For our family vacation this year, my husband, and our 6-year-old son, Isaac, and I loaded into the car and made a seven-day journey from our home in Fort Wayne, IN to the eastern part of the U.S. We went to eight places in seven days; we saw history first hand in Gettysberg, Antietam, Ford’s Theater, Mount Vernon, Monticello, and more.
After leaving Mount Vernon, President Washington’s home, we headed to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, which was the final destination in the “history tour.”
We entered Monticello by way of a great entrance hall. The walls were heavily decorated with finds from Lewis and Clark’s expedition, which Jefferson commissioned, and artifacts from Native Americans. Perhaps Jefferson would have worked as a museum curator if he had not become president. In several other rooms, you can see pulley systems Jefferson designed for varied purposes like bringing wine bottles up from the cellar into the main floor, or closing double doors simultaneously.
After touring both our first and third presidents’ homes, I have several reactions. First, in seeing their homes and learning more about them, it is easy to see their brilliance.
Secondly, while touring the homes and seeing the beauty of the places they lived, the slavery issue hung like a weight on the experience. Both Jefferson and Washington were intelligent, educated men; how could they justify owning another person? It seems like a major gap in their otherwise strong moral fibers. They believed in freedom of religion; why not freedom of the body? I realize that they were products of their time and that slavery was an accepted practice, but slavery seems like a mockery of everything that the new nation stood for.
Perhaps, privately, both Washington and Jefferson had moral objections to slavery. In fact, we can see some evidence of that as both Washington and Jefferson eventually freed some of their slaves. Jefferson, who owned more than 600 slaves in his lifetime, freed five of those slaves. Most of those whom he gave freedom to were relatives of slave Sally Hemings, with whom he had four children. Washington freed all of his slaves in his will.
But, they were both tasked with the enormous undertaking of building a new nation, and that is where they placed their energies. My hope, however, is that they hoped future leaders would right this wrong.
Our “history tour 2014” was an enlightening, personal look at the people and places that shaped American history. It was like traveling back in time and witnessing the Civil War, meeting the individuals, and looking upon the gravesites of the key players in history. Americans are where we are, who we are, because of those amazing individuals who came before us.
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