Cancel Culture comes for Thomas Jefferson...and fails miserably
The University of Missouri has rejected calls to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson.
Instead, a university task force has recommended contextualizing the statue, rather than removing it.
In 2020, MU officials refused to dismount the statue, defying the wishes of student organizations demanding for it to be removed. The students' demonstration represented a microcosm of a larger movement advocating the toppling of statues honoring American heroes. MU President Mun Choi became one of the only university presidents to declare that “we don’t remove history” in response.
As a compromise, Choi appointed The Taskforce for the Contextualization of the Thomas Jefferson Statue to write a report recommending how best to “contextualize” it.
The committee released its report in January, recommending that the university “establish a commemorative wayside sign with language explaining why the Jefferson statue is present on the MU campus, as well as summarizing Jefferson’s accomplishments, and also his shortcomings, including his role as a slaveowner and the father of children by an enslaved person.” A widely reported claim that Thomas Jefferson illegitimately fathered children with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman owned by Jefferson, is disputed.
Commenting on the proposal, MU Professor of psychology and committee member Phillip Wood said, “We need to think about what this memorial says to our students of color and our members of indigenous communities," according to KOMU-TV.
He noted that the “opinions of the committee...were pretty varied.”
The George Lundeen Statue of Thomas Jefferson, which depicts the former president writing the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, commemorates the University of Missouri’s heritage as the first university established west of the Mississippi River, i.e., on the 827,000 square miles of land purchased by President Thomas Jefferson for $15 million in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Despite adhering to an early iteration of strict-constructionism, Jefferson altered his belief in the limited power of the executive to purchase the territory from Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France with little consultation from Congress, notifying it only after Ambassador Robert Livingston and James Monroe had returned from Paris with a finalized agreement.
Describing Jefferson's role in the Louisiana Purchase in his book, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, historian Jon Meacham wrote:
“The story of the Louisiana Purchase is one of strength, of Jefferson’s adaptability, and, most important, his determination to secure the territory form France, doubling the size of the country and transforming the United States into a continental power. A slower or less courageous politician might have bungled the acquisition; an overly idealistic one might have lost by insisting on strict constitutional scruples. Jefferson, however, was neither slow nor weak nor overly idealistic.”
The University of Missouri campus is also the site of Jefferson’s original gravestone. His descendants donated it to the University of Missouri in 1883.
UM President Choi has not yet commented on the committee’s recommendation.
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