The Real Reason I Hate Thomas Jefferson
Ted Mosby. NASA’s budget. Kirk’s characterization in the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Thomas Jefferson’s bad stair opinions. These are all topics that if brought up around me, I will more likely than not become so enraged one will have to sit through a 30+ minute lecture on why I hate that thing.
Thomas Jefferson is not someone I particularly admire. It’s not just his aforementioned terrible opinions on staircases, but really in general I simply do not like the man. This ire began back in my AP US History class when we learned about Sally Hemings. The first time I went to Monticello I just thought, “Ugh, this literally is the most annoying human.” I looked at his office, filled with books and a fancy writing desk, and gazed out of the window from which many of his slaves quarters were visible. I imagined this man waxing poetic about freedom at that desk, in a mansion built and run by those he refused to grant it to.
I hated his dumb alcove bed and I hated his steep tiny stairs and I hated his nursery stuck up in the second floor because if a child cried in the middle of the night for their mother, she would have to extricate herself from his too small alcove bed, climb the almost ladder like staircase (because he thought normal stairs were impractical), holding her skirt and candle, and then try and grow a third arm to also carry her child back down that horrendous set of stairs, and crawl over her unhelpful husband, back into a poorly circulated alcove bed. Because, well, TJeff saw some stuff in Paris so hey, “Let’s build a house as uncomfortable for my guests and servants as possible because I’m a Francophile.”
For the record Abigail Adams hated staying in his home because of that awful alcove bed.
Most of those feelings were forgotten, but then came Hamilton, reminding me that I honestly couldn’t stand the guy. And now of course people’s conversations seemed to land on the topic of our Founding Fathers more often, and so did my disdain for our third president come bubbling up to the surface.
In general, I’m an introspective person. I noticed that Jefferson has become a rantable subject for me. Here’s a perhaps obvious statement; things don’t make it onto my rant list unless I have some sort of personal problem. For example, there are plenty of fictional characters I dislike, but I rant about Ted Mosby because I saw myself in Robin Sherbatsky. It’s not just thinking How I Met Your Mother ended terribly,which it did, it’s about the Ted Mosbys in my own life.
So as I noticed Thomas becoming a rantable subject, I asked myself, “why?”
The answer was uncomfortable.
Thomas Jefferson is one for the great hypocrites of America and I fear a similar type of hypocrisy within myself.
The day I started this piece, I had earlier flopped onto my bed, moaning into the sheets, “Uggghhhh. Why can’t I write?” Now, I’ve gone for long stretches before where I didn’t publish something, but usually I was still writing for myself. They were oftentimes things I thought were well written but there was no real need for them to be out in the world. I just wanted to write. Like a comparative look at two TV shows I was watching, but no one else was, or some sort of examination of religious culture that was far too long.
But since November 8th? Nothing. Not really. I scrambled together some things for social media, and perhaps tried to paste together a few things that weekend, but really, it all froze at my fingertips.
My roommate, hearing my muttering suggested, “Why don’t you write about why you can’t write?” Sarah June gives excellent advice, so I didn’t argue. I had inklings of why, but this would force me to put it into words. So I sat down and out came my above anger at Thomas Jefferson. Which brings us back to the conclusion I’d finally come to a while ago. My fear of hypocrisy.
While I am yet no where near as good a writer as he, perhaps one day I will be. I am very good, and with time and growth, who knows what masterpieces I will paint with words. But what if words are all I ever do well? I haven’t been able to write since the day of our election, and, I might add, my swearing an oath of enlistment a few short hours after, because I have now stuck myself on a life path that is filled with it’s fair share of moral grey patches. Now, I understand and am willing to make hard choices, but as I think back to that advanced desk that sits in Monticello, I hope I have the moral fortitude to not make the kind of decisions Thomas Jefferson did. I hope that I have enough of a backbone to do what is right regardless of how much it may impact me personally or politically.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
What powerful words. That is perhaps one of the most important and influential things ever written, and we are fortunate that so many have been able to actually interpreted those words into action. But not their author. So oft did he choose what was convenient over doing something hard. Of course he left other legacies, like the University of Virginia, but his continued prioritization of self comfort over moral decency has done quite its fair share of harm.
Sometimes, maybe while I’m out jogging, or as I drift off to sleep, the question comes into my mind, “Which choice would you make?” For a while, I thought I knew. But then the unexpected came, in so many things personally and professionally, and all of a sudden, the path I’d imagined taking wasn’t there, now replaced by one I could only guess where it would lead. All I could tell is it looked much harder than the one I originally expected to travel. I didn’t know if I could do it. And by it I don’t mean take the path, I mean do the right thing when I’m on it. What if I ended up like Jefferson, ever the master of the English language, but never with enough will to be strong when it really mattered. An idealist preaching peace for all, yet somehow oblivious to the needs of those around me.
That, plus the heartbreak I was feeling was enough to stop up the words.
I must make a brief aside, as I’ve not been able to quite articulate what I mean by heartbreak, and now I seem to have found my words again. When I say I feel heartbroken, I’m not whining because “my side lost.” Though I think everyone that has ever interacted with me knows where I personally lie on the political spectrum, I also appreciate diversity of thought, and a healthy debate. I also understand that soon I will professionally be an apolitical entity, a principal I support, as I believe VERY strongly in a civilian held military. But I have felt a level of grief I have not yet ever known these past few months. I wept at the Air Force memorial, reading the words of a man who gave gladly gave everything, dying over France, defending Europe from the Third Reich. I wept not because of the words, but because I could see the building where Richard Spencer and all of his Neo-Nazi supporters had met, days before, to shout their agenda, shout “Heil!” with their hands raised in the Nazi salute. To look at those words, and the to see that building in the background, well, the irony was too great to not overwhelm me with pain. I’ve had a few moments like that, but apparently expressing that grief is simply a liberal temper tantrum, so I kept it to myself.
Back to former presidents and my crisis of words.
Fear and grief had stuck in my throats and my voice got stuck. Not just on political things, but everything. I didn’t want this to be all I was ever good at. I didn’t know who I was for a moment, and writing, good writing, takes a knowledge of self. But I’ve realized that I cannot be afraid that my words may one day condemn me a hypocrite, and therefore not write. I cannot be paralyzed by fear of the unknown. I will write what I aspire to be, and about values that are true so that when those hard choices come, I will have something to remind me that I must pick right over easy. Of course mistakes will be made along the way, but as I go about my life, I promise now to not take the option of putting something off for someone else to deal with, or not fighting for justice because my life is already fine.
Words are powerful, but words backed up by action are unstoppable.