Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Anita's Attic: What I Learned From Thomas Jefferson
First, it's a shame that I'm a Virginia native and hadn't been before, but as the tour guide said, "Better late than never." I have to say I wish I had gone before. Perhaps on a day when it wasn't 95 degrees outside, but it was a great trip. I was mesmerized by the place and by the man who built it. The house, considered an architectural masterpiece, was lovely, but not quite as large or fancy as I had expected.
His inventions were remarkable. He invented a copy machine (a device that would move a second pen as he wrote), double-pane windows when no one had them, a self-opening door...in the 18th century! and many more things to make life more efficient. The man was a brilliant.
And he kept slaves....Therein lies the rub.
Here's a man who authored the Declaration of Independence, served as the 3rd President of our country, as well as many other political offices, established the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, founded the University of Virginia, just to mention a few of his numerous contributions and accomplishments, yet he kept slaves and had a relationship with one of them, even had children with her.Sounds like a novel. In fact, Jefferson would make a great character for a book. Characters, just like people, aren't all good or all bad. Good characters have flaws. Sometimes serious flaws (like tolerating slavery.) The best bad characters aren't all bad. They have some redeeming qualities hidden in there somewhere. They might not ultimately choose to act on them, but they're there.
During my visit to Monticello, I didn't just learn about Thomas Jefferson's accomplishments and his contribution to our history or about his remarkable inventions, but it was a reminder that good people do some not so good things. We're complex and flawed, just like the characters we write in our stories.