In 2015, I decided to take my teenage sons on a trip across the country. We would travel in our motor home, and visit sites of historic significance. History was difficult for me when I was in school, as coursework emphasized rote memorization of dates, and matching them to names and events. Lost was their significance. What motivated these people, where did they come from, how did they plan for the future in formulating the blueprint for a new form of government? The foregoing was a predominant factor in my decision almost 10 years ago to home school my sons.
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. What did the Founding Fathers intend during its creation and what was promised during its ratification? Instead, we were, and still are, taught the case law method, which is simply what politically connected judges think our Constitution should mean, insofar is it results in policy outcomes based on their personal preferences.
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. Most notable was the use of Monticello and Montpelier as platforms to denigrate the memory of two iconic Founders.
Our journey commenced in Utah, and as we headed east we noticed indications of what was to come. Our earliest indication of what we were to experience came as we were driving east on Highway 70. As we traveled through Kansas to Independence, Missouri, I noticed a billboard advertising the town of Lecompton, featuring a picture of Abraham Lincoln. The billboard described the town as the place where the Civil War started, “the birthplace of the end of slavery.”
What I found disconcerting about the billboard was the proposition that Lincoln's purpose in attacking the South was to end slavery. The Party of Lincoln waged war to secure revenue from the South and to greatly expand the Federal government. By renaming their sole cause as one of ending slavery, true motivations are no longer questioned. This billboard was the first such instance of the perpetuation of the myth of Lincoln I would encounter, but was far from the last.
One of our first destinations was the site of John Brown's Raid. When we arrived at the Visitor's Center in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, we were informed that a guide - a “very knowledgeable historian” - would be giving a presentation. After describing Thomas Jefferson's impressions of the area, and its geographic attributes, he turned his attention next to John Brown, who was given accolades for shifting the focus of the Civil War to slavery. I asked how that could be, given that the fighting did not commence until almost two years subsequent to the Raid. (No mention was made of the night of May 24, 1856, where Mr. Brown and a his company of Free State volunteers brutally murdered five men in southeastern Kansas.)
I asked him how he reconciled the fact that after the raid Congress promised in a proposed Amendment to the Constitution, which Lincoln supported, to never interfere with slave ownership, and that Lincoln, both during the debates and in his inauguration, promised not to interfere with slavery, as he had no Constitutional authority to do so. His response was that Lincoln had to “be careful and abide by the Constitution” while working to abolish slavery. The guide completely ignored the proposed promise by Congress to never interfere with the institution, as well as Lincoln's own words during the Lincoln-Douglass Debates and his first Inaugural Address. Further, Lincoln's behavior was anything BUT respectful to the Constitution, in that he had no Congressional declaration of war supporting an invasion of the South, no authority to suspend habeus corpus, arrest dissenters such as Clement Vallandigham, who protested Lincoln's unlawful use of executive power during the war, interfere with elections, destroy the printing presses of newspapers who opposed him, etc.. When I asked the National Park Service guide about these events, he really had no reaction, it was as if he simply chose to pretend they never happened.
He held firm to his position that Lincoln's goal was to free the slaves. Predictably, he sung high praises for the Emancipation Proclamation. I asked if his intention was to free slaves, why did Lincoln do so only in the states “in rebellion” and not the states within his legal jurisdiction as well? Obviously he had no Constitutional authority to do either, but why was there a 100 day waiting period during which time the states could rejoin the Union and KEEP their slaves? Why were areas under Federal Control exempt from the edict? Again, he had no answer for me.
My next question was as follows: Assuming Lincoln had not been assassinated, would he then round up the newly “free” former slaves at gun point and force them off American soil, as he planned all along to colonize them? At this point he claimed Lincoln's views “evolved,” and that at the end of his life, he had changed his mind, no longer intending to follow through with his plans to colonize blacks. There have been documents found recently showing that, near the end of his life, Lincoln intended to bring these plans to fruition. So, unless Lincoln's ideas “evolved” on his death bed, this assertion stems from personal bias and not historical fact.
When I pointed out that the southern states were within their legal rights to secede , he responded that the Constitution of the CSA prohibited secession - an erroneous and irrelevant assertion.
I asked, given that slavery ended in numerous countries peacefully, and the carnage caused by the war, was it worth it, the bloodshed? He did not hesitate in answering in the affirmative. Earlier in the discussion he gave mention to the Irish who perished during the construction of railroads. Soon thereafter he described a testamentary document calling for the sale of ONE slave after the death of an owner, proceeds to go to the family of the decedent. At that point, almost on cue, the audience collectively groaned. No such emotion was showed for the many non-blacks who perished. Perhaps it was not politically correct to mourn their passing.
Two weeks into our journey, we finally arrived at the home of Thomas Jefferson. In front of the ticket office was a sandwich board display advertising a smart phone app called Slave Life at Monticello. At this point, I was noticing a pattern, and that is the politically – and now historically - correct desire to shift attention, whenever possible, to the issue of slavery.
Our docent appeared knowledgeable enough, but he also seemed to have an agenda: to divert attention from the man who owned this property, one of America's Founding Fathers, to slavery. He 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.
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. Further, emancipated slaves had one year to leave the State and start anew elsewhere. 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. What follow are examples from other stops we made during our journey.
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.
More of the same was to be had at Sharpsburg, Maryland and Kennesaw, Georgia, home of Antietam and Kennesaw Battlefields, respectively. At the former, the site of the bloodiest day in American history, the opening line of a movie played in National Park Service's visitor center stated that “in September of 1862, General Robert E. Lee decided to invade the North...” That in and of itself may be true, but, absent any surrounding details of the war, it gives the uninformed (and there are many!) the impression that General Lee was the aggressor. When one takes the self-guided tour of the battlefield, it is apparent that there are a plethora of monuments for participants from the Union, but a scant number of similar tributes to those who fought from the C.S.A..
By the time we arrived at Kennesaw Battlefield, I noticed an egregious pattern of this misrepresentation of history, so began to take copious notes of my experiences. The film presentation here started with a lamentation of Union (only) lives lost on the first day of this battle, where William T. Sherman decided to launch an attack on the entrenched troops of Joseph E. Johnston, in his march to capture Atlanta.
Again, slavery is blamed as the cause of the war, and Lincoln, whose re-election is in serious doubt at this time, is quoted as saying the war cannot end until this institution is abolished; such was his response to strong pressure for a negotiated peace with the South.
Fast forward to Lincoln's re-election, which was “by a landslide.” Interestingly, no mention was made of the wholesale interference with the process by the Republican Party and the Union Army; the inference being he won re-election due to overwhelming support at home. The outcome was fortunate, the narrator claimed, as the fate of “two nations” hung in the balance of the 1864 elections. Wait, did the National Park Service just inadvertently admit that the Confederated States of America was a sovereign nation?
An excerpt from the diary of a Union soldier shared the following sentiment: “Rebels fought with such courage it was a shame their cause was not worthy.” If fighting to defend your homeland and families from an invading army is not worthy, I don't know what is.
William T. Sherman remained unapologetic regarding the brutality of his troops during his infamous March to the Sea. He waged war on civilians, and rather than accepting personal responsibility, blamed “the war.” Here the National Park Service has chosen to portray Union behavior by showing soldiers in blue ravenously eating corn on the cob, gathering chickens, etc.. Not surprisingly, they make no mention of the brutality inflicted on women and children, and the beating and murders of slaves. Rather, the Union soldiers were merely foraging for food and freeing slaves along the way.
It is hardly surprising that the government which arose from this calamity, and ultimately benefited from it, seeks to change the narrative to one that justifies their illegal action, while at the same time causing those who question the revisionist account to be called ignorant and racist. State sovereignty, the ultimate check on unrestrained federal power, was forever destroyed at the hands of Lincoln and the Republican Party of the 1860s.
Interestingly, none of these agenda-driven, revisionist-style performances were 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.
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 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.