On a day off this week, the family and I took a drive south from Washington, D.C. to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s restored plantation. The Missus had been desperate to see his gardens and I figured I’d have a chance to do some antiquing in another state.
One of the three guided tours was a look at slavery on the plantation. I’m not opposed to tours of things that showcase some of the uglier moments in history. Mom was fortunate enough to be included in one of the first tours of the Holocaust Museum and she has also been to several of the Camps in Germany. Despite the horrific nature of these endeavors, she noted it was a moving and life-changing experience for her.
Thus, I expected at least something beyond the general acknowledgement that, yes, Jefferson owned slaves. I was expecting some of the details as to the general problems associated with this, the social ills and more.
Instead, I got kind of a “Y’know… slaves… gosh…” approach to the topic.
We got to see the land on which the slave quarters, blacksmith shop and other similar buildings had rested upon. Unlike the master’s house, restoration or rebuilding didn’t seem to be in the cards for these structures.
As our tour guide told us about life here for slaves, it practically made you want to sign up. I mean, Jefferson was a great guy! He didn’t split up married couples! His slaves lived longer than those deeper in the South! Of his 130 slaves, he released FIVE in his will!
When things weren’t perfect, as in when Jefferson was supposedly providing blankets for his slaves every three years, the blame often went elsewhere (sometimes the overseeing slaves didn’t pass them out). In terms of the institution itself, Jefferson wrote that slavery really was a horrible thing, but hey, it was here and now we CAN’T do with out it, our guide noted. So, Jefferson, yes, well, he had them but it was not all that bad of a gig if you were a slave.
I’m sitting there listening to this thinking, “Yeah… BUT YOU WERE STILL A FUCKING SLAVE!”
If you want to forgive Jefferson as being “good for his time,” fine. Here’s a second bit of “popular dumbassery of the time.”
Steven Krieser, a top Walker official in the state DOT compared illegal immigrants to “Satan,” during a Facebook rant in which he defended the sale of bumper stickers that called for “illegal immigrant hunting.”
Walker yanked the ejector seat handle on this guy, but Krieser lamely defended his actions before noting, he used a “poor choice of words.”
Right. Let’s spin this!
“In making a comparative, I inadvertently compared illegal immigrants to Satan, when I in fact meant to type Santa. They show up in our home without our permission, in the dead of night and we never see them coming or going. Still, they give us stuff we would ordinarily have to pay for!”
And then there was the traditional defense: “I certainly didn’t mean any offense.”
OK, exactly what did you mean?
“Hey Paco! DIE YOU ILLEGAL MOTHERFUCKER! YOU TACO-MUNCHING PUSSY! I’M COMING FOR YOUR ASS! But, please don’t take this the wrong way…”
Look, I get that some things look worse in retrospect than they do at the time they’re happening: Separate but Equal, housing projects, anything people wore in the 1970s… However, common sense would dictate that if you wouldn’t want something done to you, don’t do it to someone else.
I didn’t see Jefferson volunteering to be someone else’s slave. I didn’t see him thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t rebuild my house about 95 times over 40 years,” or “Do I really need all this acreage and buildings that require slave upkeep?” He didn’t even free Sally Hemings, who bore him six children.
Someone asked the tour guide why.
The guide explained that first, she was a woman, which would have been a complete waste. The second reason? She was almost 50, which in Jefferson’s mind was infirmed. This from a guy who lived to be 83…
As for Krieser, he can justify his rant all he wants about how things are different closer to the Mexican border where all these good honest Americans are being overrun by the cast of some Cormac McCarthy book. That said, if someone pasted his face on a bumper sticker and told others “Shoot this dick in the face,” he wouldn’t be all “folks is folks” about it.
During our stay out here in D.C., I managed to catch a speech by Mary Beth Tinker, my long-time hero and subject of the “Tinker vs. Des Moines” free speech case. She talked at length about law versus justice and I think that all of these kinds of things boil down to this one simple idea:
“Don’t do what’s popular,” she said. “Do what’s right, because what’s popular will eventually change.”