University of Virginia students and faculty object to the University President using quotes by its founder, Thomas Jefferson

It was only a matter of time before one of the greatest Presidents and statesmen this country ever had, Thomas Jefferson, came under the Knife of Offense because he owned slaves.  And indeed, that was a terrible form of oppression, one that caused Jefferson himself some cognitive dissonance, but he kept his slaves till he died, and of course fathered children by one of them. But he also called slavery an “abominable crime.” Many famous people engaged in morally repugnant activities, but I think we have to understand them, though not excuse them, as adhering to “regular behavior” at the time. And we shouldn’t, I think, let these flaws completely efface the good works such people did.

But now, as reported by The Washington Post,, and the University of Virginia (founded by Jefferson) student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, University of Virginia students have told the University’s president that they didn’t like his use of a Jefferson quotation in emails to the faculty

Several professors on Grounds collaborated to write a letter to University President Teresa Sullivan against the inclusion of a Thomas Jefferson quote in her post-election email Nov. 9.

In the email, Sullivan encouraged students to unite in the wake of contentious results, arguing that University students have the responsibility of creating the future they want for themselves.

“Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes,’” Sullivan said in the email. “I encourage today’s U.Va. students to embrace that responsibility.”

The temerity of President Sullivan! And if that weren’t enough, she’d quoted Jefferson before. From the Post:

It wasn’t the first such email quoting Jefferson that Sullivan had written to the student body. As The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga reported, a week earlier she sent one out after someone scrawled the word “terrorists” on the door of a dorm room where two Muslim students resided.

In that letter, Sullivan advocated peace on campus, writing, “Thomas Jefferson was the first American president to wrest power from an opposing party, yet he also provided a potent precedent for the peaceful transfer of power and the healing of a divided nation.”

Well, there’s nothing in either email about slavery, but merely quoting a slaveowner (who happened to have written the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom) was enough to arouse the Perpetually Offended.  Noelle Hurd, an assistant professor of psychology at the University, drafted an open letter to the President, which was cosigned by 469 people:

Dear President Sullivan,

We are writing in response to the e-mails you have sent out to the university community in regards to civility in the current political climate. We appreciate you taking the time to acknowledge the issues facing our community and to encourage unity and inclusivity. We also wanted to take the opportunity to provide you with some constructive and respectful feedback regarding your messages.

We are incredibly disappointed in the use of Thomas Jefferson as a moral compass. Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves. Other memorable Jefferson quotes include that Blacks are “inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind,” and “as incapable as children of taking care of themselves.” Though we realize that some members of our university community may be inspired by quotes from Jefferson, we also realize that many of us are deeply offended by attempts on behalf of our administration to guide our moral behavior through their use.

In the spirit of inclusivity, we would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it. For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotes undermines the messages of unity, equality, civility, and inclusivity that you are attempting to convey. We understand desires to maintain traditions at this university, but when these traditions threaten progress and reinforce notions of exclusion, it is time to rethink their utility. Thank you for your time.

I presume that means that we should no longer quote the Declaration of Independence, for it too was written largely by Jefferson. And remember that Darwin, though an abolitionist, saw blacks as inferior to whites, so we shouldn’t quote The Origin, either, should we?

As the Post further reports, at least one signer said that quoting Jefferson was sufficient to “undo progress.” I don’t believe that for a minute; it’s just cant from the Regressive left:

Politics professor Lawrie Balfour, who also signed the letter, said that a simple mention of Jefferson is enough to undo progress — a cycle that’s oft repeated during her decade and a half with the school.

“I’ve been here 15 years,” Balfour told the Cavalier Daily. “Again and again, I have found that at moments when the community needs reassurance and Jefferson appears, it undoes I think the really important work that administrators and others are trying to do.”

Here’s Sullivan’s in response to the letter (my emphasis):

In the long-standing tradition of open discourse, UVA faculty, staff, and students are free to express their opinions, as they did in a letter to me last week. I fully endorse their right to speak out on issues that matter to all of us, including the University’s complicated Jeffersonian legacy. We remain true to our values and united in our respect for one another even as we engage in vigorous debate.

Words have power. To quote any person is to acknowledge the potency of that person’s words. In my message last week, I agreed with Mr. Jefferson’s words expressing the idea that UVA students would help to lead our Republic. He believed that 200 years ago, and I believe it today. Quoting Jefferson (or any historical figure) does not imply an endorsement of all the social structures and beliefs of his time, such as slavery and the exclusion of women and people of color from the University.

We respond to the challenges of our times, and equity and inclusion are urgent leadership issues today. UVA is still producing leaders for our Republic, and from backgrounds that Mr. Jefferson could not have anticipated in 1825, when he wrote the words that I quoted. Today’s leaders are women and men, members of all racial and ethnic groups, members of the LGBTQ community, and adherents of all religious traditions. All of them belong at today’s UVA, whose founder’s most influential and most quoted words were “. . . all men are created equal.” Those words were inherently contradictory in an era of slavery, but because of their power, they became the fundamental expression of a more genuine equality today.

I think that’s a good response.  Remember that morality has changed, as Steve Pinker documented so well in The Better Angels of our Nature. What is considered unacceptable by today’s lights was often acceptable in the past. That doesn’t mean that if someone thought hard and long about slavery back then, and witnessed it, that they should have been okay with it. What it means is that morality is not only biological but cultural, and the cultural part, which changes over time, is transmitted to us from our parents, peers, and other important figures. If they tell us that slavery is okay, as many did in Jefferson’s day, then we’ll be brought up thinking that it’s okay, and it would be hard to think your way out of it—just as it’s hard to think your way out of long-inculcated religious beliefs and moral strictures. Now that we’ve realized that slavery is not okay, it has become unacceptable to own slaves or speak about other groups the way Jefferson did.

We have to remember these issues before we begin demonizing figures of the past. And we have to balance their indoctrination by their milieu against the genuine good that people like Jefferson did. It’s simply unacceptable to ban any quotes by Jefferson because they undo progress. They don’t. One can hold progressive views on some issues (i.e., Jefferson’s views on religious freedom, which are now part of American law) and ones now seen as immoral on other issues.  Words like those below are the crying of spoiled children, even if they be faculty; and they’re a failure to recognize that the world, especially when we consider the values of the past, is complicated.

For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotes undermines the messages of unity, equality, civility, and inclusivity that you are attempting to convey.



  1. Posted November 22, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    If it wasn’t for Thomas Jefferson, America wouldn’t be same as today. These self righteous people think that they would be different in the time of Jefferson. Hypocrites.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Of course, many of these people don’t like America as it is at all. What better way to tear it down, than to start at the foundation?

  2. eric
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    We have to remember these issues [cultural changes in ethics and morality] before we begin demonizing figures of the past.

    The US is living through one of these issues now, same sex marriage. 20 years ago the concept was politically unsustainable, even among liberals. 10 years ago, had you asked people on the street about it, even the most liberal-minded person would likely have said they supported a civil union equivalent at best. And most Democratic elected officials didn’t even support that. The change in acceptance has (in historical terms) been whipsaw fast. Yet despite most aging liberals having lived through this change in ideology, we still tend to demonize people who reject SSM, as if their positions aren’t just wrong but unthinkably, unconscionably wrong. Well, it isn’t unthinkable. That should be obvious, since many of us grew up thinking that way. Many of the leaders you vote for thought that way. HRC thought that way. Bill Clinton thought that way. And but for the grace of Joe Biden’s big mouth announcing support for it on public TV, most Democratic leadership probably still wouldn’t support it.

    If you find the slavery-based attacks on Jefferson’s character historically naïve, then I think we need to give a little empathy and understanding to the Americans who haven’t fully embraced a cultural change that was only really made public in 2012, by Joe Biden of all people.

    • ChrisB
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      You bring up an interesting point, eric, that many are living through a change in the moral attitude toward same sex marriage. Many are changing to assimilate these changes, as our country had to assimilate the end of slavery and the recognition that it is completely immoral and unacceptable in a free society. Of course, it took a civil war to rod ourselves of slavery in the US, and the issue almost destroyed the US. I doubt that will happen with the issue of same sex marriage.

      Although opposition to Same sex marriage is not unthinkable wrong, it certainly is unconscionable wrong, and unacceptable in a free society. We shouldn’t demonize people who reject SSM, but it is not lacking in empathy or understanding to remind them that denying equal rights to same sex couples is immoral and un-American.

      • eric
        Posted November 22, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        If it (anti-SSM) is “unacceptable in a free society”, then why did the vast majority of the exact same individuals who support it now find con-SSM acceptable 10 years ago? If it’s un-American, then most of your American friends over 20 were un-American for most of their American lives. I’m literally, right now, wearing a shirt that has more history than the Democrat’s support for SSM.

        I’m glad for the change. I’ll work for greater SSM acceptance. But I’d rather not use the hard language of moral unacceptabilisty and un-Americanism on the balkers, for a cause that’s younger than my wardrobe. SSM will improve the lives of many with no cost or harm to others. It expands civil rights to protect a greater number of Americans than ever our founders envisioned. Going beyond their vision is a good thing when it comes to civil rights. Let’s celebrate that! OTOH claiming this was their vision is probably a bit of historical overreach and post-hoc justification, and frankly, I don’t think we need to revise history in our favor to make a pretty compelling argument that SSM is the right thing to do.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted November 22, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

          +1. And a reminder of why I love Joe Biden. I hope he sticks around.

        • ChrisB
          Posted November 23, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

          “If it (anti-SSM) is “unacceptable in a free society”, then why did the vast majority of the exact same individuals who support it now find con-SSM acceptable 10 years ago?”

          They were taught SSM was somehow wrong, but after reflection now support it. Just as public opinion towards slavery changed over time.

          “If it’s un-American, then most of your American friends over 20 were un-American for most of their American lives.”

          Yes, wrt that particular issue. Of course, I don’t mean un-American in a McCarthy-an sense, but rather as against the American ideal that all people should be treated equally under the law, even if you don’t like them. It is irrelevant whether that realization came in the 1860’s or over the last 10-20 years, your ageing wardrobe not withstanding.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      There’s certainly been a rapid shift in the so-called “Overton window” on same-sex marriage, and on gay-rights more generally.

      I think one reason why people who accept these things lack patience with those who don’t is because the former sense that the latter come from the same ideological ilk that, before this shift, was cool with fags getting rolled (and imprisoned).

      They don’t just want to go back to before Obergefell; they want to go back to before Stonewall.

      Some of ’em do, anyway.

  3. Posted November 22, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    And the clueless regressive left wonder why a huge number of the population, liberals and conservatives, find their words and actions sanctimonious narcissism.

  4. Posted November 22, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I guess then one better not quote the Declaration at UoV.

  5. Paul S.
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotes undermines the messages of unity, equality, civility, and inclusivity that you are attempting to convey.

    Such arrogance. This pronouncement by Noelle Hurd is in effect a belief that his/her opinions are morally superior to the words of Jefferson and will stand the test of time.

    Shall we scour the words of Noelle Hurd for offensive views and disregard all his/her other work?

  6. alexandra Moffat
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    You, Prof Coyne, say it better than any. I wish that your words could be tacked up all over the campus – not that reason would do much good in such obdurate minds.
    Thank you

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I should just stay quite and move on. Really should say nothing to see here. I am very glad not to be a teach of these kids and frankly I do not see how they could actually read any good history book without a trip to a mental facility. They are nearly beyond understanding.

  8. David Duncan
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I wonder if we’re just giving the Regressive Left oxygen. Perhaps if we ignore them they’ll go away.

  9. Kevin
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    In a Pinkersque future, morality will transition from ‘who said what first and/or with the biggest authority’ to engineering controls that minimize suffering.

    These people need to learn that for hundreds of years we have been taking dirty steps towards greater and greater freedom and equality. This isn’t about Jefferson, it’s about putting the best steps in front, and leaving the rest behind.

  10. Markham Thomas
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    “…In the spirit of inclusivity, we would like for our Anyone not being Us to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this Planet Earth because of what their Parents did under the covers, others of us came here in spite of it. For many of us, the inclusion of ideas from other Persons not being Us undermines the messages of unity, equality, civility, and inclusivity that you are attempting to convey. We understand desires to maintain traditions on Planet Earth, but when these traditions threaten our narrow idea of progress and reinforce our notions of exclusion, it is time to rethink their utility. Thank you for your time.”

    Fixed it for you….

  11. Patrick Clark
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    You know, I went a land-grant state school in fly over country, surrounded by Trump supporters, though I am not one….but I think Kansas State got it right. It is a astonishing to me that the schools that we all think are soooo great seem clueless on this issue:

    K-State tells students they have ‘no right to not be offended’

    Bucking the free-speech zone trend, Kansas State University is telling students they are legally permitted to demonstrate or protest anywhere they want for any cause they want.

    “The whole campus is a free speech area,” the K-State Office of General Counsel states in its October legal briefing, noting that as a public university, the school cannot and will not require anyone to register with the university prior to having a public demonstration or protest.

    Even when the speech in question is “controversial or offending,” such as a speaker shouting derogatory remarks at passersby, the school’s attorneys declare emphatically that only behaviors rising to the level of criminality are subject to intervention.

    “As a general rule, there is no right to not be offended,” they point out, arguing that “if the government started shutting down speech that is offensive to some, it would end up shutting down all speech, because virtually everything can be offensive to some.”

    • eric
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      I’m not that astonished, and its probably not just about quality, its probably more about the left/right split on campus. On campuses where the left has an overwhelming advantage, you’re more likely to find speech oppression by the left and defense of free speech by students on the right. Yale. In campuses more evenly split, you’ll probably find the administration defending free speech for all. Kansas. In campuses where the right overwhelmingly holds sway, you’ll find the right oppressing the left and the defense of free speech left to students on the left. Liberty U.

      IMO this sort of behavior just reaffirms the importance of the first amendment and other codified, legal protections. Because when you collect otherwise well-meaning humans into big groups, their ability to remain neutral, objective, or unbiased ‘by conscience alone’ tends to degrade.

  12. Beau Quilter
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Fifty percent of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were slave owners, including George Washington and James Madison.

    Why pick on Tom?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      And yes Virginia, all of these gentlemen are from Virginia. However do these students stand to go to a school or live in a state such as this that permitted slavery and likely provided more soldiers to fight for slavery in the civil war than any other.

    • eric
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Well in this case, they’re getting upset at TJ because that’s who the President has been regularly quoting. Why is the President regularly quoting TJ? Because he founded the school.

      But I wouldn’t worry about them ‘picking’ on Tom too much. No doubt if the President started quoting George or James, they’d get equally offended.

  13. Posted November 22, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Yet if Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls a 6th Century war lord a creep, she gets no-platformed.

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Shall we stop driving VW, using anything created by IBM and stop wearing Hugo Boss for their association with Nazis?

    Should we disregard all scientists who were sexists (because a lot of them were as were the thinking of the times)?

    Where does it end?

    Or are we going to be adults and recognized the complexity of these issues so we can make real, not perceived, progress as a society?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 7:39 pm | Permalink



  15. DrBrydon
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    The fact is that the present was formed out of the past, and people in the past were different; they thought differently, and acted differently. There is literally not one aspect of the modern world that could not be condemned easily because of the actions or beliefs of one of its originators or proponents. That is, based on the standards used today, where one transgression places everything about a person beyond the pale.

    There is a tendency nowadays, which is not really new since our Pilgrim Fathers were devout practitioners of it, to believe that people should separate themselves from any person or institution which transgresses certain ethical boundaries. Racism is one of these boundaries. Jefferson certainly was a racist, in the narrow sense of thinking that blacks were inferior to whites, and that that justified black bondage. Of course, as it seems to be taught on campuses today, racism is an extremely broad brush, and some seem to be arguing that merely being white is co-equal with being racist (which in itself seems not be considered a racist belief).

    I don’t think that is a reasonable way to behave in civil society. On the one hand, we are supposed to believe that a person who murders another person should be re-admitted to civil society after a period of incarceration, but that a person who uses certain words should be forced to give up their livelihood, and be treated like a pariah. There is no way we can exist as a country that way. It leads, as in the UVa case, to the rejection of our past (and our present since slaveholders were instrumental in the formation of institutions), and it leads to the rejection of our fellow citizens, with whom we have to live. The Puritans were lucky in that they could remove themselves from Sodom, but ultimately they were again subsumed in neighbors who didn’t believe as they did. Our modern Puritans have few options (although some in California want to follow the South’s 1861 plan), and seem likely to be no more popular than their intellectual forebears.

    In this election, and indeed for sometime past, there has been too much of this attitude that the other side is untouchable. The emphasis on disagreement is not productive or healthy.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      I have to wonder, is it naive or ignorance or just current popular pressure to join the group that causes this attitude by the students in school?

      If someone tells them that Jefferson grew up with slaves from the day he was born, even was raised really, by slaves. He saw this way of life from his beginning and believed it the only way the people of his state and his class could function in life. It was all they knew and had no idea how to eliminate it. Would any of this mean anything to them?

      As I have said before here, if you want to study history but take all your 21st century ideas and judgments with you, you might just as well not make the trip.

      • DrBrydon
        Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        My impression is that it is a great deal of unknowing ignorance. They have literally never been taught to think that way, and they don’t know how limited they are. As Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” I am guessing that their ideas of foreign lands is also a lot of projection.

  16. Historian
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    The first four of the five presidents were slaveholding Virginians (Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe). Recent research has shown that Jefferson as a master was not a particularly kindly one. In the early decades of the country after the Revolution, there was considerable condemnation of slavery, even in the South, although in that region no concrete actions were taken to end it. It was not until the 1820s that the South’s attitude towards slavery hardened, eventually resulting in the doctrine that slavery was a positive good. The slaveholding Founders and other slaveholders in the early years recognized that slavery was a moral evil, but gave nothing more than lip service to the notion that someday slavery would be abolished. The reasons they gave for not immediately beginning the abolition process were that African-Americans had the mentality of children, were incapable of self-government, white women would be endangered, or the southern economy would be wrecked.

    Make no mistake about it. The slaveholding Founders were hypocrites. The phrase from the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” only applied to white men. The large slaveholders didn’t want to give up slavery because it would jeopardize their luxurious lifestyle. Small slaveholders aspired to be large slaveholders and non-slaveholders in the South aspired to own a slave one day. If nothing else, the existence of slavery allowed whites of any class in the South to feel superior to another group (this same dynamic was manifested in the last election). The Constitution made major concessions to the slaveholding states. This was the only way the United States would ever stay united.

    The issue of whether the slaveholding Founders should be honored will not be resolved soon. A case could be made for burying in the sand the reality of the early history of this country and provide a sanitized version to the American public. For much of the twentieth century a sanitized version of the Civil War era was in vogue. Fortunately, that is no longer the case.

    For me, I do not honor the slaveholding Founders. And I am sure there are many people who have no affinity with the “regressive left” who believe this.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      I am not here to justify or approve of slavery in any way or form. But I also recognize that it was a way of life in general in early America and many other places. The northern states were able to eliminate it over time because it was not economical for them to do otherwise. The farming methods in the north did not make sense with slavery. The south with tobacco as the main money crop early on was perfect for slavery and was labor intensive. So…without machinery or technology how do you throw it out and continue to exist?

      In Jefferson’s case it was the economy. The planter class borrowed lots of money to bring in all the finer things from Europe. How did they borrow except with collateral. That was the slave. Even Jefferson thought as many did, that slavery would just die a natural death. But then came the cotton gin and everything changed. The slave was needed more than ever. So lets all jump on Eli Whitney and run him up the pole.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        I think there’s a middle ground to be had here. I think it’s fair to adjudge the slaveholders hypocritical since, even by the standards of their own time, the institution of slavery was seen as essentially immoral. (Jefferson said so himself.)

        OTOH, it is unfair to judge them by the standards or our time. Notions of equality and egalitarianism have evolved, let us be thankful, over the past couple centuries.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted November 22, 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Certainly. I only attempt to explain why it was the way it was. Sometimes I get the feeling some of the students today think, gee there is no reason for this stuff so why did Jefferson or the others invent it. Even Lincoln was a racist by today’s standards but he saw slavery and was disgusted by it. He wanted to free them and ship them out. It was standard thinking in the 1850s.

          I like to say…spend some time really in their shoes in their culture and understand it. Then go ahead and judge. George probably had more slaves than Thomas so is he worse. Let them hang the father of our country with their 21st century rope.

    • Blue
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      For me either, Historian: I do not so honor them. Some people are “great” — only because they became (widely) known.

      Personally I happen to .know. quite a few folks who have always done the Right Thing, who themselves their whole lives, through all manners of their educations including from their own family members during their weest years, successfully bypassed all of the daily and “routine” temptations that are “out” there by which to be influenced in a mean or inegalitarian fashion — — in order to .always., however, honor one another. But who themselves’ll never be known as “great” cuz i) they do not self – seek such acknowledgement and ii) such knowing – of – them is not, by others at all, sought.

      I believe thus as well: (At least this one) Exception: the vice, by now, that nearly Worldwide the historical thinking that woos and gods were not only okay but also were the absolute laws of all of the lands, not to be questioned whatsoever and that anyone (say, anyone such as Mr Galileo Galilei, for instance) who did, who protested as some persons do re unjust matters today including post this two – week – old election result, paid a horrific personal price.


  17. David Evans
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Plato, Euclid, Archimedes, Aristotle…. all complicit in a slave-owning society. I foresee much gutting of textbooks if this goes on.

    • Doug
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      And the Bible.

    • Pali
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Following the rule that we can’t quote slave owners, people who supported slavery to some extent, or racists would effectively stop us from quoting just about anyone from more than 40 years ago.

  18. Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I don’t suppose Marxists will be giving up their hero any time soon, despite him being no less misogynistic, homophobic and antisemitic than anyone else in the 19th Century.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      Why should they?

      Are you trying to suggest these precious snowflakes are Marxists? I doubt Marx would have had much time for them.


    • W.Benson
      Posted November 23, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      Karl Marx, as I understand it, was born into a Jewish family. His father was a Lutheran ‘convert’ and his maternal grandfather a rabbi. Marx may have been anti-Semitic. Stranger things have happened.

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Jefferson’s very complex and entangled relationship to slavery is well discussed in a Wikipedia article of its own.

    As the president, I might have considered putting a disclaimer in the letter “In spite of Jefferson’s….”

    However, at times I wonder why are these folks attending University of Virginia at all?

  20. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve often wondered what our moral values will become in (say) 100 years time. Will we only eat vat-grown protein? Will the idea of keeping pets seem perverse? Will assisted suicide be a human right? Or, more on point, will only irredeemably violent people be put in prison, with others indentured for ‘public works’ – a sort of rebranded slavery?

    I’ll not be here to see it, but some of the younger ones reading these comments might be…

    • Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Why wonder about 100 years time when we can’t guess 20 years ahead?

      How many second wave feminists, considered radical when I was at Uni, now find themselves no-platformed for wrong-think?

  21. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a Jefferson quote for those Cavalier keyboard jockeys at U.Va.:

    I tremble for my country when I reflect that “God” is just: that “his” justice cannot sleep for ever.

    (Internal semiotic quotation marks added, to more accurately reflect TJ’s meaning.)

    I get a case of Jeffersonian-style howling fantods myself reflecting on the rise of the alt-right and regressive left. (Not that the two are equivalent, but both suck.)

  22. rickflick
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I can see, sort of, what the protesters are talking about. Jefferson is such old news. He couldn’t have gotten everything right. Better to just forget any of those early founders of our democracy and look for guidance and moral compass from some of our current leaders. Like the Donald:

    “He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings — rulings that people can’t even believe.”

    Or Donald’s good friend, Kip Brown:

    “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor,”

    Donald again:
    “…And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”

    There are just so many to be inspired by, and just think how many he can deliver over his White House years. Out with the old, in with the new.

  23. Xuuths
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    So the signers of that letter are hypocrites for attending a university founded by a slave owner, and have no problem with that. Okay, hypocrisy noted.

    Also, they choose to continue living in a country founded by slave owners who fought against the British, so… more hypocrisy? Just because they didn’t stop to think about it, doesn’t mean they aren’t guilty by association.

    (I hope they can see how ridiculous this gets after just a little thought.)

    • steve
      Posted November 23, 2016 at 4:41 am | Permalink

      Some signers of the letter being professors, are also taking money from the university thus benefitting from its slave owner’s past. Dear me. Oh my.

  24. Posted November 22, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink


  25. Posted November 22, 2016 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Would these people disown the Bible with the same zeal that they disown Jefferson?

  26. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I think the UVA president has the higher ground, but I will not be surprised if the response now is to call for his removal from office because of his outrageous use of historical perspective and willingness to use speech that should be censored.

    • Blue
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      By my read, Dr Sturtevant, thus re the University of Virginia’s current president and the one of this post:

      That is, “call for her removal” and “her outrageous use” likely.


  27. Doug
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Whenever this issue comes up, I am reminded of Isaac Newton”s metaphor: if we see farther than the founding fathers did, it is because we are standing on their shoulders.

  28. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    This is the kind of bullshit which is like fresh meat to the alt-right and “proves” how idiotic the “libtards” can get. There have also been ongoing PC campaigns to censor Mark Twain, one of the greatest progressives of all time, because he used the language that was in common use in his day including the word “nigger”. It is clear in “Tom Sawyer”, that Mark Twain wrote from the viewpoint of someone who fully acknowledged the humanity of his fellow black men and women, (something sadly all too rare among white men in his era — and still too rare today) yet because he had his characters speak in a manner reflecting how people at that time and in that social class spoke, the PC zealots insist on censoring his words.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      More so in Huck Finn than Tom Sawyer — even in Huck, Tom could be a bit of a prick toward Jim — but your point is well-taken.

  29. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 22, 2016 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me a bit of knocking Nobel Prizes because Nobel was a arms manufacturer.

    It’s a stupid occupation.

    Quote anybody you like, I bet I could find some discreditable things – or at least opinions that offend some special snowflakes – about any great figure in history. Churchill? FDR? Lincoln? Kennedy? Galileo? Einstein? Darwin? You name it, there will be *something*.

    So basically, you can’t quote *anybody* without offending some wally or other.


  30. Posted November 23, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    While I was an academic, I encountered this a few times in the form of “some philosopher (or other scholar) held X. I think you should be careful when you cite Y favourably”. I always found that funny – guilt by association, of an odd form. After all, who is going to agree with *everything* someone says? I don’t even agree with myself completely!

    Learning from the mistakes (including the horrible moral error that was slavery) of the past should also be a thing.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 23, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Isn’t that reasoning called “poisoning the well”?

      • Posted November 24, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        It is sort of like that. I think it comes from intellectual hero worship, and its reverse, but that’s just a guess.

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