Would Thomas Jefferson be hunky dory with the stuff going on in America today? Would he dig how Americans respond to challenges? In other words, would he be happy with Americans today? The short answer is: who knows? Why? The question of ‘Would (historical figure) be happy with Americans today?’ is really a loaded question. The question assumes that we really know who Jefferson was. Remember, the public man and the private man can be two totally different things. In fact, the public persona of a historical figure is oftentimes a modern construction. In many situations, a historical figure is just a blank projector screen our modern scholars, elites, intelligentsia, taste makers, and influencers project their hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties on. The reality of a historical figure is overshadowed by his or her usefulness as an ideological sock puppet for today’s policy makers. Sadly, this is precisely what happened to Thomas Jefferson. Any serious reading of Thomas Jefferson’s history would rule out the question of whether he’d be happy today or not. Instead, people would want to leave him where he is-a man of the past living according to the realities of the past. Sadly, we are always caught in battles between myths. These battles are less concerned with historical realities than in using the symbols of the past to fight policy battles that will set up our future. To say that our current ‘reading into’ historical figures’ thoughts and significance does them a disservice and insults their memories is an understatement. We truly are in the business of ideological exhumations. Not a pretty business.
Jefferson the reality, the myth, the policy sock puppet
Thomas Jefferson, as a historical figure, had some high points. He, after all, wrote the declaration of Independence. He also played a role in the passage of the Bill of Rights. That’s all well and good. But if you read into his actions and his statements, he is hardly the cartoon partisans on the Right or the Left make him out to be. Sure, he believed in freedom. But he also feared the unified state that was tasked to protect the freedom. Yes, he can be read to favor equality among peoples but it is claimed that the Sally Hemmings affair indicates that he is at least ambivalent when it comes to the equality of people. After all, the man was a slave owner. The truth is, Jefferson was a man of his times. He was a giant of times. Let him be. Let him stay in the past. Digging him up figuratively to stretch his words or put words in his mouth outright neither does his memory a favor nor does it advance the truth now. What if he has worse hair as before (he should visit GrowHairGuru in this day and age for some tips)? It would be nice to see ideological and policy battles played out in the figurative nude. Stop digging up ‘heroes” quotes. Instead, use common logic and the time-tested cost benefit analysis to chart policy directions.