Daniel Jordan | Executive Director, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation

Daniel Jordan is the Executive Director of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which is responsible for preserving and operating Monticello. He has lectured on Thomas Jefferson throughout the country, has written a number of books and essays, and is a Scholar in Residence at the University of Virginia.

  What draws you to Thomas Jefferson?
Thomas Jefferson is endlessly fascinating. I think there's something there for everybody. His own interest ranged from architecture to zoology and everything in between. So I find the man captivating because of his intellectual curiosity. He was a lifelong learner. He knew a little bit about everything but always wanted to know more. And beyond the ideals and the statesmanship, I think that's a compelling quality.

  What's his gift to us?
Thomas Jefferson's gift is diverse, as is the man. But I think above all it would be his ideals. He had a vision. He was able to articulate it in a way that people could understand and in a way that transcended time and place. "All men are created equal," and his notions about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, democratic value, the importance of education—these are big ideas for all people in all times.

“He was himself on the mountaintop.”

  He seems to be so difficult to know.Why?
Jefferson is enigmatic on several levels. He lived a long while and he wrote so much—he was a thinker and a visionary—so it's hard to get a grip on him. But I think that, at Monticello perhaps above all places, you can find the real man because he was happy there. He was himself on the mountaintop.

First Plan of Monticello

  What is Monticello telling us about the man?
Monticello is a three-dimensional autobiography. We can learn about the man in every room and at every place on the grounds. Somehow it always tells us about one of his interests or some side of his genius. And I think that perhaps Jefferson is unique in having left behind something so tangible and palpable.

  Do you have a favorite place at Monticello?
I think all of Monticello speaks to Jefferson's interests but, for me, the library and what he called his cabinet—we would call it an office—has a special appeal. Because it's there, you can imagine Thomas Jefferson, the individual who said, "I cannot live without books." It's there—you can imagine Jefferson doing his pen and ink work or writing letters, keeping in touch, thinking about things. There you can imagine Jefferson in a private world of his own imagination and intellectual power.

  Can you describe him?
There's a saying that Thomas Jefferson is always in the next room, and I think at Monticello, he's actually in the room with us. There is a presence there. Of course, we're drawing upon what we know about the man, but there's no substitute for being at the place where he lived and spent 60 years of his life.

  What did he look like?
Thomas Jefferson would stand out in a crowd. He was very tall for that era especially. He was six feet two-and-a-half inches in height. He had carrot-red hair as a youngster. There was no mistaking Mr. Jefferson when he was around.

  What was his first memory?
Thomas Jefferson made an attempt at an autobiography. He didn't get very far but, in looking back, he remembered being carried on a pillow at Tuckahoe Plantation. His father had moved the family there to fulfill an obligation to a friend.

  If you could be a fly on the wall, what moment would you like to witness in Jefferson's life?
I think it would be great to overhear a conversation between Jefferson and his lifelong friend of 50 years, James Madison. Because, simply, there was no topic that they didn't discuss when they got together. Or I think it would have been wonderful to see Jefferson and the grandchildren because he was totally devoted to them. He wrote to John Adams, "I live in the midst of my grandchildren." And that would reveal something of the man, whereas the conversation with Jefferson would have given us the public figure and intellectual.

  Why is it so hard to get a grasp on him?
I think Thomas Jefferson is more accessible than most scholars would have us believe, if we keep him in the context that's real. For example, I think Monticello was close to his heart and if we follow him in a typical day, we can learn a great deal about his interests. So I've never found him inaccessible. He's a remarkable person, an extraordinary person, far beyond the rest of us, but he is a person and I think he can be tracked.

“He wrote sincerely...that slavery was a moral wrong, but he was dependent on slavery. He abhorred it but he was a part of it.”

  How do we reconcile the man who wrote the words "all men are created equal," and yet owned more than 200 slaves.?
Slavery, to me, was the great unresolved issue in Jefferson's life. He took a swing at some complex questions like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, democratic values, public education, and his legacy there is extraordinary. But he grappled with the issue of slavery and never succeeded in resolving it. He wrote sincerely, I believe, that slavery was a moral wrong, but he was dependent on slavery. He abhorred it but he was a part of it. So this is the great unresolved issue. Before we criticize him too much, I think we have to keep him in the context of his times. Slavery was a way of life. It's an abomination to us today. But the American people required a horrible war and 600,000 deaths to resolve that issue.

Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIV

  Is he a racist?
Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on Virginia did develop a kind of racial theory, but I think it's important to remember that he said, "this is a hypothesis." He also said, "Even though I perceive, based on my experience in a plantation in Virginia that there are racial differences, it doesn't undermine in any way the fact that all people have a moral value. It doesn't mean that half of the Americans don't have certain rights. It's just this is my perception at this moment in time."

  So, is he a racist?
By our modern standards, we would say that those are racist notions, but I think it's very important for scholars and other people too to keep people in the context of their own times.

  Is there a moment in his young life, before he reaches national prominence?
In Jefferson's early life, I think there are some revealing moments that foreshadow his greatness. One would be when he's just a teenager and he thinks about what he's going to do next and decides he wants to go to the College of William and Mary. He writes a remarkable letter to the executor of his father's estate and he says that he wants to go off because he wants a "more universal acquaintance." That's what he wanted out of college—he wanted to learn. And I think that this is a clue to his personality, and it's a trait that's lifelong. I think also at the College of William and Mary, he came under the influence of some extraordinary individuals. And we must remember that the school was very small. Williamsburg was just a hamlet. Still, there were a handful of people there that touched this country boy from the backwoods, this tall red-headed youngster, and opened up new worlds for him.

  What's remarkable about where he grew up?
People come to Monticello and they say "This is an extraordinary and sophisticated place," and indeed it is. But we forget that when Jefferson was a youngster, he grew up in a wilderness environment in the back country of a colony 3,000 miles away from the mother country. His father was one of the first settlers. The Indians had long since left. This was rugged terrain and it required a hardy personality to survive, much less prosper. So think of a wilderness as you think of Jefferson's early environment.

Declaration of Independence, Signed by Congress

  Can you talk about the Declaration and what he put together for us?
One of the contributions of the Declaration of Independence is that it establishes certain ideals for a nation before there was a nation. And to think that this was done initially by a committee and then the committee had the good sense to turn it over to one person who had a felicitous pen also tells you something about the way the process of government should function. But Jefferson placed the moment on the highest possible ground and gave us a philosophy of government as well as a reason for separation from another country.

  Can you parse that remarkable second sentence for me?
The most powerful words ever written. "All men are created equal." Governments are created to protect the rights of the governed and all men have certain inalienable rights and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That summarizes for millions of people in all generations in all places the relationship between themselves and a governing body. And it rests the ultimate authority with the people.

  What does pursuit of happiness mean?
Pursuit of happiness, in my reading of it, meant the opportunity of every individual to pursue their own best selves so long as it didn't interfere in a fundamental way with the rights of other people. And that concept was articulated in an era when there were kings and monarchies and tyrannies in the world. That's a radical notion of the first order and it resonates today. We saw much evidence of it during the democratic revolutions of 1989.

Declaration of Independence, Earliest Known Draft

  It seems that the words are deliberately vague and abstract and yet they survive almost because of that abstraction....
Jefferson claimed no originality. He said, "This is the common sense of the times," and yet he was able, I think, to come up with the coins that are currency everywhere. The genius was in the choice of the words, and the words give the ideas transcendence. They are simple; they are straightforward. All people can understand, at a certain level, what they mean. And yet, they're just abstract enough to be challenging over time, to be a stretch, to be a reach for all of us. All men are created equal.

Statute of Religious Freedom

  Can you tell me about the Statute for Religious Freedom?
One of Jefferson's great gifts to us is the notion that the state has no business telling you what to believe or not to believe, that freedom of conscience is fundamental. Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn says this is the most important document ever written by an American—bar none. And what could be more fundamental than the right to believe or not to believe? As we think about the millions of people who have been tortured or slain in religious wars, we should consider the American legacy, thanks to Jefferson and others, in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

  What are his flaws?
It bothers me to hear people talk about Thomas Jefferson as a saint. And I think that debases the man because he was an individual and he had flaws and foibles and worries as we all do. He struggled with indebtedness, that's a financial issue. He tended to be one who didn't like confrontations and tried to get other people to do his work for him. He oftentimes would appear a little diffident on first meeting, but I think his humanity makes us appreciate all the more his greatness.

Head and Heart Letter

  Tell me about Maria Cosway.
When Thomas Jefferson went to France, it was a whole new world and, of course, he had just been recently widowed. He met an extraordinarily gifted Italian-British married woman by the name of Maria Cosway, who was an artist and musician. And the way I would put it is he had a teenage crush on Maria. He was clearly infatuated with her. He wanted to spend as much time as possible in her good company. And he wrote a remarkable letter later, the famous Head and Heart letter, in which he tries to balance out reason and emotion in sorting out his feelings toward Maria Cosway. We don't know if the relationship was ever physically consummated but there's no doubt about the infatuation.

  What won with Jefferson, the Head or the Heart?
I think ultimately with Maria Cosway and in so many other instances the Head prevails. There's a rationality and a kind of controlled reason with Jefferson that, more times than not, would win out over raw emotion. He was a man of great discipline and great self-control.

  What's the moose story?
Thomas Jefferson was offended by the idea of some French scholars that somehow or another the New World environment produced inferior beings. Of course, his own presence would make a statement against that; he was six two and a half. He was taller than anybody in almost any room in France, but he wanted to underscore the point, so he had a moose skeleton brought over and, of course, it's a towering animal. It must have dwarfed many of the French scholars who had this notion of Americans being inferior in every way because of the atmosphere of the North American continent. It's a rather dramatic way of making a point.

  Was Sally Hemings Thomas Jefferson's mistress?
The Hemings family is terribly important to the Monticello story. There's no historical evidence that there was a relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally. She enters the scene as a 14-year-old in France, where she had come along somewhat unexpectedly to accompany Jefferson's youngest daughter. There are oral traditions that are in conflict. There are many blacks today who believe they are descendants of that possible union. On the other hand, there's another oral tradition that would say that the paternity rested with others than Thomas Jefferson. My own belief is that, as one of the contemporaries of Jefferson said, it would be morally impossible for that relationship to have occurred.

Sally Hemings Accusation

  That she came home from France pregnant with Jefferson's child is just not the case?
Paternity is difficult to prove in modern times with the best lawyers and the best medical evidence. To turn it back 200 years is very complex and the evidence is simply not there. We do know the origin of the story in 1802 with an aggrieved office-seeker who was a newspaper editor and had a poison pen. And the idea was quickly picked up by Jefferson's enemies and widely circulated. I don't think you can disprove it but there's no evidence to prove it either and it seems totally out of character to me.

  Why is it out of character for him?
Thomas Jefferson railed against miscegenation. We know it was a common practice on many Southern plantations. I don't think it's acceptable to say because it happened elsewhere, it necessarily happened with Thomas Jefferson. Was Thomas Jefferson an average person? Was he like everybody else? Well, obviously not. He was also totally devoted to his family and he had 11 grandchildren living with him. And one of the granddaughters lived essentially directly above him. She heard everything. She heard him when he got up in the morning and sang Scottish airs and the like... There are no secrets on a plantation, certainly not at Monticello. And his family, to whom he was totally devoted, completely discounted this possibility.

  Why would he give the Hemingses special treatment?
You can't understand Monticello without understanding the African-American community, and the most important family at Monticello would have been the Hemingses. We know a great deal about them and they are part of the interpretation at Monticello today. They were important before Sally Hemings came along. And there were many remarkable individuals in the family who worked in the house or who had skills that were important to the plantation. The Hemingses are very important to the story, even aside from Sally Hemings.

  And that would account for Jefferson's care for them or different kind of treatment?
Even before Sally Hemings entered the story, members of the Hemings family occupied important positions on the plantation. And that would have been the tradition throughout Jefferson's life. So, to me, it doesn't hold much water to say that because the Hemingses were important, therefore Thomas Jefferson had a relationship with Sally.

  African-Americans are central to this union because they gave him the time...
I've often said that you cannot understand Thomas Jefferson without understanding slavery and you cannot understand Monticello without understanding the African-American community. We spend a lot of time trying to interpret and research the role of African-Americans. Unfortunately, their voice too often has not been heard. Even as we speak, we're doing an oral history project with the descendants of Monticello slaves to try to find all we can about them and to return them to their rightful place on the mountaintop. No slavery, no African-American community, no understanding of Thomas Jefferson.

  Can you talk about his love of plants?
After Jefferson left the presidency, he wrote a wonderful letter that said, "I'm an old man but a young gardener." He seemed to care about everything that grew at Monticello. And to try, somehow or other, to orchestrate the colors and the smells season by season, he enlisted his grandchildren in this project. And there's a wonderful image from Jefferson's writings, to the effect that 'the flowers are like performers in a play and the tulips come on the stage and they have their words and then they leave and then they're replaced by the daffodils' and so forth and so on. And I think that's a great metaphor and it suggests a love of life itself as seen in the flowers and vegetables on the mountaintop.

  And he loved animals and horses.
Jefferson, it was said, was passionately fond of a good horse. And even when he was in his seventies, he rode from 6 to 8 miles a day and up to 30 without fatigue. Horses, he said, were the most sovereign of all doctors. And he knew a little about that subject because he outlived 30 personal physicians.

  He's got some opinions about doctors.
Jefferson was ambivalent about doctors. He thought many were barbarians, and he cracked on one occasion that if you saw buzzards hovering in the distance, it meant that a doctor had just left the house. But, on the other hand, he had his family inoculated at a time when that was a radical notion in science. He read widely about medicine. He certainly trusted a number of his own personal physicians and he recognized the importance of it. So I guess the bottom line is he was ambivalent and ultimately became somewhat his own doctor as he studied medicine very carefully himself.

“Jefferson would fit the modern ideal of the wholistic man.”

  He really has rather modern notions of fitness.
Jefferson would fit the modern ideal of the wholistic man. He believed that you should exercise, that you should eat right—he was close to being a vegetarian—and even that it helped to have friendships and sunny thoughts. I think that helped to account for the fact that he lived to be 83 years old, which was remarkable, especially for that time period.

“He was nothing if not methodical.”

  Drink in a day at Monticello...
A day in the life of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello would have been very full. He was nothing if not methodical. He liked to brag that he rose with the sun and that the sun had not caught him in bed in a 50-year period. Right off the bat, he took a temperature reading, to which he would add a mid-afternoon reading. He kept five daily journals, which was just incredible. He also wanted to record the direction of the wind and the velocity, as well as whether there was any precipitation. Then he would bathe and shave and he would put his feet in cold water. He thought this was good for his health and had kept him from having what we would describe as a common cold for 50 years. After that he started what he called his pen-and-ink work or correspondence. It might take several hours. Finally, about 8 o'clock, a bell would go off and the family would gather for breakfast, Jefferson already having put in several hours. He kept books in the dining room and he read while he waited for others to gather. Breakfast was fairly light. Afterwards Jefferson might return to his private quarters. Very soon, though, he would call for a favorite horse—almost always a bay—and he would inspect the plantation, go to Mulberry Row, go to the outlying farms, and ultimately come back. The second meal of the day was midafternoon. It would be fairly heavy. Jefferson encouraged conversation. He knew a little about everything but always wanted to know more. He served a combination of good Virginia country food and what some critics called "Frenchified vittles." After that he might go back to his private quarters or if he had guests—and that was normally the case—he might take them on a walk around the property or they might stay in the parlor and have a musical event or go into the entrance hall, that great cabinet of curiosities. Jefferson had 28 Windsor chairs in the entrance hall, so it's like a seminar room. Whatever came in from Lewis and Clark, for example, Jefferson would talk about it. Around 7 o'clock, he would retire for the evening. Certainly there would be some bookkeeping in his journals. He would also perhaps do some reading. He read fewer and fewer novels as he got older. Somebody asked him about fiction and he said novels were a "mass of trash." He also would try to read something moral, he said, before he went to sleep. And he felt that during the intervals of sleep, that the mind still works, and kind of last in, first out. So if you read something that made you a better person, then you woke up a better person. So a very full day, very systematic, very methodical.

  Did he sing?
Jefferson loved music. He said, "Music is the favorite passion of my soul." That's a thread throughout his very long life. He played the violin as a young man and he had a wonderful collection of sheet music. He bought musical instruments for the two daughters, and his wife was musical and he liked to gather people in the parlor for musical events. Jefferson was a great patron of music as well as being a musician himself.

  Talk about the death of his wife.
Jefferson wrote about his marriage in terms of "ten years of unchequered happiness." We know that's hyperbole, as is often the case with Jefferson, because there was a lot of sadness—four of the six children died in infancy. His wife died, though, in 1782 at Monticello. It was a traumatic episode in Jefferson's life. He was struck dumb by it. He was unable to communicate his feelings for a long period of time. Apparently he would ride off in the countryside alone. There's no doubt about it, this was one of the dark moments of his life. He never forgot it.

  Can you talk about Franklin consoling Jefferson in Philadelphia?
When we think about the Declaration of Independence, we focus on the great ideals and we forget the setting. But it was hot that summer in Philadelphia and Jefferson was consigned to an apartment and he was given the task by the committee to come up with a draft and he worked long and hard on it. He had a little lap desk that he took with him. Not that Jefferson was in a vacuum, because he took daily temperature readings and he also made purchases for his wife back in Virginia. Ultimately the draft was presented to the legislative body. The other delegates, as is often the case, were critical of someone else's writing and they started to offer amendments. Fortunately, Dr. Franklin was able to console Thomas Jefferson and said basically, "Don't take it personally." And ultimately, of course, the most important things in the Declaration were left there, but we can empathize with Jefferson the author.

  Was Thomas Jefferson a good president?
Thomas Jefferson served two terms as president and there are certainly some spectacular highlights, like the Louisiana Purchase. That alone would make him a successful president. He was also wonderful at working with Congress and he foreshadowed many modern presidents in his ability to get along and to get things done. There were other highlights like stopping the foreign slave trade, but I think ultimately there's a psychological achievement here in that power passed peacefully from one party, the Federalists, to Jefferson's. And Jefferson took the high ground and his First Inaugural is a model of reconciliation. Now we take this for granted. But in other countries around the world, power does not pass peacefully. In addition, Jefferson passed the reigns to his designated successor, Madison—another achievement.

  Can you talk about this remarkable relationship with John Adams?
It's one of the great stories in all of American history: the relationship between Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia planter, and John Adams, the Massachusetts lawyer. They were young men together in the Revolution, making a nation. What a thrilling stage. And yet, over time, there was a horrible rupture that was personal and political about the time of Adams' presidency. Then, there was a reconciliation as they both entered their sunset years, with an exchange of a hundred and fifty letters. Great archives of our American heritage. Adams liked to ask Jefferson broad philosophical questions to draw him out. And we learn much about Jefferson's thoughts on a number of topic thanks to John Adams. And then, of course, the final exclamation point—they died on the same day, July the Fourth, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Jubilee of Independence.

  Talk about James Madison.
The great little Madison! What a contrast, he's about five-five, Jefferson's six-two and a half. Madison always wore black. Jefferson, of course, has this red hair and can be very stylish. It's a 50 year friendship and collaboration. Madison and Jefferson started in 1776 and went all the way through to 1826. Madison lived not far away in Montpelier. The two men got together a lot. They talked about everything. They shared interests. In general, Jefferson is the visionary. Jefferson is the engine that wants to go far and fast. Madison is more the anchor who wants to sort of slow things down a bit. Madison is a little more of the academic and the scholar and the voice of restraint to Jefferson's passions. From beginning to end, it's always the same—it's Mr. Madison and Mr. Jefferson.

  Talk about his relationship to the press.
Jefferson can be quoted on both sides of the issue of freedom of the press. Certainly he believed in freedom of expression and he's justly the champion of journalism. But he had some pretty rough times and we must remember that, in his era, it was a vitriolic journalism, a very personal journalism. And he felt the sting of the blows of some partisan editors. But a great quote of his is that if he was given a choice between government and newspapers, he would take newspapers.

  Can you talk about his faith and the Jefferson Bible?
Jefferson, I believe, was a man of deep faith. He did have spiritual beliefs and values. He was not a denominationalist as such, and certainly he believed that it was fundamental that it was no business of government to tell you what you could believe or what not to believe and that's one of his great contributions. He made his own Bible. He cut out the words of Jesus Christ from a number of different translations, pasted them into a scrap book and that's what he typically read just before he went to sleep. And he had this notion that, if you read something moral at night, in the intervals of sleep, the brain, in some fascinating way, would be ruminating and chewing on what you had read and you would wake up a better person. So he is a man of faith, a man of spiritual qualities. But not in a conventional sense.

  What was the reaction to Jefferson's deep individual religious views?
Jefferson was very private about his religious beliefs. In addition he thought it was no business of the state to tell a person what they could believe or not. Consequently, the religious establishment, the religious right of that day excoriated Jefferson, saw him as an atheist, saw him as an enemy of established order, a godless man when that wasn't the case at all. Jesse Jackson once said people think of Jefferson as a tradition-maker when, in fact, he was really a tradition-breaker. And in separating church and state and in establishing the notion that your individual belief is your individual belief, he certainly was an enemy of the established religious church at that time.

  What does the Lewis and Clark trip symbolize?
Lewis and Clark are a couple of old Virginia boys who were a part of Jefferson's network. He sent them out West on a "voyage of discovery." And I think that phrase says it all. It's a voyage of discovery geographically and scientifically, intellectually. It fits all that we know about Jefferson's interest in the West and in the large America. It must have been thrilling for him to receive information about their discoveries step by step.

  They sent back things?
Yes, you can imagine being at Monticello and something would arrive from Meriwether Lewis and they would open it up and it might be a buffalo robe with a scene painted on one side of Indians at battle, or perhaps antlers of moose or elk or deer. Jefferson, you could imagine, would bring people together, the family or guests, in the great entrance hall, that cabinet of curiosities and gather everybody around and say, "Look what's just arrived from Captain Lewis!"

  But he never traveled that far west...
Jefferson is rightly regarded as the Father of the American West but he never made it west of the Blue Ridge. One of the ironies. He sponsors Lewis and Clark. He sponsors other expeditions. He signs into law the Louisiana Purchase treaty, doubles the size of the country, has a great curiosity about the West, but he never travels himself more than literally a few miles west of Monticello itself.

  Is there a moment or a story that comes to mind about the last period of his life?
Jefferson's retirement years after he left the presidency until his death in 1826 were a mix of some of the happiest times of his life with family, friends, and books and, I think, some of the most difficult. And we never want to forget his increasing indebtedness. We never want to forget his conflicted feelings about slavery. There are personal problems as well: problems of health, problems within the family. But through it all, I believe that his belief in man, that his optimism, his humanism prevails. That is, adversity never triumphs over his character. One of the greatest letters was his last. He was invited to speak on July the Fourth in Washington. He was very careful about composing his response as he knew he wasn't going to be able to go. It's 1826. It's not long before he dies. But he restates what it was all about 50 years before. And he uses that magnificent pen to crystallize those transcendent ideas. And that's his summary statement. He's 83 years old.

  Tell us about his bankruptcy, the lottery....
Jefferson was born into a world of indebtedness. He married into an even larger world. It was no time to be a Virginia planter in the Revolution, and during the Napoleonic Wars when trade was stopped. So there's never a time when he's out of debt. But somehow or another, he always believes he's going to figure a way to resolve it. In the home stretch in the 1820s, he must have realized that there was no way out. His friends tried to be helpful by suggesting a lottery and a public subscription. It must have been humiliating to him. His family saw it all very clearly. And his daughter Martha, who lived at Monticello, I think spoke for all by saying they never begrudged him anything.

  Why all this putting up and tearing down?
There's a famous quote to the effect that architecture gave Jefferson great pleasure. It was his delight, putting up and pulling down. And I think that's a metaphor for his life. He's never satisfied. He's ever curious. He's a lifelong learner. He's always trying to find something better. As a result, even at the end, he's got some ideas for making changes at Monticello. Monticello's a motion picture. Monticello is shot over 60 years. What we see now is just a photograph, a still, but don't forget in the entire time Jefferson lived on the mountaintop, he was revising. There's a great T. S. Eliot line that's something to the effect of "Decisions. Revisions." And I think that that's Jefferson.

  Can you put us at the day of his death?
Jefferson lived a remarkably long life. He reached the age of 83. Basically, he was starting to come apart at the seams. There's no one cause. He knew that time was short. The doctor was summoned. Members of the family gathered around. He went into a coma. But he would come out of it and, in kind of a whisper, he would ask the same question: "Is it the Fourth?" And he was told, "No, Mr. Jefferson. It is not the Fourth." And then finally when the question was asked in a whispery voice, the answer was affirmative, "Yes, Mr. Jefferson, it is the Fourth." And he passed away.

  Is there a dark side to Jefferson?
Jefferson, in the 1780s, especially in Notes on Virginia, offered his observations about African-Americans and Indians. And we would certainly regard those, looking from the 1990s, as being racial theories and he felt that there were significant biological differences. And people have seized upon that to suggest a sort of darker side of Jefferson. I think you have to keep the man in the context of his times and, in addition, he said that this is a hypothesis based upon limited observation on plantations in Virginia. And he said at the time, in terms of African-Americans, that even if there are some physical differences, there's a fundamental moral value that all men are accorded.

  So what finally is Thomas Jefferson's gift to us?
Jefferson's legacy is in part his statesmanship. He held virtually every office from justice of the peace in the county of Albemarle all the way to the presidency and he did something at every stop. Jefferson's legacy is Monticello; it's three-dimensional; it's tangible; it's extraordinary; it's a window into this remarkable mind. Jefferson's legacy is his internationalism, something we take for granted. He was the most global of the founders and still has the most influence worldwide. But I think, above all, it comes down to his ideas and his ideals, his words "all men are created equal." And also what Jefferson had to say about religious freedom or freedom of speech or freedom of thought or democratic values or the importance of education, and the list goes on. It's his ideas and his ideals and his words that live.

  So he will survive. He's been called the man of the millennium. What do you think?
Thomas Jefferson is a controversial figure. He has outlived his critics for 200 years. And I think the prognosis is good, so long as people care about freedom of speech and freedom of religion and democratic values and public education.

  What would he feel about our education today?
I'm very reluctant to say what Jefferson would think about anything. But he would have to be excited about scientific progress and medical progress. He would have to be pleased at the broader base, I think, of education. On the other hand, I think he would be saddened by the dumbing down of so much of education, about the lack of standards, by the sort of easy approach that is often taken. Jefferson believed in public education. Jefferson believed that knowledge was power. But the assumption was that there were standards with education.

  Why was he criticized as the governor of Virginia?
Jefferson, as governor, had a very difficult tenure in part because the office had very little power. Somebody said it was equivalent to a signing clerk. And also in part because there were uninvited guests, namely, the British. It was late in the Revolution and Virginia had given a great deal to the cause and there was not much left to give. Jefferson, at the end of his tenure was faced with the British invasion. Technically speaking, the calendar date came and went and he was no longer governor and he gave up the power. Critics said he should have seized power despite the constitution and continued to offer leadership. You could argue that either way. Jefferson felt that the rule of law and the constitution would take precedence over the immediate emergency.

  Many thought his actions were cowardly.
At the General Assembly session not long after Jefferson's governorship, a resolution was introduced to investigate his conduct and it was suggested that he was cowardly. The British tried to capture him at Monticello and there's no question about it, he didn't hang around to be captured. But I think that that's common sense and not cowardice.

Curriculum for the University of Virginia

  University of Virginia...
Jefferson had a wonderful phrase for what he was doing in retirement about the University of Virginia. He called it "the hobby of my old age." We can see Jefferson walking on the north terrace with a telescope looking at the campus as it came into being. We can follow Jefferson on a horse riding down to inspect things as the pavilions began to be constructed. We can see Jefferson attending the early meetings of the Board of Visitors. We can see Jefferson, in the correspondence, hoping to get the best professors from Europe to come to this new school. And beyond all of that is a radical notion—this is public education. It's not a school controlled by a religious group. It's a school in which a generation would be trained for leadership roles. It's a school that would be attended by the natural aristocracy, that is, the people who were just bright, and not by the artificial people who were born into certain families. It was a great vision—and what a wonderful thing to do in the retirement years.

  What a hobby.
What a hobby.

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