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Island Getaway Contest

Randall Williams
Montgomery, AL

"So, Tell Me, Mr. Jefferson . . ."

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"So, tell me, Mr. Jefferson, about Sally Hemings . . ." Of course, I wouldn't ask that the first few days that Tom Jefferson and I were stranded on that desert island. I'd want to get to know the author of the Declaration of Independence first, and there are many other questions I'd ask before that one, but we would get there eventually because the subject is so titillating on a personal level and so profound politically.

The Hemings/slavery issues are merely two of many fascinating contradictions about our third president. He defined liberty and equality, yet owned slaves. He believed in small republics, yet doubled the size of the U.S. He decried federalism, yet nudged us toward centralization. He spoke eloquently about press freedom, yet sought to censor opposing newspapers. He wrote so well and so much and was open enough to new ideas and thought that today he can be quoted--like the Bible--on all sides of all political debates.

One's desert island companion also should be useful, and Jefferson was a skilled architect, a practical inventor, and a successful farmer. He was apparently neither funny nor witty, but he was musical and he was very well read.

One could be marooned for a long time with Jefferson without fear of the conversational well drying up. I would want him to be about age 70, when he had had time to reflect on his life but still had his vigor.


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