Virginia Alumni Association, Richard Gard, editor of the alumni association magazine Virginia, Whitt Clement, rector of the Board of Visitors, and the university counsel:

As a Board member of the Jefferson Council and a member of the University’s Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry, I was astonished and appalled to learn of the Alumni Association’s decision to reject and cancel the Jefferson Council’s most recent submission for an ad in the next edition of the alumni magazine (found above). This decision to blatantly silence the Jefferson Council’s attempt to open a fair and open dialogue throughout the University community concerning the efforts to discredit and vilify our illustrious founder is particularly poignant on the eve of the celebration of Mr. Jefferson’s greatest triumph–our Declaration of Independence.

This striking affront to our freedom of expression is particularly meaningful to me, as I just returned from a three day trip to Philadelphia with my Canadian born and raised wife to visit the foundations of our great and unique republic–the existence of which is so much attributable to our founder Mr. Jefferson. Without his efforts, it is doubtful that our country would exist in the form that it does today–and I realize that there is a good chance I would not be here presently, my ancestors probably having been eliminated by the forces of the Tsar, Hitler or Stalin. Continue reading

Your Alumni Association Dollars at Work

by James A. Bacon

Above is an ad that The Jefferson Council submitted to run in the University of Virginia Alumni Society, Virginia. Before I tell you the fate that befell this ad, please take a moment to read it, and then ask yourself: Is there anything political about it? Is there anything contentious about it? Is there anything inaccurate about it?

Sure, you might disagree with the thrust of the ad. Maybe you think, like many people at UVa do, that Jefferson deserves to be remembered in history as a slave-holding rapist. But, really, do you find anything objectionable about the facts, the quotes or the tenor of the presentation?

Now, you might think that the association representing the alumni of the university that Jefferson founded might be willing to publish a paid ad defending his reputation. And you would be wrong. Continue reading

A New Classic on Thomas Jefferson and Public Education in Virginia

Courtesy University of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

On April 29, 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed a group of Nobel Prize winners at a dinner in their honor at The White House.

Kennedy, raised patrician, classically educated and fired in war and politics graciously toasted another such man.

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

The polymath Jefferson saved the indulgence of a great passion, public education and the creation of a new style of American university, until his last years.

Influenced early by the writings on education of Sir Francis Bacon and John Locke, he completely re-imagined higher education in America from what consisted in 1800 largely of a few colleges teaching religion and the classics under church leadership and funding.

Jefferson’s idea of the university was an institution publicly funded and teaching republican ideals for the preservation of the form of government he and the other founders had labored so hard and risked so much to bring about.

It emphasized education in history, languages, the principles of the Enlightenment and the sciences with graduate schools in law and medicine. Of those he thought history to be the most critical of all to the preservation of freedom. Continue reading