Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Two updates from Yesterday's Posts

Yesterday, I posted two short articles, one was about Thomas Jefferson and a Smithsonian Institution article regarding new research into his private life and the slaves he owned at Monticello, and the other one was about the Celebrate Mercy project asking muslims to send statements and letters of support and condolences to the family of Ambassador Stevens, who was killed in the recent attack in Libya.

I promised to post my reactions to the Jefferson article, and I will below.  


But first, I’d like to comment on the wonderful response from the Celebrate Mercy folks, who both commented on my post yesterday and sent me email, thanking me for helping to spread the word about their project.  Thank you for the kind comments and email, I do like hearing that my efforts are being read and appreciated!

As I mentioned on my comment, though, I’d like to ask a favor of you.  Should your web site, Celebrate Mercy, become involved in similar efforts in the future, please consider letting me know.  I would be happy to post about any future efforts on your behalf, and will also share that information on my Facebook page, as well.  It is cross-cultural efforts like this, at the grass roots level, which will go much further than any government led program ever could to help foster friendship and understanding between our people.

By doing this together, we can work to reduce the levels of hatred, mistrust and violence around the world.  A worthy effort, indeed!


Now, on to Mr. Jefferson!

After reading the article, posted on the Smithsonian Website, I am now at a quandary, and feel very conflicted.

On one hand, one cannot negate the very influential part he played in the birth of this country, and by extension, all of mankind, with his then new-fangled idea of universal equality.  (Yes, I know, his idea of “universal” equality only extended to free white guys, but you know, baby steps - it didn’t take women long to get into the act, in the greater scheme of things, and don't even think about the sticky-wicket slavery presented, just in getting the Constitution ratified!)  He really did stick his neck out, and took a very real risk of getting a noose thrown around it.  The British were never very forgiving of people who flouted the authority of their aristocracy.  I think the only two who may have had the “honor” of a beheading were Lafayette and Washington, both of whom were of real noble birth.  The rest, a simple noose.

The influence of that ideal is a profound one that still rings out today, encouraging the birth of liberty around the world, most recently in the Arab Spring, as it’s been called.  I think his influence will be felt for centuries to come.

The revelations about his private life and how he apparently really handled his slaves and ran his plantation are shocking.  One cannot emphasize enough the brutality of the practice, and the fact that he hired violent, brutal thugs to oversee his slaves is merely one clue that he bought into that practice in all its cruelty.  Telling, too is the incident of the slave he sold in punishment for an attack on another slave, sold “down the river”, or out of the area, probably southwards into Georgia.  Far out of reach, forever, of that poor man’s family.

The popular picture of a man conflicted with himself over a practice of brutality and cruelty which was at odds with his new ideal of liberty and equality for all, is now sullied forever by a picture of a wealthy, powerful man increasingly, as he aged, forsaking that ideal for hundreds of his slaves, in favor of retaining the wealth and power that came with a system which fed off of the misery and unpaid labor of men, women and children, forced into that labor by the cut of the lash and the blunt violence of the cudgel.

On the other hand, his intellectual brainchild, the Declaration of Independence, will ring down through history for as long as people are free, and that freedom can be rightly laid at his doorstep as a product of the combined efforts of him and his fellow Revolutionaries of 1776.

But, his actions dovetail perfectly with the picture we still have of the rich and powerful, sitting comfortably in their mansions, served by minions making a relative pittance, ignoring or even laughing at the misery of those unfortunate enough not to have been born in the aristocratic classes.  The 99%, if you will.

How can I continue to respect a man who so thoroughly sullied the ideal of his brainchild with such a selfish attitude and such horrible actions?

But given the brightness and the beauty of that ideal, how can I not?


Fatima said...

Peace to you! Thank you for your positivism regarding the celebrate mercy campaign. Your acknowledgement shows respect, open-mindedness, and of course the justice of a good man. So many people cover up what does not suit their personal interests or what collides with their ideologies. That is sad, because credit should be given where credit is due, as you have kindly done, and I must try to do likewise. As a Muslim woman in the Middle East I say bless you for that. Let's all rise above the differences that political players have wedged between us. On the ground, away from the vested interests of those wielding power, men and women can live in greater peace and acceptance.

Robert Ahrens said...

Thank you, Fatima. I can see no greater goal than world-wide peace and acceptance of each other and our differences, which, frankly, I find fascinating!

Salams, to you as well.