Thomas Jefferson’s Failure

Written By Brian R Murphy

Joy and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Monticello last May. Monticello is Thomas Jefferson’s plantation home in Virginia. Joy and I were in awe of this American landmark. However, we were also struck by competing emotions. One is reverence at being on the grounds of one of our Founding Fathers. The other is a much more ominous emotion.

It is obvious why Jefferson chose this spot to build his mansion. The view is one of the most amazing I have ever seen. The house is situated on top of a mountain, overlooking miles and miles of the country. The grounds are beautiful. The house is inspiring. However, slavery’s  impact on this place and in the building of our nation smacked me in the face.

How can someone write about the equality of all people while being a source of great cruelty? There is no other conclusion one can reach but to condemn Thomas Jefferson as a hypocrite. The non-profit that runs Monticello doesn’t sugar coat how slaves were treated. They point out this treatment and let Monticello’s visitors experience and reflect on those hypocrisies.

I began to consider whether Jefferson’s understood and battled his hypocrisy. I wondered if Jefferson concluded that his words should define a fundamental truth we could all work towards. That gave me hope: That even in the face of our own failings, we can look forward and see positive change. We all face hypocrisy in our lives. Our hope is that our failures can ignite growth.

Thomas Jefferson defined a fundamental truth that he failed to uphold. However, his words inspired generations of positive change.

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