Mandeville, LA-17 May, 2016
By -The Suzanne Option’s Suzanne Sherman
Last year, I decided to take my teenage sons on a trip across the country. We would travel in our motor home, starting in our home state of Utah, and visit sites of historic significance. I am a licensed attorney, and my true knowledge of America’s history, unfortunately, did not begin to develop until subsequent to my departure from institutions of “higher learning.” The most glaring example is my legal “education,” absent from which was discussion of what the Constitution truly meant.
I am not a historian, and my purpose in this writing is to point out the lies that are being propagated by left-leaning benefactors doling out large grants and at taxpayers’ expense at National Parks, and sights of historic interest – most notably, Monticello and Montpelier.
I could not have anticipated that this journey would reveal such a shameful level of deception being foisted upon those seeking to learn about America and those who played such a great role in the formation of our system of self-government. After describing our experience, I will share my opinion as to what – or who – is behind this campaign of misinformation.
Two weeks into our journey, we arrived at Monticello. In front of the ticket office was a sandwich board display advertising a smart phone app called Slave Life at Monticello. The goal of the tour and experience was an attempt to divert attention from the man who owned this property, one of America’s Founding Fathers, to slavery. The docent leading the tour of the house never missed an opportunity: when we ascended the narrow staircases, we were instructed to imagine how difficult it was for the “enslaved servants to carry meal trays up and down this narrow stairway.” At every fireplace – “imagine enslaved servants having to carry wood up to these fireplaces…” It just went on and on.
Jefferson’s philosophical and political viewpoints were omitted to leave time for an explanation of how difficult life was for his “enslaved” servants. Not once did he omit the term “enslaved” – his demeanor was patronizing and condescending to those who made the journey to see Monticello, for anyone vaguely familiar with Thomas Jefferson would know that he owned slaves.
Interestingly, this revisionist-style performance was not presented at Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s other home west of Charlottsville. I complimented the docent for enlightening us on the details of the home and the family, and told him how much we appreciated him not making the tour about slavery, as they did at Monticello and Montpelier. In response, he asked if I would forward my comments to the staff at the main visitor center, as there was a faction trying to shift the emphasis the presentation to slavery. When I did so, my comments were met with obvious displeasure by a woman working in the gift shop, who likely disagreed with my feed back.
Later that day we arrived at Montpelier, the home of James Madison. The introductory movie here was a laughable exercise in self-contradiction. On the one hand, masters and slaves were said to experience a mutually beneficial relationship. The movie concluded with the accusation that “hundreds of African-Americans were enslaved to benefit a single white family.” I am still wondering if they bothered to edit their own efforts upon completion of this feckless presentation.
After viewing the film, we took the tour of the home. The dining room featured cardboard cutouts of individuals who had been known to visit James and Dolly Madison. One such figure was the Marquis de Layfayette, who our guide indicated chided James Madison for not freeing his slaves.
I took this moment to inquire as to whether the Marquis considered Mr. Madison a caring human being, because had Madison simply freed his slaves, they likely would have starved. She said that it would be necessary to provide for them, so I asked for how long, and would that include descendants; would he also be responsible for slaves he inherited in perpetuity, where would she draw the line? She even answered in the affirmative when I asked if history would view Madison in a better light if he released his slaves and they perished.
I also asked if the Marquis would respect laws making the emancipation of slaves illegal. She responded that emancipation was illegal in “some states.” I informed her she was standing in one such state, Virginia. She admitted that today we do not look at the slavery issue in the context of the time it existed, yet she seemed to be completely at ease with her flawed analysis.
Her parting shot on the subject was that Madison did not think blacks and whites should live together. I replied, “Neither did your Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.” At that point another visitor asked if we could please go back to talking about the room. (By all means, let’s instead discuss the color of the wallpaper.)
Movies from both Monticello and Montpelier featured images of Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as quotations of “freedom and equality.” Freedom, for whom? Slaves? What about our precious liberty? It struck me that the Progressive goal of Equality is the end; the slaves, over a century-and-a-half postmortem, are still being used as the means to further a political agenda.
Monticello and Montpelier were but two examples of historical revisionist doctrine being fed to those seeking to learn about our Constitutional Republic. We experienced the same at other sights; here are two more examples.
The home of John C. Calhoun lies in the heart of Clemson University. The home is beautifully maintained, and gives visitors the impression that it is still lived in – with one exception: poster boards with pictures of slaves and their stories are EVERYWHERE, even in the entries of bedrooms, so you are forced to look around them from the doorway. I mentioned to the docent that their placement was a distraction and misplaced, and she agreed, but admitted there was nothing she could do about it. Reading between the lines, one cannot but conclude the same trend was occurring here as well.
Our journey would not be complete without a visit to Colonial Williamsburg. Our first tour would be of the Randolph House. While waiting outside of the house, we were informed that the tour would cover the home itself, its rooms, architecture and brief description of the family who lived there. After that, the tour would concentrate on the many slaves who served the Randolph family, what life was like for them, and the hardships they were forced to endure.
When I inquired if the tour guide would inform us of the philosophical ideologies and numerous political contributions the Randolph family made in Colonial Virginia and in the founding of America, the guide shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, indicating he would not. It was simply not important.
At that point, one of the other guides, a man portraying a slave, admonished me, “We’re not gonna sugar-coat ANYTHING.” I could only take this to mean that illuminating the values and contributions of the Randolph family was not worthy information to be shared on this tour.
Peyton Randolph, a formidable figure from the era of America’s fight for independence, was a cousin to Thomas Jefferson. He presided over the first Continental Congress, was a leading figure opposing the Stamp Act and was the first American to be called “Father of his Country.”
Peyton’s brother John was born in this house, and when Peyton was elected speaker of the House of Burgesses, John became his successor as the Colony of Virginia’s attorney general.
Edmund Randolph went to live with his uncle Peyton after his father returned to England with Lord Dunmore. He later became the Aide-de-Camp for General Washington, served in the Continental Congress, and was the Governor of Virginia during the Philadelphia Convention. He was one of the drafters of the Virginia Plan, served as Attorney General under President Washington, and then assumed the role of Secretary of State subsequent to the resignation of Thomas Jefferson from that position. I find it incredible that this family was not worthy of discussion.
I cannot help but wonder why attention is being diverted from one theme (the lives of the inhabitants of the homes we visited, for example) to another (slavery) . The former have been dominated by the latter, to the detriment of both. I couldn’t help but notice at Montpelier the tour about slavery was two and a half times longer in duration than the tour of James Madison’s home. While both Montpelier and Monticello had tours dedicated to the issue of slavery, you could not take the tour of the main house without constant interjections of the subject of slavery. The only discussion pertaining primarily to Jefferson’s personal life was a tedious lecture on his extended lineage; the time would have been much better spent on the topic of his idea of federalism, for instance. (A subject never raised on either tour.)
Subsequent to our travels, I received newsletters from The Montpelier Foundation and The Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Both featured stories, for instance, of a subject never raised on the tour – a common benefactor. According to philanthropist David Rubenstein, a major donor to both organizations, our “founders’ homes are out of context without slave quarters.” His donations have contributed to the restoration of the main houses and of the slave quarters of both Monticello and Montpelier; however, the edict seems to have gone far beyond restoration and ventured into shifting the focus from two of America’s most significant Founders.
Mr. Rubenstein’s reported net worth is $2.8 billion. A small fraction of this fortune has been used to skew the impression of two of America’s most significant icons in a way he sees fit. Other donors seem to be making the same push, based on statements I have read by donors at other locations as well.
The point is not that the issue of slavery is unworthy of recognition; it is that slavery is dominating the theme of these places to the detriment of the discussion and sharing of the ideals, philosophies and political goals upon which America was founded.
David Rubenstein claims that the Constitution had “many of the features that made it possible for our country to grow into the nation it has become.” Given his accomplishments, I find it difficult to believe that Mr. Rubenstein is unaware that one nation is the last thing the founders and ratifiers intended to create.
It has become sadly apparent that left-leaning benefactors are using their vast resources to forever change the way we view those who played pivotal roles in early America . These men understood that the future of the United States of America lay in the newly-created government respecting its limited role, leaving the balance of power with the sovereign states. For this, their legacies have become distorted and marginalized. The Montpelier Foundation and The Thomas Jefferson Foundation have lost sight of the ideals these men stood for. Both Jefferson and Madison are buried on their respective properties, and if you go to their places of rest and sit quietly, you can hear them rolling over in their graves.