Tag archives: History

Why Jefferson Matters

by Robert Morrison

April 13, 2010

Actor, historical interpreter Bill Barker says its the question he gets at every audience. Barker, of Colonial Williamsburg, plays the role of Thomas Jefferson. The question, of course, is: Didnt Jefferson have children by his slave, Sally Hemings? The answer, in all likelihood, is that some Jefferson sired children by Sally.

Despite the calumnies of two hundred years, it has never been proven against Thomas Jefferson. The 2001 Final Report of the Scholars Commission on the Jefferson-Hemings Matter notes that the DNA testing done in 1998 pointed the finger at Thomas Jefferson no more than it did at any of the other roughly two dozen known male descendants of Jeffersons grandfather present in Virginia at the time.

But, as Mark Twain said, a lie can travel `round the world before truth gets its pants on. Its most unfortunate when today, even Judge Andrew Napolitano takes it as a given that Jefferson was a hypocrite and may even have been a rapist. How could she give consent, the judge asks. The Scholars Commission was composed of recognized historians, political scientists, and lawyers. The 15-member panel concludedwith but one dissentthat Thomas Jefferson was not guilty. Youd think that Judge Napolitano would consider such a verdict from such a distinguished panel before doubting Thomas.

Who cares? All of those spoken of in this story are long dead. What difference does it make? A lot. The story of Jeffersons supposed affair with Sally Hemings gained new life at the very time that William Jefferson Clinton was facing impeachment by the House of Representatives. Clinton had become involved in a sex scandal with a 21-year old intern. Many writers and talkers at the time greeted the news with relish. It was as if they could now say: See, they all do it. Well, no they dont.

The only other Presidents who were seriously suspected of adulterous liaisons while they occupied the highest office were Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. FDR was known to have discreetly visited with his former mistress, Lucy Rutherford, during the last year of his life. But it is by no means certain that it was an adulterous relationship at that point. Roosevelts congestive heart failure, his rapidly declining health suggest otherwise. Thats a pretty small number out of forty-four Chief Executives.

The reason why this story is so damaging is that it is a part of the project of contemporary liberalism to denigrate the Founders and what they founded. They held slaves. They denied women the vote. Therefore, we are constantly told, we dont need to pay any attention to what they thought. Our Constitution needs to be a living document, a thing of putty in their hands, they argue.

On slaveholding, why do we think it wrong? In the eighteenth century, most nations in the world held slaves. The horrific Atlantic Slave Trade was deplored by all, but slaveholding itself was defended by many respectable thinkers.

Thomas Jefferson was not among them. He cried out against slavery and the execrable traffic of the Slave Trade. He did more than that. He worked against slavery.

He placed a denunciation of King for protecting the Slave Trade in the Declaration of Independence. It was taken out. Not because the other Signers approved the Slave Trade, but because they recognized their own involvement with it.

Still, Jefferson gave us the ringing phrase All men are Created Equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone knew then that a nation so conceived and so dedicated could not forever countenance human bondage. Abolitionists quoted Jeffersons words from the start. The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time, was another of Jeffersons immortal phrases.

Jefferson, as a member of the Congress, advanced bills to prevent slavery from spreading beyond the Appalachians. One of those bills failed by just one vote. Jefferson cried out in anguish Heaven itself was silent in that awful moment. At least, he could claim some credit for stopping slavery in the territory north of the Ohio River. The Old Northwest Ordinance was one of the greatest accomplishments of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.

As President, Jefferson appealed to Congress to end the Atlantic Slave Trade. He asked Congress to act in 1806, letting the law come into effect on January 1, 1808, the first opportunity afforded under a compromise in the original Constitution. He didnt have to do it. The Constitution said no law could be passed before that date. It did not say such a law must be passed. But President Jefferson pleaded for its passage. In doing so, he used the strongest anti-slavery language of any President prior to Abraham Lincoln.

We all honor Britains great Evangelical anti-Slavery leader, William Wilberforce. And we should. But Wilberforces epochal effort to ban the Atlantic Slave Trade would have come to nothing if President Jefferson had not acted for the United States. Think of two blades of a scissors. How bad was the Atlantic Slave Trade? Horrific. Human beings were crowdedsometimes 600 to 800 to a ship. Naked, chained, fed barely enough to keep them alive, the slaves would be thrown overboard if their ship was approached by a Royal Navy squadron bent on enforcing the ban. Wilberforce once showed fashionable Londoners a slave ship. Six hundred souls departed West Africa. Only two hundred were still alive after a seven-week journey to the British West Indies. The worst Southern plantation in 250 years of unrequited toil never produced such inhuman horrors.

Writing those immortal words to inspire liberty-loving reformers and banning the Atlantic Slave Trade ought to have gained Jefferson gratitude. But he failed to free his own slaves. Unlike Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, he died in debt and was unable to reach their moral heights by providing a powerful example for liberty.

When I took seven different classes of interns to Monticello, I would always stand on Mr. Jeffersons lawn and disagree with the great George Will. Will had written that Thomas Jefferson lived as a free man ought to live. He meant, of course, Jefferson was constantly thinking, constantly writing, constantly creating. No, I told those young students: John Adams lived as free man ought to live. He never freed his slaves because he never owned any.

Still, on Jeffersons birthday we should reflect on what his legacy is. Freedom from monarchy and aristocracy, republican institutions, religious liberty, education open to talented students regardless of their social standing or economic meansall of these are but part of what Thomas Jefferson bequeathed to us. Do we deny the great phrase he employedthe right to life? Endowed by our Creator?

Ever wonder why a man born in Hawaii has just as much right to run for President as a man or woman born in the original Thirteen States? Its because Jefferson led the way in treating new territories as fully equal states, not as colonies. By contrast, only in 1982 was Canada permitted to write her own laws without getting a sign-off from Mother England. Today, when we seem to be giving billions in foreign aid to Muslim-dominated states, supposedly to enlist them in a war on terror, its worth remembering that President Jefferson fought Muslim hostage-takers rather than continue paying tribute to them.

No wonder that Frederick Douglass quoted Jefferson regularly in his own great crusade against slavery. Or that Abraham Lincoln was willing to say:

All honor to Jefferson—to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.

What did these great men, these champions of freedom, born in Jeffersons own time, know about him that too many today have forgotten? I thank God for the life of Thomas Jefferson.

Paul Schneider: Martyr of Buchenwald

by Benjamin Scott

July 21, 2009

Seventy years ago on this month Paul Schneider, Germanys first Christian martyr under Nazi rule, died heroically in the concentration camp of Buchenwald. Seventy years ago from this month, Schneiders fight against the evils and wickedness of his age ended in glorious victory as he proclaimed the message of the gospel to those killing him. It is appropriate to remember such a brave man, and to be inspired by his bold stand against Nazi Germany.

Paul Schneider was born in a little town of Pherdsfeld, in northern Bavaria. His father was a Christian pastor and a loyal German citizen. Paul had great respect for his father and as a youth knew he wanted to go into the pastorate.

Paul fought for Kaiser Wilhelm II in World War I and, due to the battle wounds he received, earned the famous Iron Cross award from the military.

After the war, he attended seminary in answering the call to go into the ministry. As a young pastor, his life and the life of his country changed dramatically in 1933. That year, Adolph Hitler became the dictator of Germany.

From the beginning of the Nazi regime, Hitler targeted the German churches as a means of spreading his message and his own gospel. Unlike his fellow pastors, however, Paul Schneider refused to pollute the Gospel of Christ with the doctrines of the Nazi Party.

Schneider asked this question in a sermon to his congregation in 1934:

Where are those Christian consciences who judge righteously, who take the standard for their politics neither from National Socialism nor from socialism, but rather from the Gospel?

Despite immense pressure to stay quiet and not stand up for the truth of the gospel, Schneider became the lone vocal advocate of the Gospel and truths of Jesus Christ in his community.

He allowed only true Christians to partake of the Lords Supper and fought against incorporating the Nazi political agenda in his church.

After continuing Nazi persecution, Paul Schneider was arrested and sent to the Nazi concentration camp in Buchenwald, Germany.

Despite torture, beatings, humiliation, hunger, and terrible suffering, Schneiders message did not change.

He preached the Gospel from his confinement cell, and warned the Nazi guards and officers of Gods coming judgment on sin.

I must call the evil - of which I am a witness-as it really is and to make clear to the SS that they are not escaping the judgment of God, Schneider said of his protest against the Nazi guards. I am God’s messenger in this prison.

Finally Paul Schneider met his martyrdom on July 18, 1939. Schneider fell into the grip of Ding Schuler, a Nazi doctor, known as the experimental doctor. Schneider was murdered by lethal injection and his faithful wife Margarete brought his body back home for burial.

In the presence of Nazi guards, this prayer was prayed over Paul Schneiders grave:

May God grant that the witness of your Shepherd our brother remain with you and continue to impact on future generations and that it remain vital and bear fruit in the entire Christian Church.

May the life and death of Paul Schneider inspire followers of Christ here and in Europe to stand up for the timeless truths of Jesus, living out their callings in modern society.

Benjamin Scott is a summer intern at Family Research Council. He is a student at Covenant College. Benjamin Scott and his missionary family lived in Germany for eight years.