by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
They’re coming for Thomas Jefferson.
This was always obvious, but now it’s even more plain. Protesters in Portland, Ore., used axes and ropes to topple a statue of President Thomas Jefferson. The New York City Council is agitating to remove a statue of the author of the Declaration of Independence from its chambers.
At this rate, the Sage of Monticello will be lucky if the Jefferson Memorial isn’t bulldozed and if he isn’t effaced from the nickel.
Jefferson is, to use the argot of the day, the most “problematic” of the Founders. The Virginian was a slave owner who, despite his high ideals, never jettisoned an attachment to the slave system that was a hideous injustice and, in the fullness of time, nearly destroyed the country.
But that’s not what we honor him for.
Jefferson isn’t memorialized on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere around the country because of the racist things he wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia. …
… No, Jefferson is on a pedestal for achievements that still define the country today, and for the better.
He wrote the ringing lines in the preamble of the Declaration that eventually took on world-historical importance and were used as a rhetorical and philosophical cudgel against the slave system and white supremacy by the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.
He was a theorist, champion, and able practitioner of what we know as Jeffersonian democracy, “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Lincoln famously put it at Gettysburg.
He wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that became a model for the First Amendment, and he worked to abolish feudal relics such as entail and primogeniture.