US History

Leave the Jefferson Memorial just the way it is

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If you thought the good, national tidings emanating from America’s solar eclipse would begin to bridge the racial divide arising from the recent fracas in Charlottesville, you’d be sadly mistaken. Worse, the open wounds are being poked and prodded by the very people who are responsible for reminding the public what unites – not divides – us as Americans.

Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith Public Domain

The Washington Examiner reports that the Jefferson Memorial will be “updated” to reflect the fact that the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States was a slaveholder.  The announcement was made by Catherine Perkins from the Trust for the National Mall (“Trust”), the non-profit partner of the National Park Service to preserve and restore the National Mall and Memorial Parks.

According to Perkins, the Jefferson Memorial “update” will mark the first in a series of historical revisions to landmarks under the Trust’s stewardship.  Projects supported by the Trust include the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the FDR Memorial.  According to Ms. Perkins:

Hate and violence have no place in our public discourse.  In the coming weeks and months, the physical symbols of American history and democracy will be scrutinized and challenged. We understand this debate is likely to extend to the National Mall, including many projects supported by the Trust.  When that happens, we will work with our partners to ensure the National Mall continues to be a vibrant and relevant place where Americans can learn about our history and imagine our future, together.

In other words, Ms. Perkins’ Trust is unilaterally surrendering to the likes of Al Sharpton even before he rounds up Black Lives Matter and some Antifa thugs to tear down the Jefferson Memorial altogether.  Instead of schooling the barbarians at the gate, better to placate them with a slice of our national integrity.

For sports fans and history buffs, this travesty is analogous to enshrining Barry Bonds to baseball’s Hall of Fame, while shaming him with an asterisk as a steroid user.  In Bonds’ case, the asterisk denotes something directly related to his accomplishments; the attacks on Jefferson are purely personal.  And while Bonds was a great player, Jefferson is literally on the Mount Rushmore of American history.

As a private citizen, Jefferson did own slaves, personally profited from the institution of slavery and kept Sally Hemmings as a mistress.  These facts are well-known and undisputed.

As a public figure, Thomas Jefferson opposed the institution of slavery.  On the northeast portico of the Jefferson Memorial itself are these words penned by Jefferson himself:

God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? 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 these people are to be free.

If you want to learn more about Thomas Jefferson the man, you need only drive two hours west of the Jefferson Memorial to his home in Monticello.  There, you can learn everything you want about Jefferson, the thinker; Jefferson, the architect; Jefferson, the inventor; Jefferson, the naturalist.

And, yes, even Jefferson, the slave owner.  In fact, you can embark on one of the daily “Slavery at Monticello” tours and download the free “Slavery at Monticello” app, if you so choose.

National memorials were not meant to expose the personal frailties of our leaders, but to celebrate the invaluable contributions they made to advance the American idea.

If we were to mark our collective remembrances of American heroes by their personal failings, we would denigrate George Washington as a slave owner, brand Abraham Lincoln a depressive, and chastise JFK, FDR, and MLK as adulterers.  In fact, there is a high likelihood that Washington will be the next target if Ms. Perkins and the “Trust” are not stopped now.

One prominent feature that has historically distinguished Americans from the rest of the world’s inhabitants is our shared spirit of optimism and hopefulness. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but never in doubt, we Americans may pause for reflection, but do not fall for introspection – and that’s a good thing.

Apparently, the Trust for the National Mall doesn’t get it.  Rick Manning, President of Americans for Limited Government, says the Trust’s actions are grounds for dismissal:

“Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke needs to set the record straight that a private non-profit group known as the Trust for the National Mall does not control memorial or museum content on the National Mall. While the money this non-profit, tax-exempt group raises to restore the Mall is appreciated, it does not give them the authority to change the Jefferson Memorial or any other statues in the name of political correctness. If the ‘Trust’ insists on changes, the Department of Interior should discontinue all ties with the group. The Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument are testimonies to honor the ideals exemplified in the founding by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, not to tear them down. They should be left just the way they are.”

Sources close to Interior Secretary Zinke express confidence that Zinke will not surrender control over the monuments to an associated non-profit, like the Trust.

Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.”  There is now a dangerous, concerted effort to have it rewritten by the appeasers.  Mr. Jefferson would not be pleased.

This is a guest post by Peter Hong a contributing reporter at Americans for Limited Government.

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