Thomas Jefferson was of course a politician, a diplomat and a scholar, but he was far more than that. And I think it is the lesser-well-known modesty and wisdom about him that is most pertinent in these days of extremism and intolerance.
This is me at Monticello, with a new friend from Toronto Canada, a Tibetan refugee whose family Canada took in and made a permanent resident and then citizen!
It was an incredible day for a tour – in the 70’s, clear blue azure skies, a light breeze and the daffodils and even some tulips are blooming. (Although it is supposed to be cold next week with the possibility of snow, so these flowers are dreadfully confused by our warm winter weather!)
But I am most struck by what Jefferson put on his grave: 3 things. 1) He was the author of the Declaration of Independence, 2) he came up with the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and 3) he was the father of the University of Virginia.
No where on his grave did he want that was President of the U.S. or Vice President, nor did he want it known that he was the Governor of Virginia or even the Ambassador to France! Jefferson it seems was basically a modest farmer, and inventor, and creator, and philosopher and plantation owner. Yes he had slaves, but it seems, after going on the Slavery section of the tour, that he gets a bad rap for that – if he had the power, he might have attempted to fight and end slavery during his lifetime. But the powers that were in the South at that time were definitely not ready for that!
(And it should be known that he had children with Sally Hemmings after his wife died. Yes she was a slave, she was of mixed races, and who knows if she gave consent, but I would have to suspect that to give birth to 6 children, there may have been some… And Martha Jefferson made Thomas Jefferson promise to not get married again after she died, despite the fact that he would outlive her by 40+ years. So he kind of kept up his end of the bargain, along with siring 6 children with Hemmings.)
It was the Statute of Religious Freedom that really caught my ears and eye and heart today. Way ahead of his time, Jefferson needed the corrupting influence of religion out of the government. It needed to be in writing! Too often, there were priest kings (Popes) dominating the political landscape in Europe. And Jefferson even went so far as to separate the UVa chapel away from the other campus buildings at his dear University! This was a radical departure from most schools of the time! The chapel is literally separated and in a different direction than the scholastic buildings. School is separate from religion. The State is separated from religion.
In this current time of religious persecution and intolerance, (read: realizing that Donald Trump is our current President and that he seems to be anxious to keep Muslims out of the United States), it is the simplest wisdom that can reach the farthest.
It is the simplest wisdom that can be understood by the most people. The Virginia Statute states that no one can be persecuted or thrown in jail due to their practicing a certain religion or not practicing one. And that fact that Jefferson valued that above the fact that he was the President says something. He was a wise and powerful man, inventive and a man of vision. Yes there are one or two controversial areas of his life, but taken as a whole regarding the epoch and society he was living in, I think we must conclude that he was a very special being. One who was years ahead of his time.
Let us celebrate and honor Jefferson’s memory today by accepting and being tolerant toward all people, regardless of their race or religion or social status.
May all beings realize that when our neighbors are happy, then so are we! And accept and practice generosity toward all beings!
Thanks for reading!