DISCLAIMER: the following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of KSL Newsradio or its ownership.
2020 Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was asked on The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio program, about renaming his party’s annual dinner events – named in honor of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, both of whom were slaveholders.
“Yeah, we’re doing that in Indiana. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Buttigieg said. “… Jefferson is more problematic. There’s a lot, of course, to admire in his thinking and his philosophy…It’s not like we’re blotting him out of the history books… but then again if you plunge into his writings, especially the notes on the state of Virginia, you know that he knew slavery was wrong.”
As we look back in our history, we find that some of the people whom we celebrate are not exactly perfect. Maybe they are not worth the hype, and that we don’t believe what they once did anymore. So, there is an effort now to rename schools and streets, take down monuments and to correct history.
Embrace, don’t erase, history
We can’t seem to have our history and learn from it at the same time. Some ideas are bigger than the proponents of those ideas. I learned that from another U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson.
Jefferson’s first draft of The Declaration of Independence, I say, is the single greatest writing of humanity. Not just his time but one of the greatest things ever written. It continues to have resonance today. But when it is spoken of, it should be said it was written by a man who owned slaves, adding that that was the conflict of his day.
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.
Everything we do as Americans seems to harken back to those words. Could America have enacted the 13th amendment — the abolition of slavery — without those words? I believe those words have had a greater impact on human rights than any others.
We should not be running from controversial figures and their history. We should embrace the good and condemn the bad. It’s a huge mistake to look back at history and judge someone based on our viewpoints and beliefs of today.
George Washington first owned slaves at the age of 11. Could he be enlightened enough and ahead of his time at that young age to break free and know instantly what we know now, more than 275 years later?
When I toured Jefferson’s plantation home of Monticello, I was in awe of a man ahead of his time but at the same horrified by the practice of slavery under his direction. Visiting the site in Charlottesville, Va., I realized that this guy was amazing and a monster at the same time.
If you go to a school named for him or visit a monument in his honor, you should recognize both sides of Jefferson. Not just censor what we dislike.
In 1778, under Jefferson’s leadership, slave importation was banned in Virginia, one of the first jurisdictions to do so worldwide. Jefferson was a lifelong advocate of ending the trade. As president, he led the effort to criminalize the international slave trade, which passed Congress and he signed in 1807.
Do you think we as a nation should stop naming schools, streets, and institutions after the Founding Father and third president?
When you erase the past, you rob a nation of its history and how far the country has progressed. That’s dangerous.
The history of Thomas Jefferson must include that which is embraced and that which we now see as heinous. It makes the story of America that much more profound.
Jay Mcfarland hosts the JayMac News Show, weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL Newsradio, as well as the fictional podcast, Hosts of Eden. KSL Newsradio is part of Bonneville Media and based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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