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 accomplishment 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 desires 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.