PC Strikes Again: Dissing Jefferson at UVa

Defending Thomas Jefferson at UVaOn occasion, I feel sympathy for UVa President Teresa Sullivan. As if she didn’t have her hands full dealing with state budget cuts and General Assembly criticism, now she’s under attack from the left for the grievous sin of…. quoting Thomas Jefferson at the university he founded.

Last week Sullivan tried to rally the community in response to the news, horrific to many at the University of Virginia, that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. But she showed insufficient sensitivity to the latest mutation of political correctness when she wrote, in reminding UVa students that they could change the future:

Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes.’

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, 469 faculty members and students took offense at the Jefferson quotation on the grounds that he was a slave owner and a racist.

We are incredibly disappointed in the use of Thomas Jefferson as a moral compass. …

We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it. For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.

Bacon’s bottom line. Yes, by today’s standards, Jefferson was flawed. We would not elect a slave-owner, or even a former slave-owner, president today. But we don’t revere Jefferson because he was a slave owner. We revere him despite the fact that he was a slave owner.

We revere Jefferson because he, more than anyone, espoused the rationale for breaking from the monarchical ideals of the Middle Ages and articulating in their place the principles of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the equality of all men under God and natural law. These principles, however imperfectly fulfilled in the founding of a country rooted in hierarchical privilege, animated subsequent movements to guarantee freedom of religion, abolish slavery, give women the right to vote, extend civil rights to blacks, and eventually to accept gay rights. Jefferson and his countrymen did not fully embody 21st-century democratic ideals, but they ushered in the single greatest leap forward for freedom in the history of mankind, creating the conditions for subsequent democratic achievements.

Moreover, unlike the small-minded people who belittle him, Jefferson articulated ideals that were antithetical to his own material self interest, creating a contradiction with which he struggled for most of his life. Jefferson also advocated reason and the acquisition of knowledge, fostering skepticism and questioning of his own era’s pieties — in stark contrast to the philosophical narrow-mindedness that seems so prevalent in some quarters of the University of Virginia today.

So, thank you, Teresa Sullivan, for standing up for Jefferson not as a plaster saint but a flawed but inspiring leader. The silent majority of UVa students, parents and alumni stand with you.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

13 responses to “PC Strikes Again: Dissing Jefferson at UVa

  1. Jim, I bet every one of them was tenured…

    And they are responsible for educating our future leaders.

    Goodness gracious.

  2. Problem is – the racists of today will say that they are no different than Jefferson whom they are emulating… and whom they admire.

  3. I’ve done some genealogy research over the years as a hobby. When one digs for ancestors, one needs to be ready to accept a few skeletons in the closet. Just because they lived in the past, doesn’t make what they did or said right. But neither can the present generations judge its forbears by present standards.

    I wonder how many of the 469 had relatives who bore arms for the South and for slavery. Some might have even owned slaves themselves or worked for slaveholders. Enquiring minds would like to know.

    Two of my 2nd great grandfathers wore Union Blue, but another group fought for the British side during the American Revolution. What a conundrum.

  4. I was going off of what Jim B said: ” Yes, by today’s standards, Jefferson was flawed. We would not elect a slave-owner, or even a former slave-owner, president today.” which is totally true.

    And some of us keep that perspective.

    But others who wish to maintain racism will point to Jefferson as a great American who was also – racist – by today’s standards – as justification for them … “emulating” him.

    The White Nationalists in particular cite our forefathers as white slave owners and racist by today’s standards as our “Forefathers” .

    In other words – some say it was a different time and things have changed – and others say the forefathers were right then and if they lived today – they’d still hold those views today and that the limp wrist crowd just can’t handle the truth.

    so then others are basically put in a “politically correct” box.. the antithesis of those who say America was intended from it’s inception to be what the Forefathers were ….

    either reject the forefathers or embrace them – no equivocation.

    • Well, if the letter signatories had criticized the white nationalists, I’d have no problem. I’d join them. But they attacked Sullivan for an inoffensive comment.

      • I think that’s what was driving their views… that Sullivan was going to put herself “out there” for the others to say: “see, even Sullivan agrees with US”.

        I’m not with them on the letter – but I see (I think) what initiated it.

    • And one also had to be a mainline Protestant. Not much room for Jews, Dissenters or Catholics in early America. Is there a difference?

  5. TMT – are you saying that Jefferson himself was also opposed to Jews and Catholics?

    I don’t know that history but would curious to know but even then – that’s not the same as slavery unless he actually supported policies that discriminated against those others.

    • Like many people of his day, Jefferson was very much anti-Catholic. His papers include a number of statements that any faith that followed a pope was unfit to govern and generally unwelcome in the United States. I believe Jefferson was more tolerant of Jews.

  6. Me, I’ve never been a huge Jefferson fan. I’d have been a Federalist. But the three things he chose to put on his tombstone are all towering American achievements and just one of them would have been enough to qualify him as a great American. The lesson that sticks with me from my childhood years in the Calvinist pews is that we are all sinners, all doomed and damned on our own, and we best be careful about judging others. The whiners who signed that letter believe their own merit will get them into paradise!

    The one thing I did not anticipate when I woke to the surprising news a week ago today was just how much fun it would be to see so many exploding heads on the left.

    And if you have to ask what Jefferson listed as his three lifetime accomplishments, then turn in your high school diploma…..

  7. Steve,

    I shared that “wake-up” experience last week, though it occurred at about 2:30am. I had very un-Christian thoughts of glee seeing the Javits Center at that hour, with all the stunned faces. Those poor folks! Up to that point, their minds had all been busy calculating measurements for their drapes at EOB, or their butts for an A, B, or C size Herman Miller Aeron chair seat in the West Wing.

    • There is a very strong parallel with 1993, when AG Mary Sue Terry – the first candidate to break the 1 million vote barrier in 1989 – was supposed to waltz into the Governor’s Mansion. Many differences Terry/Clinton (and also Allen/Trump) but the overconfidence and air of expectation is parallel.

  8. me? I have no problems with the outcome. Clinton was not going to get anything done unless she won the Senate also – and now the GOP actually has to produce something for health care and immigration, foreign policy, deficit/debt…

    The idea that the Dems has ignored the plight of rural – as well as blacks is totally true… but now I’m waiting to see what the GOP will do – to, for instance, bring back jobs including coal… etc.. and not blow up the budget.. etc… Neither side was really to tell the truth to the rural folks nor the black folks… both were less than honest IMHO.

    I’m totally content to let the GOP and Mr. Trump row the boat – seriously.

    And if they do a better job than the Dems – more power to them.

    But I do have a feeling…. we’ll see..

Leave a Reply