Comment: Truths and Untruths

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Truths and Untruths

I think both Throckmorton and Barton have pieces of the truth in their arguments, but overall, I'm a bit more in the Barton camp. The evangelical right too often tries to demonize Jefferson because he didn't view Christianity in their prescribed way.

I did my master's thesis on Jefferson and have read a great deal of his original writings. I find that many people come to the Jefferson discussion with so many extreme biases that it is hard for them to put Jefferson in context or see him as a human being rather than a caricature or an icon.

They also don't look at the economics of history. For instance, one thing that is blatantly missing from the "freeing his slaves" debate is the issue of debt. Jefferson inherited both slaves and a huge debt from his father-in-law. The story of this debt is long and complicated, but the fact of the matter is, those slaves were considered to be collateral for the debt. Right or wrong, slaves were considered property, just like a house. And just like you can't get rid of your mortgage by giving your house away, slaves being used as collateral couldn't be freed regardless of your beliefs about slavery. When discussing Jefferson's financial problems and slavery, the collateral issue is inevitably left out of the debate.

Thomas Jefferson was a man who lived in difficult and complicated times. Overall, I think he was a great (though not perfect) man who we are all indebted to.