Monday, July 21, 2014

Jefferson's Monticello

Jon Meachams's book THOMAS JEFFERSON made me more interested in the man who wrote our DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE from England, was both a Vice President, Secretary of State and two term president. He was such a conumdrum writing about liberty and being a slaveholder.

We had to leave our time share July 3rd, of all times, so headed to friends who live in Mechanicsville, a suburb of Richmond. Well, maybe to some a suburb as they live on 10 acres in the middle of nowhere! It was hard to believe you are near the start of the great American metropolis that stretches from Richmond all the way to Boston. Oddly though, you can get out of the city and into the wilds far easier than in Los Angeles unless you are a mountain climber!

Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello
When I discovered we were only 1 ½ hours away from Monticello, I just had to go!

It was a beautiful clear, sunny day that wasn't too hot or muggy. Because it was the 4th of July weekend, there probably were more people than usual but it was all handled with aplomb and we had a wonderful tour guide who showed us much of the workings of the house and plantation that was originally 5,000 acres, a common size in those days.

Jefferson raised a variety of crops including tobacco, rice, barley and the vegetables they ate. The home is near Charlottesville, VA but I believe back in the 1700's you pretty much had to be self sustaining. What surprised me was how far he was from Williamsburg. It must have been a two or three day journey depending on the weather. Looking at the furnishings, books, all that was required to furnish and maintain a grand home and bustling planation, I can't even imagine what it took to get materials there.

He was an inventive man constantly adding to and taking away from his home. In fact, what we see today was his second home. He didn't like the first. There are some wonderful innovations far ahead of his time. His was a constant, searching mind.

Yet, some things are hard to understand. His love of liberty and his inability to regard all humans as his equal while at the same time depending on them and their ingenuity in carrying out his ideas. However, I then questioned how often do we step out of our own comfort zone, take a chance against the prevailing wisdom. Could he and all slave owners have freed their slaves and rehired them as free men as was being done in the North? I have always wondered what the cost different would have been. Wouldn't it have been cheaper to hire them and let them worry about food, housing and such?  Would this country have evolved under very different rules? Would we have avoided the Civil War?

When Frederick Douglas and President Lincoln discussed the possibility of buying all the slaves, freeing them and sending them back to Africa two points came up: One, the cost would have been around $4.5 billion, far more money than the government had; Two, as Douglass so clearly pointed out, "Its our country too! We helped build it just like every other man and woman here." Lincoln to his credit couldn't disagree but felt that the white man and the black man would never live in peace. We are still fighting the battle.

The United States of America is a grand experiment. It is still evolving and despite all the angry rhetoric we hear on a daily basis I am reminded of Colin Powell's words, "Democracy is messy. Its raucous, loud and divided. However, be aware when there is quiet, when there is no descent, watch out. That means the days of our democratic republic are finished." You have to wonder if Roman's felt the same way when Augustus Caesar declared the empire. Maybe after 500 years as a republic  they were just tired of all the battles.

Monticello is a World Heritage Site and gets no money from the Federal Government. It is well preserved and depends on the generosity of the public. Should you visit? By all means. It a window into our past and the tensions that ruled the founding of our country!

No comments:

Post a Comment