|Fig.1: Jefferson doesn't even need to sign the waiver to
order the ghost pepper wings anymore.
Jefferson's life began innocently enough. He was born in 1743 as the third of ten children to Peter and Jane Jefferson, the former being a map maker who obviously made more than just maps after having ten kids. As the Jeffersons were wealthy plantation owners in central Virginia, they could afford to give Thomas the best education tobacco could buy. At age 16, he enrolled at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg (home of the best brickmakers), where in two short years he mastered Latin, Greek, French, the law, philosophy, mathematics, and the violin (yeah, but did he ever go streaking through the biology labs like I did in college?). Jefferson became a lawyer in 1767, becoming known as a fierce defender for slaves who were legally fighting for their freedom; it should be noted, however, that he did this at the same time his own slaves were building him a mansion for his 5,000-acre plantation called Monticello. He also reportedly tried to start an affair with Betsy Walker, wife of one of his college friends, by passing her a note in the classic "Check Yes, No, or Maybe" format, but she emphatically turned him down. Eventually he would marry his third cousin Martha Skelton in 1772, but these examples would only be the beginning of Jefferson's issues with slaves, women, and both of the above.
|Fig.2: I notice "wife-stealer" isn't listed,
but I suppose Jefferson only wanted to be
remembered for the things in which he
was actually successful.
Jefferson was elected governor of Virginia in 1779, just in time to help the state government move from Williamsburg to Richmond (his back was still in good shape to do the heavy lifting, what with the slaves doing all the work on the plantation and all). Unfortunately for him, a British legion led by professional jerkwad Benedict Arnold captured the new capital and forced Jefferson to run back to Monticello in his night-breeches. This lovely image stuck in voters' minds when they decided not to re-elect him to another term as governor the next year. To add to Jefferson's misery, his wife Martha died in 1782 at age 33, leaving him with three daughters to raise and so much hair to clean up in the bathroom. Luckily for him, his (mostly-failed) efforts during the Revolution paid off, and after his Declaration of Independence was affirmed on the battlefield (with no help by him), he was granted the (relatively cushy) position as U.S. Minister to France from 1784 to 1789. While in Paris, Jefferson wasted no time forgetting about his dead wife; he had an affair with Maria Cosway, a married artist who definitely took her paintings more seriously than her wedding vows.
While Jefferson was living it up in France, real Americans were getting things done across the Atlantic without him. The Constitution was written, signed, ratified, and hung on every icebox in the country by 1789, with George Washington being elected this newfangled thing called President of the United States. Washington nominated Jefferson to be the first Secretary of State; it was his job to ensure good relations with the governments of other countries around the world, which was much easier before North Korea existed. Unfortunately, Jefferson clashed early and often with Washington and his Secretary of the Treasury, that guy on the $10 bill that everybody's singing about nowadays. Jefferson openly supported France, despite its recent proclivity for beheading its citizens, over his President's preference for the more stable and trade-happy Great Britain, creating more diplomatic confusion than Twitter does today. He also disagreed incessantly with the administration over states' rights, the power of the federal government, assumption of state debts, the northern location of the capital, and who got to drop the mic at the end of the cabinet meetings (sadly, Attorney General Edmund Randolph never got a turn).
|Fig.3: Jefferson's constant cry of, "Mr. President, the Secretary of the Treasury keeps putting his feet
on my chair!" really hampered policy-making during Washington's first administration.
Jefferson was successful in 1800, defeating Adams and the Federalists in the presidential election. Confusingly, Jefferson received as many electoral votes as Aaron Burr, the Democratic-Republican candidate for Vice President; Congress ended up choosing Jefferson in a tie-breaker, and Burr would eventually get a Tony Award as a consolation prize. Like the hypocrite that he is, President Jefferson proceeded to do everything he complained about during Washington's and Adams's years in office:
- Despite his belief that a standing navy was unnecessary, he used the power of that navy to respond to attacks from North Africa during the Barbary Wars. This was the first act that the U.S. government took against Muslim-majority countries, though they would only do that sparingly for the next 200+ years.
- Despite his belief that the government should strictly follow the powers outlined in the Constitution, he orchestrated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, even though the Constitution said nothing about the government's ability to make such deals. Because of the Louisiana Purchase, states like Arkansas and Nebraska are allowed to exist, so yet another couple of strikes against Jefferson.
- Despite his belief that "all men were created equal," he continued policies regarding slavery, even as it was getting worse thanks to the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney (another one of history's jerks). Jefferson also supported state policies to kick out as many Native Americans as possible, cause, you know, it's not like they were there first or anything.
- Despite his belief that the federal government should not interfere in the economy, he forced Congress to pass an embargo against British goods entering the country. Jefferson supported the embargo after Great Britain kept seizing American sailors from their merchant vessels, which eventually caused one of the dumbest conflicts in history with the War of 1812. Even the sucky things that happened after Jefferson's presidency are all his fault!
- And despite his belief that Jess was a bad influence on Rory when she was in high school, he wanted them to get together in the latest episodes. I don't care if he's more mature now; he's a punk and he'll always be a punk! I'm not saying Logan's much better, but she deserves someone more stable in her life. If only things worked out with Dean...
Fig.4: The façades of Monticello (left) and the Rotunda
on the University of Virginia's campus (right) proves
that Jefferson was even willing to plagiarize himself!
Speaking of not keeping your hands to yourself, no summary of Jefferson's faults can be complete without a discussion of Sally Hemings. Hemings was a slave which Jefferson inherited from his father-in-law, John Wayles, as part of the custom "Thank you for taking my daughter off my hands" present. It is believed that Sally was fathered by Wayles himself, making her a half-sister to Jefferson's wife Martha; this creepy connection might help explain Jefferson's attraction to Sally after Martha's death, despite the thirty-year age difference (as well as the freedom difference) between them. When their "relationship" began is unclear, but Hemings had six children between 1795 and 1808, many of whom were suspiciously redheaded like Jefferson. According to one of her sons, Jefferson promised Hemings that he would one day free her children if she continued to be with him, which is something a psychopath definitely wouldn't say. While Jefferson was President, a story broke in the news (written by the same guy who Jefferson used to ruin Adams, as it was have it) about his affair with Hemings. However, since Jefferson wasn't married at the time, and slave-slaveowner relations were as common as Netflix cheating today, it was quickly replaced as a front-page story by whatever Napoleon was up to. Jefferson was true to his word and freed the surviving Hemings offspring in his will, and even Sally herself was allowed to leave the plantation by the time she approached her sixties (at least some slaves had a retirement age). DNA testing with descendants of Hemings and Jefferson in 1998 proved that there were some matching genes between them, but Thomas had a few brothers, cousins, and nephews who lived nearby that could have been frisky enough to father some children instead of Thomas. Historians are still debating Jefferson's true relationship with Sally Hemings, but since Jefferson did plenty of other shady stuff, I'm inclined to believe that he probably impregnated every woman (free or slave) in Albemarle County.
In U.S. history's greatest coincidence, Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, which was not only the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, but also the same day that John Adams died as well. (Personally I wouldn't put it past Jefferson to have his death hidden from the public until that date in order to make a scene about it, the show-off.) Unlike Washington, who at least tried to free his slaves in his will, Jefferson held onto all of them (except his probable children) in order to sell and pay off more of that debt. Alas, Jefferson's legacy has lived on well past this death, though in pretty much every crappy thing that every happened in America. His support of states' rights became the basis for the creation of the Confederacy during the Civil War. His quote that, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," has been used to perpetrate terrorist acts by the KKK, as well as the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing. Even the Democratic Party, which emerged from Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans, have distanced themselves from their founder, though they might want to do some other things to help them get more votes from time to time. Deservedly so, Jefferson is finding his mantle, built from fraud and hypocrisy, beginning to crumble in recent decades.
|Fig.5: I can't wait for Hamilton to call Jefferson a
"slaver," and say that Virginia's "debts are paid cause you
don't pay for labor!" History rhymes are the best rhymes.
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham
Published: 2012; Hardcover: 759 pages
Canned Rating: 3 out of 5 Monticellos