[NOTE: On my old blog I wrote a series on Thomas Jefferson regarding hatred toward him, his views on slavery and religion, and the Sally Hemmings scandal. The goal was to address misinformation about the best most intelligent United States President. Here is the series in full – C.B. Scott]
The stereotypical god-like praise for the Founding Fathers are pounded into the mind’s of American children beginning in grade school. It is not uncommon to develop a nihilist point of view towards these sage historical figures. But when one matures and learns about the issue of individual freedom and how our country’s ideals came to be, the Founding Fathers become a central icon for liberty. In my opinion, there is no greater hero than the Sage of Monticello himself: Thomas Jefferson. Most know him from the lowly nickel, but Jefferson, our third president has done far more for establishing the theme of personal freedom, fighting against the forces who threaten our liberties, and most importantly, built up the wall that stands today between the Church and State.
“Mr. Jefferson, build up that wall!”
Because of his importance, I will be doing a short series on him throughout the month to go over his accomplishments and legacy. My more pessimistic readers will already have a list in their head about all the scandals and myths regarding Mr. Jefferson. Rest assured, I will also try to cover the more popular stories about the president to debunk any false ones.
As with nearly every single historical figure, American Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson possesses his fair share of misinformation, brain rot, and defaming untruths. Recently, the University of Virginia president, Teresa Sullivan, quoted Thomas Jefferson during a speech on campus and a petition of over 469 signatures was created in response. Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, held that as one of his biggest accomplishments in his epitaph – listing it above being president, “Author of the Declaration of Independence [and] of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia.” But in today’s society, not even the most secular, freedom loving, slavery hating Founding Father is safe from criticism.
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Noelle Hurd, who started the petition tried to defend her actions, “I think that Jefferson is often celebrated for his accomplishments with little or no acknowledgement of the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings” The atrocities mentioned was the ownership of slaves. Anyone with a high school education would know that Jefferson was a stanch opponent of slavery calling it a “moral depravity” and a “hideous blot”. Slavery stood against everything Jefferson held dear, including the all-important idea of personal liberty – of which slavery is unnatural. In 1778, Jefferson wrote a law to prohibit importing African slaves. Again, in 1784, he tried to pass an ordinance that would ban slavery in Northwest Territories.
Many opponents of Jefferson even try to use Jefferson’s own words against him. In an article in the Atlantic, Conor Cruise O’Brien – through his drivel – tried to pin the terms “Radical and Racist” to Mr. Jefferson. O’Brien really had to reach far by using the quote used in the Jefferson Memorial to tag him as a racist. The quote is as follows: Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.
O’Brien continues the quote to include the rest of Jefferson’s sentence, “Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.” Now, a rational adult would take this as it was meant: to say that if the two races were made equal, by abolishing slavery, there would be incredible tension between the two. Which of course there was tension. From the Emancipation Proclamation to even today, there has been ugly discrimination which most people today wouldn’t dare to defy.
What O’Brien claims this quote means is, “In short, these people are to be free, and then deported. Jefferson’s teaching on that matter is quite clear”. If anyone needs a definition of “Brain Rot” here we have it. This article was published in the early 90’s, and no doubt Mr. O’Brien cringes in regret – for no amount of untruth has been published in The Atlantic since. But the stigma lives on – and lives on Virginia University no less.
If we as a nation truly desire secular tolerance in America, we need to stop the friendly fire. Thomas Jefferson is centuries ahead of his time, and with writers like Conor O’Brien, Jefferson seems ahead of our time as well.
The Religion of Thomas Jefferson
The Founding Fathers are tirelessly put in a heroic and religious light. Schools and organizations with a more holy influence try to fit these morally superior men into their own spheres of thought, or lack thereof – but the Founding Fathers were far from religious. They were agnostic at most – but none were more skeptical, and thoughtful than Thomas Jefferson who, in his work, has done strenuous work to free people from the clutch of the church.
Having had recently suffered from the First Great Awakening in the mid 1700’s the British colonies saw a major move to the church – more specifically, the Anglican Church. Seeing the chance for regional power that was impossible in Europe, the Anglican Church took the opportunity for power. In Thomas Jefferson’s beloved state of Virginia, the church took extreme actions to secure their hold on the land. In short, the state and the religion became intertwined. Public officials in Virginia must swear to the 39 articles of the Anglican church; the general assembly of Virginia made it a crime to violate church doctrine; the 1705 statute required anyone who held office to believe in the Christian church in order to, “hold and enjoy any office or employment, ecclesiastical, civil, or military”.
At the time, more loose doctrine started to challenge and take away from the Anglican Church. Churches such as the Baptist and Presbyterian started to take members away from the Anglican hold – sparking more authoritarian action from the ruling religion. Anyone who was not a member of their specific church was labeled “dissenters” – mainly those who were a part of the new realism movement. In response, all ministers must be licensed and registered with the church. If not, they would be considered “street preachers” and were jailed for heresy. This cannot go on in any healthy society, but certainly not in Jefferson’s homestead.
IN PUBLIC LIFE: Thomas Jefferson, a liberty-loving open-minded man, seems to have never been very religious. And from the very beginning of the creation of the new Union, he had been hard at work to make America a secular, freedom loving nation. There is, of course, the freedom to exercise religion clause in the Declaration of Rights – but Jefferson originally submitted a draft for a more bold stance in religion:
“All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution”
This was struck down by the general assembly – but Jefferson’s work did not stop there. When the new Virginia General Assembly met, Jefferson’s first purposeful was to repeal the tax funding of the Anglican Church. Seeing as less than half of all Virginians were Anglican, the tax funding was an insult and an infringement on the rights of his fellow Virginians. The result was that all “dissenters” were exempt from paying any tax to the church – thus the beginning of the end of the Churches hold.
The next step was Jefferson’s prized Act to Establish Religious Freedom. To win support, Jefferson reasoned that “the Almighty God hath created the mind free” so that the “religious opinions and beliefs” must also remain free. Just like that, Jefferson freed the nation as well as the mind of compulsory church devotion. This accomplishment is listed in his epitaph along with his authorship of the Declaration of Independence as well as his founding of the Virginia University who has recently disappointed their founder by banishing any quotes from him. Notice the three accomplishments he wanted to be remembered for and you will see that his leadership in the revolutions in America and France; leadership in the Barbary Wars; and being the 3rd President of the United States was not mentioned. Instead, his voice of reason through the Declaration of Independence, religious freedoms, and his founding of the University is his shining pride.
HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON AUTHOR OF THE
DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND THE FATHER
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
IN PERSONAL LIFE: It was in Jefferson’s more personal works that we see his real feelings toward religion. Mr. Jefferson even created his own version of the New Testament by taking a knife to it – cutting out anything that is fantastic, or wicked, or mythical, or silly – creating an extremely shorter version. In his view, Christianity was a silly concept of which defiles reason. Any action in the direction of reason was a good one in his eyes:
“No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in it’s advances towards rational Christianity. when we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus, when, in short, we shall have unlearned every thing which has been taught since his day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples: and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from his lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian. I know that the case you cite, of Dr Drake, has been a common one. the religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its founder an imposter…”
Many people believe that the founding fathers were agnostic at best, but some like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens think that if certain scientific discoveries were around at the time of the fathers, then they would definitely be atheists. This idea pronounces itself in the discussion of slavery – and on the very Jefferson Memorial itself, he is quoted saying, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish a law for educating the common people. It is the business of the state and on a general plan.”
Many Americans today would be shocked to hear the Founding Father speaking so. Jefferson, himself, would be shocked to know about certain traditions we have today such as National Day of Prayers, including god in our currency, and god in the pledge of allegiance. What is even more surprising is how comfortable Congress was with secularism at Jefferson’s time. At the end of the Barbary Wars, Jefferson and his Congress wrote and unanimously passed the Peace Treaty stating that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”
Rather than turn away from the our Founding Fathers, I would hope respect is kept for them, remembering that they were centuries ahead of their time – the only men capable to fully and successfully create such an amazing Union. Thomas Jefferson, above the rest, stood for reason and thought, especially in the face of religious supremacy. Who today have the balls to stand up against irrational beliefs so fervently? Using Jefferson’s own words, I beg that everyone could find it in them to, “question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear”
Thomas Jefferson on Slavery
It is of no exaggeration to say that Thomas Jefferson, or any of the Founding Fathers, were far ahead of their time. But when it comes to the rather repulsive issue of slavery, Thomas Jefferson is at least 100 years ahead of his time. Having had seen so many uneducated claims that Jefferson was a racist and a bigot on social media, news articles, and more recently within the University of Virginia: the very University Jefferson founded, I have been called to action to try and clear some of the myths – the biggest myth being his stance on slavery.
The author of the Declaration of Independence, and the one who coined the term that “all men are created equal”, Thomas Jefferson is known as the sage of Monticello, and the Sage of liberty. Having said that, it is difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that such negative and slanderous rumors have boiled out of the uneducated masses of the young left. And yet, here we are: at a point in history where we must defend an anti-slavery, pro-liberty Founding Father of America. Assistant Professor of Psychology, Noelle Hurd, who started a petition against using Jefferson in quotes on the Virginia University campus has claimed, “I think that Jefferson is often celebrated for his accomplishments with little or no acknowledgement of the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings”
Let’s unpack this claim – Jefferson must be spinning around in his grave at this point. “the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings” – I cannot think of any atrocities committed besides Jefferson and the slaves. Before we go into that, it is important to first look at his words and actions in regards to slavery. It is a well known and documented fact that Jefferson was completely anti-slavery stating it is a “moral depravity” as well as a “hideous blot” on mankind’s history. Furthermore, he believed that slavery posed the greatest threat to the survival of America as a nation due to its divisiveness and suppression of life and liberty. When the Founding Fathers began the legislation to start the new nation, Jefferson was adamant about including the abolition of slavery. In his home state of Virginia in 1778 – a hundred years before Lincoln’s time – Jefferson drafted a law that would prohibit the importation of enslaved Africans. Just 6 years later, Jefferson came back to propose an ordinance to ban slavery in the Northwest Territories (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan area). Arguably, having these territories set the North up for an anti-slavery stance during the pre-Civil War tensions. In the Jefferson Memorial itself, a quote by Jefferson states that, “I tremble for my country to think that god is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever” – noting the deplorable slavery of hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia alone.
The failure of the majority of his propositions has mainly been attributed to the reality of slavery already so depended on and entrenched in the economy and culture of the young nation. When Jefferson was born, slavery had already existed to far too long – nearly 75 years! He grew up around it and luckily rejected the depravity. At the point of death, the slave population in Virginia had reached almost 450,000. Jefferson had hopped that the North’s abolition of slavery would, in time, lead to the overall elimination of slavery – and of course he was wrong. He did take an incredibly brave stance against slavery that ultimately lead to the anti-slavery North and arguably influenced Lincoln’s point of view as well – in a letter from 1859, Lincoln explains his thoughts on Jefferson’s ideals, saying:
All honor to Jefferson – to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.
Anyone, including the uninformed masses at the University of Virginia, claiming Jefferson was a force for evil clearly have no idea what they are talking about. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if these people’s brains have succumbed to rot so far to their core that they would claim Lincoln was pro-slavery. It does exist.
The last point that must be made is one that is probably at the center of the anti-Jeffersonian rhetoric – that is the fact that Jefferson owned slaves. A lesser known fact, but Jefferson had bondsman on his property of Monticello. In the book Author of America, it i mentioned that Jefferson received the slaves from his father in-law and begrudgingly kept some of them. In time he did free seven of the members of the Hemmings family – the family I will talk about in a later post. The slaves he did keep were known to have been treated exceptionally well. One problem with freeing large groups of slaves is that they ran the risk of being captured and re-enslaved to a worse matter than before. Because of that, freeing all of his slaves was just not practical or ideal for the bondsman. Jefferson was a lover of freedom and loved his slaves like his own family – there is still a small graveyard at Monticello where Mr. Jefferson buried his slaves. A practice that is largely unheard of. Like I said, I will go into the Hemings relationship with Jefferson in a later post, but let me leave this one with a quote that perfectly embodies Jefferson’s feelings about slavery from a letter to Thomas Cooper in 1814:
There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.
Jefferson and the Sally Hemming Scandal
Perhaps one of the biggest flaw in human reasoning is readily accepting truths before researching the facts. This is the case for far too many issues today, but everyone falls victim to this flaw at least once – I, victim to this human error more than I can count. The scandal regarding Thomas Jefferson and his slaves is one that I have not truly researched and accepted for fact until now.
The rumors from the 1700’s to DNA tests in the 1990’s have damned Jefferson’s reputation and deemed him a rapist. If, indeed, Jefferson did have a relationship with his slaves, it may only help his anti-slavery stance. But the damning part about the scandal is that he was labeled a rapist. This fact the the author of the Declaration of Independence was a rapist could stain his freedom-loving reputation with hypocrisy and racism. Thankfully, for those who revere Jefferson as a man of morality and liberty, it is not true.
The story that originally got so much attention was the DNA test that claimed Thomas Jefferson was the father of at least 2 of Sally Hemings children. The reason for the immediate attention is simply because we love a good scandal. The drama of our past still lives through a Lifetime Network-like need for drama. The very first studies that caught the public eye is the 1953 study by Fawn Brodie that seemed to have hinted at the Heming relationship. From there the rumors spread to more publications by historian Henry Randall who claimed, “She [Hemings] had children which resembled Mr. Jefferson so closely that it was plain that they had his blood in their veins … He [Randolph] said in one instance, a gentleman dining with Mr. Jefferson, looked so startled as he raised his eyes from the latter to the servant behind him, that his discovery of the resemblance was perfectly obvious to all.”
These hearsay claims are not without legitimate studies to accompany it. The 1998 DNA study sealed Mr. Jefferson’s fate by claiming with 100% certainty that Sally Heming’s son, Eston was his child. This study is based on the Y-chromosome of the sons of Miss Hemings to link the males together. The only problem is that Jefferson’s DNA was not used and he did not have any descendants to use for DNA. There have been many protests to the study due to it’s faulty science. Dr. Eugene Foster investigated the claims and found that it is extremely unlikely to have any DNA link between Heming’s children and Mr. Jefferson. (4) In fact, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In a collaborative study, PBS published the evidence attempting to debunk the bogus studies of the past (5) :
1. Tested Subjects
Thomas Jefferson had no male descendants to test so a direct link to Sally Hemings children could not be tested. To run the DNA test, Eugene Foster used material from male relatives to Jefferson. So the results leave 8 possible father’s if the results are positive…and the results gives a <1% probability.
2. Rare Halotype
The average frequency of a genetic halotype like Jefferson’s is about 1.5%. It has never been observed outside the Jefferson family, and it was not found among a sample of 670 European or 1,200 people worldwide – and not found in Heming’s children
3. Nonspecific DNA results
In Dr. Foster’s results, he found that the 1% match was with Eston Hemings and the descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s Uncle, Field Jefferson. This leads us to the next problem with the results
4. Multiple Possible links
The DNA tests indicated that any one of 8 Jeffersons could have been the father of Eston with a 1% certainty and there was nothing to indicate it was Thomas. The 8 possibilities identified by the DNA tests are Thomas, Randolph (Jefferson’s brother), Randolph’s 5 sons, and a cousin George and in 5 of Randolph’s sons, who were in their teens or 20’s when Sally Hemings was having children.
5. Misleading results
Again, the most damning part of the case against Jefferson is the drama oriented media. The media reacts to good juicy stories like the public does: it accepts it as fact if they want it to be a fact. After the DNA test came out, CNN reported the study with the headline “Jefferson Fathered Slave’s Last Child”.
6. New Results
In March of 2000, new DNA results came from the Woodson Association to show that “beyond any reasonable doubt that Thomas Jefferson was not the father”. The only reason the results did not get as much attention is because it did not conform to the more Jerry Springer-like results.
7. Grave located
Those who desire a Heming-Jeffersonian link keep claiming they know where William Hemings grave is. William Hemings, the missing link the Hemming family is basing their relationship on. But the true grave has finally been found and negates any facts relying on the original grave site and puts any other facts relying on oral history in a skeptical light.
8. Thomas Jefferson Exhumation
If Thomas Jefferson were exhumed for Y chromosome DNA testing it would only confirm that he carried the same Y chromosome as the other 7 Jeffersons in question. The only way this would not be true is if Thomas Jefferson were illegitimate. Besides being futile, it is very unlikely that there would be usable DNA that could be tested after so many years.
The genetic trail also could have been broken in subsequent generations if any of the mothers in the presumed chain actually had her son by a man outside the Jefferson line. Some of the Hemings’ lines cannot be tested, as there are no male line descendants.
In short, this scandal has gone on for far too long and has even tarnished Jefferson’s reputation to such an extent that he is labelled a racist and bigot by the Black Lives Matters organization. If only there are more fact checkers to spread the word. The lesson to this: questions everything, because ignorance is a strong weapon. So strong, it has blemished the strongest warrior of freedom. That should be enough to disturb anyone who values facts and skepticism.