Defending Mr. Jefferson

YAF message on UVa’s Beta Bridge.

by James A. Bacon

Tomorrow evening Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, and Texas Congressman Chip Roy, both of whom are University of Virginia alumni, will participate in event entitled, “In Defense of Mr. Jefferson.”

One might not think that the author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia would need a defense. But he indubitably was a slaveholder and is commonly (though less indubitably) said to have raped his slave Sally Hemings, and regardless of his historic contributions in advancing the cause of human freedom, falls short of the standards of perfection held by some in the UVa community.

The discussion is organized by the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and, I am pleased to say, is backed by The Jefferson Council, an organization with which I am affiliated. It is scheduled for 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 28) at Newcomb Hall.

It turns out that not only is the historical interpretation of Thomas Jefferson controversial, the very idea that one might endeavor to defend his reputation is as well. The event is experiencing blowback from elements at the university.

Around half the YAF fliers around the grounds have been defaced or torn town. A YAF tweet of a photograph shows the words, “Racists defending rapists,” scrawled on one flier. Meanwhile, YAF says, local leftists have organized a “letter-writing” campaign against the event.

“This is bonkers,” Lowry tweeted in response. “There is now a letter-writing campaign against the @yaf event I’m doing with my friend @chiproytx defending Thomas Jefferson at the University that owes its very existence and so much of what makes it distinctive to Thomas Jefferson.”

“As usual, leftists on campus would rather try to cancel an event they disagree with than choose to engage in constructive dialogue with the speakers,” national YAF spokeswoman Kara Zupkus told Fox News. “It’s shameful that students who chose to attend Thomas Jefferson’s university are so vehemently opposed to him and America’s founding ideals. Young America’s Foundation look forward to a successful event – regardless of the Left’s attempts to derail it.”

The Fox News account provides no links to tweets or posts criticizing the event, so, beyond the defacing of posters, I cannot describe either the substance or the tone of the opposition. 

UVa spokesman Brian Coy told Fox News that the administration was not aware of any campaign, although it was not uncommon for students to express their support or opposition to political ideas. “We continue to encourage every member of our community to express those points of view respectfully and in recognition that we are all members of one UVA community.”

As the old saying goes, the only bad publicity is no publicity. Hopefully, Newcomb Hall will be packed with a respectful audience. I’ll be there. If you live near Charlottesville, I hope you will be, too. The chance to see conservative speakers at UVa comes around about as often as Haley’s Comet. Don’t miss it!