SAN JOSE, Calif., April 13, 2016 — Although April 13 is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, not many Americans will think of Jefferson today as they go about their daily routines. In fact, Jefferson does not make the news much these days at all, unless there is a link regarding the Declaration of Independence or the Sally Hemmings controversy.
Nevertheless, recently while Ben Carson was in his campaign mode for POTUS, and the media was trying their best to be nasty to him, some poorly informed and shallow media mongrels attacked Carson for not knowing that Thomas Jefferson had little to do with writing the Constitution of the United States.
Yet, it was the media elites that got the schooling as they were quite embarrassingly wrong.
To be fair, not many educated Americans would assume that Thomas Jefferson had anything to do with the Constitution, but most would remember him as the one who wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Not many Americans, uneducated in American history, would remember much about more Jefferson unless they were enthralled with the Sally Hemmings drama.
Yet, much more revealing is that those media elites who view themselves (and wish others to view them so) as highly educated are rarely snagged when they make mistakes. Most Americans are aware that the media elites are much more comfortable in making other people look foolish or stupid if they so choose.
In November of last year, Fred Barbash of the Washington Post and CNN’s Gregory Krieg both fell into a fool’s pit by attempting to make Ben Carson look as if he did not know his Jefferson because the good doctor made a statement regarding the influence that Jefferson played in the writing of the Constitution. The “professional journalists” seemed so eager to pile on and trash Carson that they ignored an essential historical reality, which is well documented.
The amazing reality is that although Thomas Jefferson was indeed not present in Philadelphia at the writing of the Constitution, the future secretary of state did influence James Madison via significant correspondence from across the Atlantic.
So, Thomas Jefferson does not make the news much anymore, which may be the underlying reason why contemporary media elite and journalists are a bit ignorant of Jefferson’s role in American history. However, while Jefferson is of one of the most important Founding Fathers, it is unfortunate that his birthday is not special to Americans or he is not readily remembered for many of the incredible things he did.
Unfortunately, there is no federal holiday to honor Jefferson on the day of his birth like holidays honoring others who have done things less remarkable than creating an intellectual or philosophical framework of thought that sparked and sustained American colonists’ fight for freedom.
Progressive-revisionist historians are often more interested in “re-examining” Jefferson in a manner that is more akin to cross-examining his reputation, as they are apt to do with many of the Founding Fathers who had a hand in creating the Land of the Free. Many are eager to delve into his relationship with his slave Sally Hemmings rather than examine or acknowledge his role in any efforts at freeing slaves. Instead, Jefferson is considered a hypocrite for writing the ideals in his most famous work and not putting into practice his own ideals.
Such limited perspective expresses either an ignorance of Jefferson or a deliberate bias against his character.
Thomas Jefferson suffered a great deal after the loss of his wife Martha in 1782, but emerged from his “stupor of mind which had rendered me dead to the world” and returned to public life a year later. During this time Jefferson wrote a bill designed to organize the Northwest Territory, which the United States had won from Great Britain after the War for Independence. That bill, which was later largely incorporated into the Northwest Ordinance, prohibited slavery in the new states that would be carved out of that area. It was Jefferson’s intent to bar slavery from all new states entering into the Union. However, his specific bill was defeated in Congress by one vote.
Jefferson was likely as upset about this as he was when he saw his original draft of the Declaration of Independence stripped of the parts condemning slavery. Of the defeat of his Northwest Territory bill, he wrote:
The voice of a single individual… would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country. Thus we see the fate of millions of unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, and Heaven was silent in that awful moment! But it is to be hoped that it will not always be silent, and that friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail.
Thomas Jefferson is full of surprises – especially for those who do not study his legacy very well. One year after writing the Declaration of Independence, he submitted his proposed bill for religious freedom in Virginia. His intent was to break the tyrannical hold the Church of England had over the religious convictions of his fellow Virginians. In essence, the Declaration of Independence was a political proclamation to separate from the British crown, while the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was the equivalent proclamation for separation from the Anglican Church.
And it is true that Thomas Jefferson served as minister to France in 1787 during the time of the writing of the U.S. Constitution. However, one of the people Jefferson had been regularly corresponding with during and after the Constitutional Convention was James Madison. Jefferson seriously disagreed with Madison over the absence of a bill of rights. In a letter to Madison dated Dec. 20, 1787, Jefferson stated, “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.”
The concepts outlined in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom for all practical purposes formed the core of the First Amendment to the new Constitution, as the Bill of Rights was formulated by Madison. Yet, at the core of such human rights expressed in the Bill of Rights and those that Jefferson initially expressed in the Declaration of Independence was the concept of man’s freedoms coming from God.
Especially the words of the Declaration of Independence were a powerful explanation to the rest of the world of why freedom itself was so important — “to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them.” It was the natural outcome of the ideal that all were “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This was not just an affirmation of faith, it was a demand of what human beings should expect in their lives on this planet.
What an incredible set of ideals – still! And, Thomas Jefferson deserves to be properly remembered for fighting for such ideals.