The president of the university founded by Thomas Jefferson is being asked to stop quoting Jefferson, the principal author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States.
Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 and was involved with the University until his death in 1826.
On Friday, a letter was signed by 469 students and professors who objected to University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan from quoting Jefferson in a campus email because he owned slaves, The Cavalier Daily reported.
“I think that Jefferson is often celebrated for his accomplishments with little or no acknowledgement of the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings,” said Asst. Psychology Prof. Noelle Hurd, who drafted the letter.
According to Fox News, the trouble started for Sullivan due to a Nov. 9 email she sent to try to urge unity following the presidential election.
“Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes,’” Sullivan wrote. “I encourage today’s U. Va students to embrace that responsibility.”
The student-professor response acknowledged that Jefferson’s legacy had inspired some students and faculty to come to the University, however, “others of us came here in spite of it.”
Politics Prof. Lawrie Balfour, who signed the letter, said Jefferson’s words have often troubled her during her 15-year tenure at the University.
“Again and again, I have found that at moments when the community needs reassurance and Jefferson appears, it undoes I think the really important work the administrators and others are trying to do,” Balfour said.
The Cavalier Daily could not immediately reach Sullivan for comment.
Jefferson, who also served as a U.S. vice president and secretary of state, founded the University of Virginia in 1819 and was involved with the University until his death in 1826.
Perhaps the students and professors at the University of Virginia should study Thomas Jefferson’s efforts to end slavery.
There is a lot of speculation on Thomas Jefferson’s views on slavery but the assumption that Jefferson was pro-slavery is not close to the truth.
Indeed, when the Thirteenth Amendment was introduced into the U.S. Senate in 1864, the sponsors explained that – in order to honor Jefferson’s courageous struggle against slavery – they had chosen for their amendment language Jefferson had proposed eight decades earlier while drafting rules on behalf of the Second Continental Congress for the governance of the Western Territory (which Virginia had given to the new nation).
Jefferson wrote in 1784:
“That after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been convicted to have been personally guilty.”
Sadly, Jefferson’s effort failed by a single vote, leading him to later lament: “heaven was silent in that awful moment!”
He denounced slavery as “an abominable crime,” and struggled for decades to eliminate it.
Jefferson was one of the remarkable group of Virginia liberal slaveholders who hoped to free the slaves and colonize them in Africa. In Notes on Virginia, first published in 1782 shortly after his term of office as governor, Jefferson explained his legislative program for the emancipation of all slaves born after the passage of his law, providing for education at public expense “according to their geniuses,” and thereafter to be colonized in a distant area under the protection of this country.
His arguments against permanently absorbing the Negroes into the general population emphasizes “Deep-rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections by the blacks of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions nature has made…
It is ironic that two prominent Founding Fathers who owned slaves (Thomas Jefferson and George Washington) were both early, albeit unsuccessful, pioneers in the movement to end slavery in their State and in the nation.