This week for American Founders’ Corner, let’s take a look at Thomas Jefferson whose statue was also torn down by a violent leftist mob recently in Portland, Oregon, supposedly an action taken against racial injustice.
Thomas Jefferson has always been honored in American history as one of America’s greatest leaders. He was the main author of our country’s Declaration of Independence and served as our nation’s 3rd President.
In the Declaration, Jefferson boldly laid out the justification for the 13 American colonies to seek independence from Great Britain. Pulling together the ideas and experiences of great religious and political reformers who preceded him, Thomas Jefferson articulately penned the Declaration of Independence, outlining the political philosophy and ideals which are the foundation of American government: liberty, individual rights, the purpose of government, the source of government’s power, and the help of God on which they would rely. This was a brand new, bold experiment in starting a nation.
As our 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson presided over the “Louisiana Purchase”, which was the purchase of the middle section of the United States from France, thus doubling the size of the land mass of our country. He also drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which served as a precursor to the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees free exercise of religion.
Thomas Jefferson had a great intellect: he was a thinker, philosopher, writer, innovator, creator, and scientist. He loved discovery, exploration, and experimentation. Some today claim he had no religious faith or was a deist, however, his writings have strong Christian overtones and sentiments expressed that these critics today would likely deride as those of an “extremist evangelical”.
As with Washington, Thomas Jefferson has been condemned for being a slave owner while totally ignoring his great contributions to our country. It is true that he participated in the slave trade and that he owned slaves throughout his lifetime, but that is only part of the story.
Thomas Jefferson also worked to end slavery in his home state of Virginia. Among other initiatives, he drafted a Virginia law that prohibited the importation of African slaves and when he became president he called for and signed the law abolishing the slave trade in 1807.
He wrote in a letter: “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other….And with what execration (condemnation) should the statesman be loaded who permits one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other….. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever…..The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest…..[T]he way, I hope [is] preparing under the auspices of Heaven for a total emancipation.” These sentiments are reflected in a number of letters written throughout his life.
We noted last time that the Virginia legislature made laws that for all practical purposes prohibited freeing slaves and that the British king, along with other tyrannical acts leading up to the War for Independence, struck down any colonial law prohibiting slavery.
Even though Washington was able to free his slaves at his and his wife’s death, the laws in Virginia had changed by the time Jefferson died, 26 years later, making freely one’s slaves virtually impossible.
No one believes Thomas Jefferson was a perfect person, but just like all of us, he labored to do what needed to be done to live up to the American ideal of liberty and equality for all. In no way does he deserve the disrespect and condemnation he has received from some. He has always been honored historically by all Americans, black and white alike, for his outstanding contributions to America and should continue to be honored today. We need to remember that we enjoy the many blessings of America because of Thomas Jefferson.