Monticello, Home to Thomas Jefferson

Trip Start Mar 04, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2014

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Flag of United States  , Virginia
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If I had been asked when we first went full-time to create a list of places I wished to visit Monticello would have been towards the top.  It is hard to believe it has taken us 7 years to finally get here, but here we are!  Rather than try to come up with my own words to explain this place I am going to quote directly from the brochure that is distributed by the Jefferson Foundation....

"Thomas Jefferson ( 1743-1826 ), theorist of the American Revolution, drafted the Declaration of Independence.  The ideals of the Declaration - that "all men are created equal" and have a right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" - established the foundations of self-government and individual freedom in America.  Jefferson's words of 1776 still inspire people around the world today. 

After writing the Declaration, Jefferson spent the next 33 years in public life, serving as delegate to the Virginia General Assembly and to Congress, a governor of Virginia, minister to France, secretary of state, vice president, and president from 1801 to 1809.  Notable achievements of Jefferson's presidency include the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 

Jefferson designed every aspect of Monticello, an icon of architecture and a World Heritage site, constructing and modifying its buildings and landscape over a period of 40 years.  He believed that human reason and knowledge could improve the condition of mankind.  Jefferson studied science and was an "enthusiast" of the arts, shaping public architecture in America, and contributing to horticulture, ethnography, paleontology, archeology, astronomy to name but a few.  In retirement, he found and designed the University of Virginia."

We had booked, ahead of time, tours of the ground floor along with a 'behind the scenes' tour of the upper floors & dome room.  The Jefferson Foudation, in trying to keep up with the changes in our understanding of Thomas Jefferson and the times he lived in has added an additional tour about Slavery at Monticello. This tour is included with the price of admission.  We enjoyed the house tours  but we both found the Slavery tour to be the most interesting. 

The guide for this tour had a lot of knowledge about the slaves that worked on and ran Jefferson's Monticello.  In fact we learned that he owned over 607 slaves in his lifetime.  Up until recently guides had called  these slaves 'servants'.  At the time of Jefferson's death he was in debt and the majority of his slaves had to be sold off to settle his accounts - they were, after all, his greatest asset. 

We learned that Jefferson felt that slavery should be abolished but that he had no idea how to go about starting this process. He had included a paragraph in his Declaration draft that included the freeing of the slaves but was talked in to removing it by John Adams who felt that they could never get the 'southern' states to sign.  His wish for 'all men to be created equal' does not mesh with his refusal to allow his slaves to be taught how to read and write.  His fear was that they could than forge manumission papers along with passes. 

I think the best quote from our guide was that 'she enjoyed interacting with adults on this tour but that she really struggled with the fourth graders who knew the meaning of hypocrisy!" 
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