During the 1930s, Nazis promoted the idea that Thomas Jefferson hated Jews. Nazis still believe that is true. At a nighttime rally earlier this year on the campus of the University of Virginia, near Monticello, a large number of Nazis carrying torches circled the Thomas Jefferson monument on campus chanting ‘Jews will not replace us!’ The Nazis were and are entirely wrong about this. Thomas Jefferson was completely devoid of any religious prejudices, and Jews in America and Europe always regarded Jefferson as a reliable friend and ally.
MONTICELLO. Thomas Jefferson died broke and deeply in debt. Soon after his death, Jefferson’s home, Monticello, starting falling into disrepair. It is expensive to maintain a mansion, and there was no money in Jefferson’s estate. The only reason Monticello didn’t just rot away was because a Jewish family bought the house soon after Jefferson’s death in order to preserve it. Uriah Phillips Levy, the first Jewish commodore in the U.S. Navy, bought Monticello in 1832 and immediately began making repairs and repurchasing furniture that had been sold after Jefferson’s death. During the Civil War, there were no battles around Monticello, but the house was extensively damaged by vandals. Even Jefferson’s gravestone was overturned and defaced. Most of the furniture was stolen by looters. After the war, Jefferson Monroe Levy bought Monticello from his uncle, Uriah Phillips Levy, and once again began restoring the mansion and recovering Jefferson’s furniture. In order to get back Jefferson’s furniture from the people who stole it, Levy had to advertise that he was prepared to pay cash for Thomas Jefferson’s furniture with ‘no questions asked’ as to how you got it. Although this was a morally questionable thing to do, from a practical standpoint, it was the only way that Levy could get Thomas Jefferson’s furniture back, and ultimately, he did get most of it back. In 1923, Levy turned the title to Monticello over to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which still owns it. The Levy family spent over $2 million (inflation adjusted) of their own funds in order to maintain Monticello during the 90 years that they owned it. I don’t think that the Levy family would done all this if Thomas Jefferson was an anti-Semite.
MONTICELLO INVENTIONS. Visit Monticello if you get the chance! You may be surprised at the many inventions and innovations you will see there. Jefferson was quite an inventor. Thomas Jefferson invented the first hideaway bed and dumbwaiter for wine bottles, both of which are still there. Jefferson also invented the pedometer and the polygraph (not a lie detector, but a copying machine.) Jefferson enjoyed fine food and was the first person in the United States to make waffles, ice cream, and macaroni. In the photo below, you can see Monticello’s pond. This pond was not just ornamental. Jefferson enjoyed eating fish, but Monticello is not on a river, so Jefferson had live fish delivered to his home and dumped in the pond. When Jefferson was in the mood for fresh fish for dinner, he would go to the pond, point to a fish, and have his cook scoop it up and cook it.
I teach American history at a junior high school in Orinda. My students often tell me that I tell them stories in a way that makes it sound like I made it all up, but that isn’t true. I don’t make up these stories. History is full of odd coincidences and strange people. Thomas Hardy said: “While much is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.” Here is a tale of an odd coincidence.
Jefferson and Adams. As every American schoolchild knows (or should know), the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. After the Revolutionary War was over, Jefferson and Adams became political enemies. It wasn’t just because Adams was against slavery and Jefferson owned a lot of slaves. They had completely opposite political philosophies. Adams was the head of the Federalist Party, and Jefferson was the head of the anti-Federalists. For over 20 years, Jefferson and Adams did not speak to each other, but in their old age, they patched up their differences and became friends and pen pals, writing to each other frequently. On July 4, 1826; exactly 50 years to the day after Thomas Jefferson and John Adams signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776; John Adams died at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. On his deathbed, John Adams’ final words were: “At least Jefferson still lives!” However, unknown to Adams, Thomas Jefferson died shortly before Adams that same day at Monticello in Virginia, and Jefferson’s final thoughts were of Adams.