Tag Archives: thomas jefferson

Today in 1776: “… conceived in liberty…”

4 Jul

Today in 1776, fifty-six men gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to discuss a public declaration of the adoption of the Lee resolution, “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent states…”

The Declaration of Independence, originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was debated, edited, and ultimately adopted by the end of the day. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” it said, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Jefferson would later write over and over again of the “sacred fire” kindled on that July day, and he knew that the light of liberty would “spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished…” (letter to John Adams, September 12, 1821). And throughout history, Jefferson has been proved right, even in his own country. Though Jefferson was never able to reconcile the issue of slavery for the Republic or even in his own personal circumstances, the sacred fire which he so succinctly captured in the Declaration would still be burning to set men free four-score and seven years later.

On July 4, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was leading the Army of Northern Virginia in retreat to the Potomac after the defeat at Gettysburg, and Ulysses S. Grant was leading the Union army under his command to victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi. The tide of Civil War was turning.

Today, our nation was, as Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address, “conceived in liberty.” Our country was “trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth…” (Jefferson, March 4, 1808), and today light and liberty are still on steady advance.

Happy Independence Day, friends. May every day find us “…with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” for the continual support of the freedoms upon which our country was founded, together may “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”


Tasty History: Ice Cream

19 Jun

I feel like before I start I need to offer the general disclaimer that I’m not a historian, did not study history in college, and didn’t really get into history until pretty recently in my life so sometimes I’m probably going to sound like I’m stating the obvious. This may be one of those times. So bear with me.

My best friend, Gwen, and I were in Colonial Williamsburg this weekend. We had an amazing time and ate TONS of good food. I’d heard tell before we got there that M. Dubois Grocery would be open when we got there. While it would have been fun to see it as an historic trade (like the Apothecary or Milliner, where you can see what shops were like in the 18th century), it was equally fun to see it set up, open, and serving ice cream (and other things, of course).

Which got me thinking… how does one make ice cream in the 18th century? You know, before refrigeration was invented? That is, I knew they had ice cream in the 18th Century; Dolley Madison and Martha Washington both reportedly served it at receptions hosted by their husbands as President. So I did a little digging, and apparently ice was harvested in winter from rivers and lakes, and kept in semi-underground ice houses throughout the year. The Papers of George Washington has an interesting article you can read on the ice house at the Executive Mansion in Philadelphia.

All this to say, I knew that ice cream absent a refrigerator was possible if you could find ice (therefore a possibility in winter), but I didn’t realize that ice houses were capable of keeping things freezing for so long.

The other fun find from this little research project (read: Google search) was the discovery that the Library of Congress is in possession of Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream recipe. Paula Deen helpfully has a modern/transcribed version here. Happy eating!

Today in 1776: “… all men are born equally free…”

12 Jun

Today in 1776, the First Virginia Convention in Williamsburg adopts the Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason. The language used in the Virginia Declaration of Rights was used by Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence, which would be adopted by the Continental Congress a few weeks later:

“… all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

You can read the entire Declaration of Rights at Archives.gov.

Today in 1781: Jefferson and the Virginia legislature flee from the British

4 Jun

As I mentioned on Saturday, 1781 wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s best year ever. He was in his first and only term as governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and with the Commonwealth’s economy limping along and its best-performing militia employed elsewhere, Virginia was an open field for the British. The government of the Commonwealth had recently moved the capital from Williamsburg to Richmond, hoping that a more inland location would make the capital more defensible. Alas, it was not to be.

A gent by the name of Benedict Arnold (ahemhem), who was in command of the British regulars sent to maraud along the James River, made its way to Richmond, and burned it to the ground. Separately, another detachment of British troops closed in on Charlottesville and Monticello. Governor Jefferson got wind of their coming just in the nick of time to saddle his horse and flee, a move which saved his life but haunted his political career for the rest of his life.(1)

Of course, it was 1781, and the British’s triumph would not last for long. In the following October, the Americans trapped Lord Cornwallis in a little town on the York River… But that’s a story for another day!

As a matter of interest, you can still tour Richmond’s Capitol, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson (2).

(1) Ellis, Joseph J. (1997), American Sphinx. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
(2) OF COURSE IT WAS. I mean, what colonial-era building HASN’T been designed and/or blue-printed by Thomas Jefferson?!

Today in 1779: Thomas Jefferson elected Governor of Virginia

1 Jun


Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg

Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg

On this day in 1779, the Virginia assembly elects Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, as Governor of Virginia.  He was thirty-six at the time.

During his first term, Jefferson drafted The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.  The bill was presented to the Virginia legislature in 1779, but did not pass until 1786, when Jefferson was U.S. Ambassador to France.

The capital city of Virginia moved during Jefferson’s governorship from Williamsburg to Richmond  in 1780 to better protect it from the British. In early 1781 however, the British under the command of Benedict Arnold led raids along the James River and eventually forced the legislature to evacuate Richmond. Cornwallis’s forces additionally moved against Charlottesville.  Jefferson himself was almost captured at Monticello, and the story of his last-minute escape on horseback was infamous throughout Virginia.  Much of the blame for the raiding and general lack of opposition to the British was laid at Jefferson’s feet — he was accused of cowardice and the legislature even tried to launch an inquiry into his behavior. He would later recount in a letter to James Monroe:

But in the meantime I had been suspected & suspended in the eyes of the world without the least hint then or afterwards made public which might restrain them from supposing that I stood arraigned for treason of the heart and not merely weakness of the head; and I felt that these injuries, for such they have been since acknowledged had inflicted a wound on my spirit which will only be cured by the all-healing grave. 

Of course, what anyone could have done to prevent the British from all but waltzing their way over Virginia is a question with no answer. Much of Virginia’s resources in men and money were deployed in the service of the Continental Army and George Washington. Nonetheless, he was in charge, and as with politics today, the man in charge is the man upon whom the blame is laid.

Jefferson was never particularly enamored with any of his public positions. In fact, from among his positions as Governor, member of the Continental Congress, Ambassador to France, Vice President, President, and founder of the University of Virginia, only one of his titles made the top three accomplishments of his life. You’ll note that his epitaph, which he wrote himself, reads:

Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute for Religious Freedom
and the Father of the University of Virginia.

While I’m inclined to be more forgiving of Jefferson’s public service than he himself was, I think it’s pretty easy to agree that laying the foundations of liberty ought to top the list anyway.