Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Feet of clay, redux.

We live in an era of history in which things technological change quickly.  My mother was born in 1914 - a period in which electricity was rare over much of the country, automobiles were for the well to do and such things as radio and TV were unheard of.  She died in 2005, two years before Apple introduced the iPhone, which brought into reality the Dick Tracy video watch, albeit as a phone instead, but as a piece of technology that allows people across the globe to not only talk to each other, but view each other as well!

But all these technological changes bring with it social changes, too.  The forces of social change are bringing changes to our world that many people are finding hard to stomach, and the battles over these changes are ongoing and bitter beyond belief.

Over and over in the recent past, we've had to learn about various "new" things about many of our American heroes,  and about our history, that have changed what we thought we knew about our past, and not often in a good way.   Again, these differences with our childhood's views about this country are hard for many, especially conservatives, to believe.   It isn't easy for those of us who live without blinkered world views, either.

Today's revelations are brought to you by the Smithsonian Institution, so we aren't talking about some fly-by-night "scholar".

And it is about one of America's greatest Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson.

You will recall that I recently wrote about a trip my wife and I took to Monticello, his home.  I wrote about, among other things, his apparently waffling views about slavery, given that he wrote our Declaration of Independence, yet owned over 600 slaves throughout his life.

Don't look now, but the latest news from the world of history scholars is that as time went on, he stopped waffling.  I am about to link you to the whole sordid story, quite a few pages worth of reading, and worth every single word and second of your time.

On the first page, the author writes these words:

We can be forgiven if we interrogate Jefferson posthumously about slavery. It is not judging him by today’s standards to do so. Many people of his own time, taking Jefferson at his word and seeing him as the embodiment of the country’s highest ideals, appealed to him. When he evaded and rationalized, his admirers were frustrated and mystified; it felt like praying to a stone. The Virginia abolitionist Moncure Conway, noting Jefferson’s enduring reputation as a would-be emancipator, remarked scornfully, “Never did a man achieve more fame for what he did not do.”
The article is entitled, "The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson", and you can find it here.

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