“We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” -Thomas Jefferson
These words, proved inviolate by Thomas Jefferson’s lifelong pursuit of public service, were spoken at his Second Inaugural Address on March 4th, 1801. Jefferson, the writer of Declaration of Independence, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and eventual father of the University of Virginia, addresses his audience as his “Friends and Fellow-Citizens”. This tactic of audience inclusion has been utilized for all of American history. “My Fellow Citizens” prologues nearly every public engagement involving any politician. But this greeting now rings hollow as modern orators exist only as politicians, far from the public servants they should strive to be.
Jefferson existed among a storied generation of gifted intellectuals and patriots. He and his peers understood the importance of independence and the creation of a lasting government. It was with the leadership of Jefferson that the Patriot cause flourished, the Republican foundation of the nation was laid, and the infant United States doubled in landmass. All this, but his gifts of knowledge, architecture, literature, botany, and humanity have been forgotten at his prized University of Virginia. Jefferson cared so deeply for this institution that he had “Father of the University of Virginia” inscribed on his gravestone, omitting his position as President of the United States. But Jefferson is effectively erased within the minds of students attending his institution. Thomas Jefferson’s lessons that nurture curiosity, understanding, and progress are forgotten by students just as the words of his Second Inaugural Address have been abandoned by modern politicians.
Conservatives at this institution routinely question why Jefferson’s legacy is shunned by so many. The University of Virginia was masterfully planned by Jefferson to exist as a safe harbor for differing viewpoints. Debate among professors, students, and members of the public was expected and encouraged. But just as we have departed from the appreciation of Jefferson’s contributions, we have also abandoned his model of truly transparent dialogue. The University of Virginia is populated by the brightest and most talented individuals the world offers. But it is an unfortunate reality that these students will never be able to truly define or defend their beliefs during their time at the University. The perpetual sheltering of popular Leftist opinion despite factual counter arguments is an affliction that has taken hold at every public institution, and the University of Virginia is no exception. We learn and live at an institution specifically created for constructive discourse. But we are deprived of this experience, simply because it is fashionable for people of our generation to rebel from this nation’s founding ideals. Students feel labeling Thomas Jefferson as a “slaver” and “rapist” justifies their disdain for this institution’s founder. But they always neglect to acknowledge the precious liberties gifted to them by the same man.
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe witnessed the bricklaying ceremony of Pavilion VII on October 6th, 1817. Three men, hardened from the battle for independence, but motivated by a desire for meaningful public service, gathered to commemorate the beginning of an open dialogue between young people and the world in which they live. But this dialogue has become truant, replaced by a binary of right and wrong. It is only when an individual diverges from the message of our founding ideals that they may be viewed as correct in modern society. This binary demonizes Conservatism and places Liberalism within a position of singular prominence.
The entire moral fabric of Conservatism, transcending beyond politics, is ignored at this university. This Conservative moral fabric is only acknowledged when an entity is needed to blame for injustices that take place only on a picket sign or within a headline. There is a perpetual discussion of “tolerance” of all viewpoints at this institution, just as there is at every public university. But this ideal is seldom practiced. Conservatism is swiftly perishing within our public institutions, and with it, free thought. If there is no equally prominent voice to combat the dangers of extreme Progressivism, we all lose what our founders had so passionately fought for. Thomas Jefferson said of the University of Virginia that “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind.” So let us practice this illimitable freedom and come together to restore a condition of mutual respect and understanding, even in the face of disagreement.
The opinions expressed within this piece represent the views of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jefferson Independent.