The Monster of Monticello?

Here is a good NYT Op-Ed on Thomas Jefferson.  In one of his periodic falls into exaggeration, Bruce Bartlett (whom I admire and often agree with), tweets: “I have yet to meet anyone on the right willing to deal honestly with Jefferson’s slave ownership.”  I have met large numbers of such people and they show up at virtually any Liberty Fund conference, for a start.  In fact that is one reason why they call it Liberty Fund.

I would add this: I am grateful for Jefferson’s contributions to this country in the form of the Declaration and also the Louisiana Purchase, to cite the two biggest.  But as a thinker I find him decidedly mediocre, other than that the Declaration is truly stirring in parts and of course of major historical importance.  (That said, I don’t think it was obvious ex ante that independence was a good idea, so even there Jefferson may be open to criticism.)  Reading the rest is a chore and for me there is little or nothing of analytic interest, unlike with say Madison or John Adams.  I don’t mean to detract from his peaks, but his overall record has lots of negatives, in addition of course to owning slaves and often treating them badly.  His record in practice on civil liberties for white people also left a lot to be desired.  I am not a fan of the agrarianism and arguably that could be labeled less politely.

Here is my previous post on Thomas Jefferson.  I have never liked him.

Addendum: For an alternative perspective, you can try this post and paper by David Post.


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