THE TEA Party era and uneducated fictionalists like Sean Hannity enjoy rewriting American history and hoisting on our founders qualities they don’t deserve.
As a strong admirer of Jefferson’s mind and engineering genius, just visit Monticello some time, his evil racism was obviously a product of the era, but it is no less diabolical.
The Smithsonian Magazine’s article on Jefferson, but also Washington, who we should remember first and foremost, is an important reminder of our history and why the right’s founders’ fetish doesn’t serve modern America.
In the 1790s, as Jefferson was mortgaging his slaves to build Monticello, George Washington was trying to scrape together financing for an emancipation at Mount Vernon, which he finally ordered in his will. He proved that emancipation was not only possible, but practical, and he overturned all the Jeffersonian rationalizations. Jefferson insisted that a multiracial society with free black people was impossible, but Washington did not think so. Never did Washington suggest that blacks were inferior or that they should be exiled.
It is curious that we accept Jefferson as the moral standard of the founders’ era, not Washington. Perhaps it is because the Father of his Country left a somewhat troubling legacy: His emancipation of his slaves stands as not a tribute but a rebuke to his era, and to the prevaricators and profiteers of the future, and declares that if you claim to have principles, you must live by them.