Historian outlines what early American leader would say to Trump
Thomas Jefferson may be the father of the University of Virginia.
But the nation’s third president is too controversial for the current scholars at the prestigious school he founded, as a group of professors and students are demanding the college president stop quoting him.
In an email response to Donald Trump’s election, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan called for the school to “come together – as a university community, as a country – in spite of any lingering differences of political opinion.”
She then quoted Jefferson, who wrote in 1825 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.”
That was too much for assistant professor of psychology Noelle Hurd, who drafted an open letter to Sullivan signed by 469 students and faculty. The letter claimed Jefferson should not be used as a “moral compass” because he was a slave owner and supposedly believed blacks were inferior to whites.
“Though we realize that some members of our university community may be inspired by quotes from Jefferson, we also realize that many of us are deeply offended by attempts on behalf of our administration to guide our moral behavior through their use,” the letter read.
Jefferson, contended the group, has outlived his usefulness.
The letter concluded: “For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotes undermines the messages of unity, equality, civility, and inclusivity that you are attempting to convey. We understand desires to maintain traditions at this university, but when these traditions threaten progress and reinforce notions of exclusion, it is time to rethink their utility.”
These students and professors have it all backward, according to an expert on Jefferson.
David Barton, the author of the sensational best-seller “The Jefferson Lies: Exposing The Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson,” blasted the group as fundamentally ignorant about American history.
“What is occurring at the University of Virginia is a sad affirmation of how poorly American history is taught today,” Barton told WND. “Why is Jefferson being denounced today but not in previous generations? It is because Americans today know so little about him, and much of what they do know is wrong.”
Barton defended Jefferson as a hero who fought to end the South’s “peculiar institution” of slavery despite his own position as a slave owner.
“Jefferson owned slaves, but state law in Virginia would not allow him to release his slaves. He nonetheless fought a lifelong and unrelenting battle to end slavery and achieve racially quality and equal civil rights for black Americans. For these efforts, Jefferson was praised by black civil rights leaders for nearly 200 years, including Benjamin Banneker, Henry Highland Garnet, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King. His documented and lifelong record in these endeavors is undeniable and undebatable. Americans today should reacquaint themselves with who Jefferson was and what he did rather than listening to the wrongheaded conclusions of those who have been so badly misinformed about him.”
University of Virginia President Sullivan responded to the group’s protest on Monday and argued for the continued relevance of Jefferson and his ideals at the university he created.
“Today’s leaders are women and men, members of all racial and ethnic groups, members of the LGBTQ community, and adherents of all religious traditions,” she wrote. “All of them belong at today’s U.Va whose founder’s most influential and most quoted words were ‘all men are created equal.’”
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But Barton said Jefferson’s legacy goes far behind simple quotes from the Declaration of Independence. He said the students and faculty of the University of Virginia would do well to familiarize themselves with the political thought of Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers.
“The constitutional vision of Jefferson and the other Founders still has a place in modern America, for they wisely built their vision on unchanging, immutable principles rather than on time-dated trends or fads,” Barton said. “Their vision for inalienable rights, personal liberty, religious freedom and biblical morality, limited government, the rule of law, checks and balances between branches, and strong local and state controls over most issues is just as applicable today as it was two centuries ago – or as it will be two centuries from now.”
Indeed, Barton said President-elect Trump should begin his own study of Jefferson’s thought and works, as the nation’s third president would have many lessons for the nation’s 45th.
“Mr. Jefferson could provide Mr. Trump with excellent advice on everything from reducing government debt to battling Islamic terrorists,” Barton observed. “But I think he would remind him that according to Federalist #78, ‘The judiciary is, beyond comparison, the weakest of the three departments of power’ and was designed to be so weak that ‘the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter.’
“So when the Supreme Court tried to make policy under Jefferson, he called it a ‘perversion of the law,’ ignored the unconstitutional Supreme Court order, and cut the federal judiciary nearly in half. I also think he would also urge Mr. Trump to slash the regulatory bureaucracy, explaining that ‘The multiplication of public offices, increase of expense beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt’ are indications that ‘a pruning knife’ is desperately needed.”
Barton, who supported the Ted Cruz campaign during the Republican primaries, has been critical of President-elect Trump in the past. He urged conservatives to hold Trump accountable but expressed optimism about Trump’s continued shift in a conservative direction.
“The concerns of constitutional conservatives with Mr. Trump are grounded in his history: he has not demonstrated a knowledge of the Constitution and has often supported policies that directly contravene its provisos,” he cautioned. “But the reason constitutional conservatives have hope with Mr. Trump is the list of people he has announced for cabinet and major agency heads over the past week: Those names are extensively populated with strong constitutionalists and unabashed conservatives. I have never seen as many conservative constitutionalists appear on any short list as have seen in the last two days. Thus far, it has surpassed even my most hopeful expectations.”
And as the controversy at the University of Virginia shows, Barton argued that whatever conservatives’ concerns about Trump, it’s the American left which has truly turned against America’s founding principles.
“The left continues to hate and rail against what made America great,” he said, shaking his head. “Like a whining 3-year-old, they cry and throw a fit when they don’t get their way. Sam Adams once said, ‘As it becomes a citizen, I will acquiesce in the choice of a majority of the people,’ but the left doesn’t. They hate the process, and hate it most when it doesn’t give them what they want. They seem to be the modern version of what the Bible describes in 2 Timothy as ‘lovers of themselves, boastful, abusive, ungrateful, unforgiving, slanderous, brutal, rash, depraved, and opposers of truth.’”