Who was Thomas Jefferson? Was he, as Dave Chappelle said (wrongly stating that George Washington wrote the Declaration of Independence) someone who wrote “all men are created equal” and then threatened to kill his black slave if the slave did not promptly bring him a sandwich? It makes for an amusing disparity of ideals on the stage, but does it have any basis in reality?
Granted, I am only two books into my research, but I would have to say it is a resounding NO! Sorry Dave, I love your stuff and consider you one of the best comedians of all time, but the truth will probably make your head explode, if you ever decide to read up on it.
For example, did you realize that Thomas Jefferson, as a young man, was a lawyer who represented a black slave in 1770 in a case trying to win his freedom? He lost, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, he took another case of the same kind in 1772. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson tried thoughout his entire life to abolish slavery, including by putting a passage about it in the Declaration of Independence?
Or how about some of these things, which I learned during my readings: Did you know that there were scores of free blacks in the years before and after the Revolutionary War? Did you know that there were blacks that even owned businesses, ran interracial churches and held political office? Did you know that there were thousands of blacks that fought in the Revolutionary War, and that some of these men distinguished themselves greatly?
I knew some of these things before I began reading about this man, but I did not know how passionate he was about freeing the slaves, or how devout he was in his Christian faith, which he believed required anyone desiring to be called a Christian to acknowledge that ALL men were created equal and naturally born free so that they might serve the Lord and no other. I had always heard that he was a gifted writer and an exceptionally bright academic, but I had no idea how immense an understatement were those approbations.
Over the last few years, I have been studying up on the Founders, and I have read a few books about Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. I have recently seen fit to change my perception of Jefferson, and I am in the middle of a series of books on him, and thought I might give my opinion to any who cared to read it.
The first book, which I have recently finished, is The Real Thomas Jefferson of the American Classic Series, published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, and written by Andrew M. Allison.
This was a fast read (and I am a champion slow reader), 334 pages of text with an additional 375 pages of citations supporting the work. The book introduces Jefferson in his childhood and talks about his upbringing and accomplishments as a young man, as well as what factors played a role in influencing him, which sheds a lot of light on the decisions he made later in life. It was an excellent book, and one I am sure I will draw on as a reference for years to come.
It was revealed to me, in this book, that I really did not know anything about this man. I had assumed for most of my life that he was considered a great man because he had written the Declaration of Independence. I was astonished to find that in reality, he had written the Decalaration because he was a great man, and it was his goodness that had made him great.
I never learned a tenth of the things in any history class that this book revealed, and I find myself humbled by the knowledge that such a man existed and was devoted to the birth and betterment of this country.
The second book, which I am nearly finished reading, is The Jefferson Lies, by David Barton. Now, having just finished the other book, you might think that I simply skimmed through Barton’s book, but this would be untrue.
I must admit that I am a fan of David Barton’s work, and I have several other books by him. I am gob-smacked at the sheer amount of evidence he has piled up to support his assertions about the common misperceptions or lies perpetuated by people who really never bothered to do any research on Jefferson. I am also ashamed to admit that I fell into that category for many years, as I simply assumed that educators were smarter than me and that they had devoted more time and study to these things than I, so who was I to argue with their findings?
What I have come to realize, just from these two books, is that these educators are either stupid or purposely misrepresenting the lives of the Founders. Because of that, we have several generations of people in this country who really believe that these men were “rich, white men who exploited and enslaved blacks.”
I am thankful for Mr. Allison and Mr. Barton helping to enlighten me, and I look forward to reading more about this great American patriot!