Thomas Jefferson

portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1791

Not a foot of land shall be taken from the Indian without his consent.

(1743 - 1826)

Third President of the United States:  author, architect, lawyer, inventor.  

          As the historian Leonard Levy observed, no Founder was more prepared to cast off the protections in the Bill of Rights, or to shed the blood of his countrymen and to spare his own, or to eliminate from the earth anyone who did not bind himself to Jefferson's morally ambiguous paradoxical vision of liberty. 

          Historian Anthony Wallace places the Prince of Monticello in an even more paradoxical light.  "He peers down at us from a cliff in the Black Hills, our own version of the universal Trickster, that morally ambiguous mythic being who steals fire from gods and brings the arts, sciences, and social institutions to the world."  But on the dark side, and just as Alexander Hamilton had predicted years before Jefferson became president, his own record of deeds would eventually betray his record of words.       

          As the nation's foremost champion of individual liberty, Jefferson was the first to trample on the civil liberties of those who disagreed with him.  Moreover, he was always quick to justify his actions by declarations of virtuous and benevolent intentions.  Despite his protests to the contrary, Jefferson sought power and exercised it forcefully, always in the name of the liberty of the people, so long as 'the people" did not include political apostates or people of color.  As the peerless 'removal era' historian, Anne Heloise Able concluded, it was the champion of liberty from Monticello who became the original planner of cultural genocide of the American Indian, the architect of removal policy, and the surveyor of the Trail of Tears.  Jefferson, who plagerized John Locke'sSecond Treatise on Governmentin writing the Declaration of Independence, remains a towering enigma in the American narrative.

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