“And our own dear Monticello, where has nature spread so rich a mantel under the eye? mountains, forests, rocks, rivers. With what majesty do we there ride above the storms! How sublime to look down into the workhouse of nature, to see her clouds, hail, snow, rain, thunder, all fabricated at our feet! And the glorious Sun, when rising as if out of a distant water, just gilding the tops of the mountains, and giving life to all nature!”
-Thomas Jefferson 1786
I want to apologize for my delay in posting to Autographed Letter Signed. I have been in Virgina for the past few days. I call it my “American Tour”. Words cannot describe how I feel when I am in touch which the relics of American History and my stop at Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson did not fail to move me to tears. As I walked through the stately neoclassical structure and the serene, lush gardens I cannot pretend that the lives of the slaves did not figure prominently in my thoughts. There was a distinctive tension between beauty and sadness. Beauty represented by the picturesque grounds, the well preserved furniture, the awesome bond that one feels with America upon seeing Jefferson’s original chess set, his bed or the portrait of Martha Jefferson – the only female member of the family not to die during childbirth. She would raise 11 children. This brings us to the ghosts of sadness. Sadness when one thinks that the labor involved with maintaining such a grand place relied on slave labor, over 400 slaves to be exact, I felt the need to pray. The African American Graveyard was the proper place for this. I thanked God for my freedom and the opportunity to be born free in the greatest country in the world. I thanked god for the lives of the slaves and the wonderful work they did on Monticello. I prayed that the slaves were at peace and free from shackles literally as well as those which were self imposed.
I stood before those graves, wearing nice clothes and a postgraduate education, swatting the dragonflies. I would have made a terrible slave, it was so hot and humid- and those hills! I looked from the windows of Monticello and wondered if the view I saw was the same that Sally Hemmings looked at everyday.
The social hierarchy of the time was present in placement of the slave quarters, particularly the kitchen. The kitchen was far away from the main house. A loudspeaker piped in the kitchen sounds. Slave women were humming as they prepared the 1/2 Virginian, 1/2 French meals that Jefferson so loved. The community of unpaid cooks and servants. At that moment, I was so glad to be a Republican. Why have African Americans come so far only to trade their true liberty for the false security offered by the Democrats and their government programs?
Individual freedom is what this country was founded upon. A copy of the Declaration of Independence hung in Monticello, our tour guide explained that while the words “All men are created equal” were included, Thomas Jefferson was a man of contradiction. Slavery was in direct opposition to the American Dream. The constitution says nothing about our right to abortion or heath care but it does afford us the freedom to carve our own destiny. This battle in Washington, DC does not concern health care or abortion or the economy. Not really. The battle is about individualism versus collectivism. The slaves collectively cleaned the “masser’s” house, tended his gardens, cooked his food, raised his children. I as an individual and citizen of the United States of America am free to walk away from that plantation. I am no body’s slave. Yes as an American, I have obligations to my country, obligations to my family, my community – my very own social contact with America,but that is my choice as an individual. Collective life demeans and stifles freedom. People who rely upon the government are slaves. Forgive my proselytizing but my rant is simply my shocked reaction to Americans who feel that it is the job of government to be our master and guide. When I see the slave quarters at Monticello, I intuitively respond with anger and strong justification to be proud of my life’s accomplishments- post poverty, post welfare.
Monticello is a gorgeous home. Thomas Jefferson was a great man, a scholar, a man of books. Despite his faults he is a founding father of my country. He may not have wanted me, an African American woman to stand before his great home a free woman. I walked through his dining room as a guest, not a servant. I did not use the slave entrance and when I was finished with my visit, I did something that Jefferson’s slaves could not do…I left on my own.
God Bless America
Autographed Letter Signed,