Charlottesville Jefferson’s birthday drop rattles conservatives. The city of Charlottesville has decided to drop the birthday of Jefferson as one of its official holidays. The move rattles conservatives nationwide.
Charlottesville, Virginia, will no longer celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday as an official city holiday and instead will observe a day recognizing the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans.
The city council voted Monday night to scrap the decades-old April 13 holiday honoring the slave-holding president and Founding Father. Charlottesville will now mark Liberation and Freedom Day on March 3, the day U.S. Army forces arrived in the city in 1865.
Charlottesville has been grappling publicly for years with how to tell its history of race and discrimination. Those efforts intensified after white nationalists gathered in the city in 2017 for a rally that descended into deadly violence.
The legacy of Jefferson, the nation’s third president, author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia, has been a component of that ongoing debate.
Though Jefferson was a founding father, who wrote “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, he also owned slaves.
Some in Charlottesville have spoken often about Jefferson’s dichotomy, but, Spencer said, “I’m not sure there’s been a lot of listening.”
About 20 years ago, a new high school was planned for Charlottesville.
“At the time, the proposal to name it Monticello High School sailed right through, but I think a lot of white Charlottesvillians didn’t give proper heed to was that what we call a house was actually a plantation, or some might even call it a work camp,” Spencer said. “Or worse.”
“It was a place where over 400 people were held in bondage, not only for the course of their lives, but the children they had grew into slavery, as well,” Spencer said.
On Monday, the Charlottesville City Council voted to drop Jefferson’s birthday as a city holiday. In a separate vote, they created a new day of celebration called Liberation and Freedom Day.
Spencer said the new official holiday — which will be celebrated on March 3 — “Commemorates that day in 1865 when Gen. Philip Sheridan’s troops rolled through town and found a population that was majority African American — and although emancipation for most of them probably didn’t occur on that day, it was the opening salvo for a lot of Charlottesvillians’ freedom.”
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Virginia Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, third president of the United States, is also the founder of the University of Virginia. Jefferson expressed aspirations for a new America like no other individual of his day. As a civil servant, historian and plantation owner, he served his country for more than five years.
His father Peter Jefferson was a successful landlord and surveyor. His mother Jane Randolph was a member of one of Virginia’s most respected families. After inheriting his father from a considerable land, Jefferson began building Monticello at the age of twenty-six. Three years later, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, with whom he lived a happy life for ten years until his death. From their union were born six children, only two of whom lived to adulthood. Jefferson never remarried and regarded Monticello as his main home all his life, expanding and continually changing it.
Jefferson inherited slaves from his father and brother-in-law. In a normal year, he had about 200, almost half of whom were under the age of sixteen. Of these, about eighty lived in Monticello; the others lived on the plantations of the adjacent Albemarle County, and on his land of Poplar Forest in Bedford County, Virginia. Jefferson emancipated two slaves in his lifetime and five others in his will. He also made the choice not to sue two other slaves who had escaped. All were members of the Hemings family; the seven slaves he finally emancipated were skilled workers.
After attending the University of William and Mary, Virginia, Jefferson worked in the legal field and served the local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant and member of the House of Commons at the beginning of his professional career.
As a member of the Continental Congress, he was chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which has since been considered the Charter of American and Universal Freedoms. The document proclaims that all men are equal in rights, regardless of birth, wealth or social status, and that the government is the servant of the people and not their master.
In 1776, after leaving Congress, Jefferson returned to Virginia and served in the legislature. He was elected governor from 1779 to 1781 and subjected to an inquiry concerning his conduct during his last year in office. Although the investigation ultimately led to nothing, this episode left him deeply intolerant of criticism the rest of his life.
In the brief interval following his governorship, Jefferson wrote the Notes on the State of Virginia (Notes on the State of Virginia). In 1784, he returned to the public service in France, first as a trade commissioner and then as minister, succeeding Benjamin Franklin. During this period, he studied with passion European culture by sending books, seeds and plants to Monticello, but also statues, architectural drawings, scientific instruments and information.
In 1790 he accepted the post of Secretary of State under the chairmanship of his friend George Washington. His tenure was marked by his opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s pro-British policy. In 1796, as the presidential candidate for Republican Democrats, he became vice president after his defeat against John Adams by three electoral votes.
Four years later, he won the presidential election against John Adams. In the history of the young nation, it was the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of his first term was the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and his support for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. His second term, a period during which he encountered more difficulties both domestically and abroad, is best known for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the conflict between Britain and France. His efforts, however, could not prevent the war with Great Britain in 1812.
His friend James Madison succeeded him as president in 1809 and Jefferson spent the last seventeen years of his life in Monticello. During this period, he sold his collection of books to the government to create the Library of Congress. Jefferson began his last public project at the age of seventy, with the founding of the University of Virginia. He led the legislative campaign for his charter, secured his site, designed the buildings, planned the program and served as the first rector.
Jefferson died in Monticello on July 4, 1826, four hours before the death of his close friend John Adams, on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. He was eighty-three years old and heavily indebted, but from what is known, he remained a very optimistic man.
Jefferson wanted his tombstone to reflect what he had given to the people, not just the things the people had given him. That’s why Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph reads:
Here was buried
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia .