In recent discussions about “Black Lives Matter,” a once respected former journalist suggested that lawmakers consider removing the Jefferson Memorial because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.
CNN’s Ashley Banfield stated, “There is a monument to him in the capital city of the United States. No one ever asks for that to come down.” Her cohort Don Lemon responded, “There may come a day when we may want to rethink Jefferson, I don’t if we should do that. But when we get to that point, I’ll be happy to partake in that particular discussion.”
Jefferson did own slaves whom he inherited from his father and freed upon his death. He also fathered children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.
However, Banfield, Lemon, and ever other American, should read what Jefferson wrote about slavery and visit the memorial to learn that he consistently argued against it. He actually discussed with other Founding Fathers whether or not the Bill of Rights should include language to abolish slavery.
Among many thousand of Jefferson’s writings, one in particular, is noteworthy, especially for those suggesting the removal of the monument. Located on the freize encircling the memorial’s interior, is a quote from a letter Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Rush in 1800. He said:
I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
Inside the memorial on each of the chamber’s walls are carved four significant quotations.
- On the southwest, an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence (which he primarily authored).
- On the southeast, a statement on the evolution of law and the constitution (from an 1816 letter written to Samuel Kercheval).
- On the northwest, six quotations from Jefferson’s “1786 Notes of Virginia” and “Summary Views.” (They best illustrate his belief that slavery was evil and that the masses be educated.)
- On the northeast, a quote from the “Act of Religious Freedom” adopted in 1779, which eliminated the state church of Virginia. (Jefferson was a staunch advocate for freedom of religion– from government overreach).
Also noteworthy–for those who claim Jefferson was a deist–the Smithsonian holds one of only two biblical texts Jefferson produced.
Jefferson was devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ. He compiled an 84-page book six years before he died, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, bound in red leather. His work was a result of researching six copies of the New Testament in Greek, Latin, French and King James English. Jefferson said that Jesus provided,
the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has never been offered to man.”
A copy of his book was previously given to members of Congress after they were sworn into office.
Removing the monument is an incredibly absurd suggestion. President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that the ground breaking for the monument’s construction begin on the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth, specifically to honor his special role in America’s founding. Not withstanding Jefferson’s historical significance, the monument’s white, open-air, neoclassical marble structure is a sight to behold– especially at night from the 14th Street Bridge, or during the spring when the Cherry Blossoms are in full bloom.
August, 7, 2015