Racial arsonist Al Sharpton is demanding the federal government shut down the historic Jefferson Memorial in the nation’s capital because the long-dead president honored by the monument owned slaves.
Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, the man who wrote the justly revered Declaration of Independence, is also the man who penned this noble sentence: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Perhaps he was thinking of future Al Sharptons when he wrote it.
Boiled down, this is a case where one of the most important, heroic, inspirational, intellectually robust, accomplished, and beloved figures in American history is under assault by one of the most repulsive, cowardly, sociopathic, intellectually deficient, unaccomplished, and despised figures in American history.
It was President John F. Kennedy who said at a White House dinner honoring a cohort of Nobel Prize winners from across the Western hemisphere:
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.
“Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet,” Kennedy said April 29, 1962.
No one has ever said anything similar about the dullard Sharpton, a vicious left-wing community organizer who, through his hate-filled racist and anti-Semitic rants, has gotten people killed.
That anyone would care what a racial-hoax-generating charlatan thinks of Jefferson’s legacy is a revealing and sad commentary on the profound damage that eight long years of Barack Obama’s racial agitations inflicted on America. Sharpton himself is a living example of this ugliness and depravity; recall that President Obama made the vile so-called community leader a trusted confidant and brought his friends, the pro-cop-killer leaders of Black Lives Matter, to the White House as honored guests.
Black Lives Matter is cheerleading the destruction of the republic. In light of recent events, Black Lives Matter Chicago is effectively demanding the repeal of the First Amendment. “After WWII, Germany outlawed the Nazis, their symbols, salutes & their flags. All confederate flags & statue, & groups should be illegal,” the group tweeted.
Minutes later it added, “The fact that the Confederate flag & statues permeate the south is evidence that white supremacy was never overthrown in the United States.”
Except maybe for the abolition of slavery, Jim Crow, and the advent of civil rights laws. Oops.
But this desire to settle scores by shutting down the Jefferson Memorial is part of the Maoist-style cultural revolution unleashed by the Left in the Obama era and amplified exponentially in the Trump era. Every day or so there is a new fake, race-related outrage amplified by the dishonest mainstream media and cheered on by the resurgent left-wing fascist movement known as antifa, which has been embraced in recent days by the so-called conservatives at National Review and Weekly Standard, as well as by Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Marco Rubio. Tearing down statues has suddenly become fashionable and plenty of establishment Republicans and conservatives are apparently fine with the mayhem.
They are aligning themselves with people like Al Sharpton who told CBS host Charlie Rose: “When you look at the fact that public monuments are supported by public funds you’re asking me to subsidize the insult of my family.”
“I would repeat that the public should not be paying to uphold somebody who has had that kind of background,” Sharpton said. “You have private museums, you have other things that you may want to do there.”
Jefferson “had slaves and children with his slaves,” he continued. “And it does matter.”
Well, it doesn’t matter as much as Sharpton suggests and the claim Jefferson fathered children by a female slave or slaves may not even be true. The story started circulating in the form of a political attack on Jefferson. DNA testing in recent years has revealed that Jefferson, or any of two dozen of his male relatives, may have fathered the children of Sally Hemings, a slave he owned.
Nor should the fact that someone in the past owned slaves when it was lawful and socially acceptable necessarily invalidate all of the person’s accomplishments. Slavery, which everyone today – except for parts of the Muslim world and perhaps a handful of spots elsewhere – acknowledges is a horrible, inhumane institution, used to be a well-accepted fact of life essentially everywhere in the world. At the time, slaves were property, after all; owners could more or less do what they wanted with them, no matter what we think of the institution today.
This does not excuse what we now consider to be bad behavior from the past but it does place it in its proper context. Jefferson, whether he turned a single slave he owned into a concubine, helped to lay the foundation for its eventual abolition in the United States. Lamenting the scourge of slavery, Jefferson famously wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just[.]”
When the Thirteen Colonies decided to break away from the British Empire, their leaders believed the new nation had to be as large and powerful as possible to survive, even if that meant allowing slavery in some of the new states. The Framers of the Constitution were largely opposed, and even embarrassed by slavery, which helps to explain why the Constitution forbade the importation of slaves after 1808 and did not even mention slaves or slavery. The compromise that allowed slaves to count as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of congressional apportionment wasn’t intended as an insult to the enslaved blacks, as Sharpton and other leftist demagogues routinely assert. It was inserted in the document to limit the voting power of the slave states in the hope that slavery could one day be abolished, or at least limited.
“One cannot question the genuineness of Jefferson’s liberal dreams,” historian David Brion Davis has written. “He was one of the first statesmen in any part of the world to advocate concrete measures for restricting and eradicating Negro slavery.”
So Jefferson embodies the contradictions of the American founding itself. When we condemn him, we condemn this great experiment in self-government we call the United States of America.
We can still respect and admire Jefferson even if he slept with a slave in his household, an allegation that has not been proven.
Something that Sharpton fails to grasp, or may be choosing to ignore, is that applying the ideas or moral standards of today to a bygone age is a very dangerous game that some call presentism. It is a recipe for disaster and it reflects the Whig view of history, a laughable school of thought that holds that progress toward enlightenment and other good things is constant and inevitable. Another way of putting is, things have never been better than they are today and each day things get better. It is not easily reconciled with the onset of the Dark Ages that followed the collapse of the violent but civilizing Roman Empire.
(One of the best explications of the icon-smashing, anti-Jefferson position is a piece, “Thomas Jefferson: Radical and Racist,” penned by Irish writer Conor Cruise O’Brien in 1996. Whether Sharpton has, or even could, read it, is unclear.)
And if the statue of Jefferson in his memorial is toppled as Sharpton demands, what happens next?
The U.S. Capitol and the White House were built with slave labor. By Sharpton’s logic, they too must be torn down.
If the same principle is applied consistently, everything associated with slave-owning presidents will have to come down.
A lot of pages will have to be ripped out of American history textbooks, faces painted out of historic works of art, and statues melted down or pulverized. The creators of PhotoShop will make a mint.
A quarter of the nation’s presidents will suddenly become unpersons.
Twelve (or 13 if you count James Buchanan – see below) of the nation’s 45 presidents owned slaves, and eight of them owned slaves while president. (Actually, there have only been 44 individuals who served as president – Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, served two nonconsecutive terms.)
Those who owned slaves while president were George Washington, Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor. Those who owned slaves but not while serving as president are Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant.
James Buchanan is a special case. In his home state of Pennsylvania, slavery was illegal. It could be said that he was not a slave owner de jure but was one de facto. While thinking about running for higher office, it donned on him that his sister’s ownership of two slaves in the then-slave state of Virginia could hurt him politically so he purchased them and made them indentured servants, bound to him for a fixed period of time. Historians Gary B. Nash and Jean R. Soderlund say many free blacks of the era lived in a sort of “twilight zone between slavery and freedom” in the Keystone State.
Tearing down statues of presidents that modern-day Americans may not even have heard of – thanks to the union-dominated public education system – benefits no one except maybe for demolition companies, the occasional real estate developer, and direct-mail firms servicing Democrats.
No good can come of it.