Thomas Jefferson

Arguments with Dead Men, Number Eleventy-Something in a Series:

The more I learn about Thomas Jefferson, the more I have to concede what an utter shitheel he was.

I am not referring here to his keeping a slave as his concubine while advertising himself as a friend of Liberty. (A man with a reputed IQ of 200 ought to find any number of willing women, with his own charm and intelligence; was he that clumsy a seducer? Burr and Franklin would call this unmanly.)

I am speaking of his conduct while Secretary of State under Washington. His doubling-dealings behind Washington's back are bad enough; for the particulars, I recommend the second half of Ron Chernow's biography of Washington.

My complaint today is based on his support for the worst excesses of the French Revolution. Much is made on the right these days of Noam Chomsky's early "support" for the Khmer Rouge. So far as I can tell, Chomsky was never a supporter of Pol Pot, but was at first skeptical about reports of atrocities, after twenty years of lies about Southeast Asia. When it was clear that the rumors were true, Chomsky denounced the Khmer and all war crimes, right or left.

Not so Thomas Jefferson. Not only did he not believe the early reports about French atrocities, he didn't much care: "My own affections have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to this cause, but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is." This, after thousands of men, women and children were murdered without trial. No wonder Tim McVeigh wore a Jefferson t-shirt when he was caught after blowing up a day-care center.

While Thomas Paine, pain-in-the-ass that he was, was on the scene in Paris and had been condemned to death for standing up to the Jacobins, Jefferson was safe at home munching pomme frites, flogging James Hubbard for trying to escape, endorsing the murder of innocents in France and shrugging at the Terror. A revolution is not a tea party-- unless you're Thomas Jefferson.

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