“Did they give you change in $2 bills?” My sister asked.
“Em… no. I used my credit cards, not cash while I was there…” I replied.
“Oh…well I remember Mom and Dad took us there when we were kids, and the thing I remember is that they give everyone change in $2….. That’s the one with Thomas Jefferson on it.”
“Damn. I wished I’d known that before going. Otherwise I would have asked for change for a ten, and I would have automatically gotten five souvenirs to give to people when I get back to Indy.”
Home to Thomas Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence, third President of the United States, and notoriously divisive individual in American history.
The story is well known and I won’t flesh out all the details here, but the tour guides do address it head on during their tours of Monticello. On the one hand you have this man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, which becomes the establishing document for democratic ideals throughout the ‘free world’ for centuries to come; and on the other hand you have a man who through out his life would willing own and enslave other human beings.
For myself, and many others, this striking contradiction is big part of what makes Thomas Jefferson such in interesting figure in world history to read about. The fact that he had these two sides to his life which are such polar opposites of each other is both perplexing and emotionally stirring. Additional, and of equal note for my own background, I have a deep appreciation for Jefferson’s work to ensure the separation of Church and State.
Jefferson’s Little Mountain
What I didn’t realize about Monticello before going though, is that it does have the nickname, ‘Jefferson’s little mountain’ for a reason. The vista views go on for miles and miles. You get a real sense for the rolling landscape of Virginia as a whole. Virginia is another one of those states where I had a certain image in my head of what it would be like, but having come to visit it, has been completely revamped and revised.
The tour of the inner portion of Monticello provides a lot of color and clarity in regards to both how Jefferson lived, as well as how he ultimately died. His understanding for his place in history is evident every where in the home as you tour the building.
Jefferson is a particularly interesting individual to me coming from a Unitarian perspective in that Jefferson was known to have edited the bible. It would become known as ‘The Jefferson Bible”
Though I’m often reluctant to quote Wikipedia as a source, I think they provide a fairly accurate summation in that quote:
“The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, commonly referred to as the Jefferson Bible, refers to one of two religious works constructed by Thomas Jefferson. The first, The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, was completed in 1804, but no copies exist today. The second, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, was completed in 1820 by cutting and pasting with a razor and glue numerous sections from the New Testament as extractions of the doctrine of Jesus. Jefferson’s condensed composition is especially notable for its exclusion of all miracles by Jesus and most mentions of the supernatural, including sections of the four gospels that contain the Resurrection and most other miracles, and passages that portray Jesus as divine.”
Full text can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible
I’m not taking sides on this one. But talk about an interesting sub-chapter in Jefferson’s personal life.
Walking the Grounds
After the tour of the house you are welcome to walk the grounds as you please and there were a number of additional private tours that I took a pass on.
As you walk back down to the visit center, you can pass by Jefferson’s grave, which is a full family lot. It’s still used to this day for descendants as well.
It was interesting walking around the perimeter grounds of Monticello, and having walked Walden Pond as well ‘how similar is what I’m looking at today what Jefferson and Thoreau looked at when they were here during their time?’
I’m told that the Moticello grounds themselves have a large number of additional trees that were not on the estate when Jefferson lived here, that the owner after Jefferson had many of them planted.
As you near Jefferson’s grave it notes only two important documents that Jefferson was a part of.
Quote: “One July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson died at Monticello and was buried the next day in the family graveyard. The epitaph he wrote for his tombstone included only “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”
It is this document of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom that establishes the separation of church and state in the United States, and for me establishes one of the foundational pillars for what guides America on to the success that it will obtain in the years to come after his death.
Entire books are written about Jefferson, and I imagine a Broadway musical has to already be in the works at this point. With that said, if you have any interest at all in American history and the story of Thomas Jefferson I encourage you to make a short pilgrimage to Monticello, it’s well worth the time.
Just remember to remember to bring some cash with you. It’s good for free souvenirs.