One major criticism levied at America’s founding fathers is the label of “racist”. Indeed, their words, and their actions, often contradicted themselves based on the people they were talking about. Example being, all men are created equal, except if you’re a person of color, then you’re just 3/5 of a person. Though such line of discussion is fully justified and worthy of discussion, it should be noted that one of our best founders, Thomas Jefferson, did many things that should make us reconsider this label.
Jefferson was a southern gentleman during a time when social advancement was based off ones land, slaves, and income generated. Especially considering he was from the south, it is guaranteed that Jefferson would have some contact with slaves and slave owners during his life regardless. It should also be noted that Jefferson freed his slaves at the end of his life. One may argue that this was too late to be meaningful, but it is something.
For Jefferson to be a real racist it should be assumed he looked down on “lesser races”, no matter what logic and facts say. After all, scientists in the nineteenth century manufactured fake studies to say that whites were superior (by measuring skulls and fabricating data). They weren’t interested in the truth, rather verifying a conclusion they wanted to verify.
One lesser known fact about Jefferson is that he is considered by some to be the father of American archaeology, and with good reason. In a time when looting was more viable Jefferson did systematic studies on local burial mounds. Here he recorded notes and even stratigraphy about the excavations.
Mounds are a major archaeological phenomenon in the Midwest, and parts of the east. During the late archaic and woodland periods people built massive mounds for burial and residential purposes. The most prominent of these earthen works can be found in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys.
Various theories arose amongst Europeans about the nature of these strange mounds. Not only had the cultures that built them died out long ago, their descendants were being wiped out by disease leaving only stranded residents on th large mounds. This gave the impression that the Indians did not build the mounds, feeding right into the racist idea that Indians were not smart or capable enough to make them.
Such theories ranged far and wide. The supposed builders of the mounds included Vikings, the lost tribes of Israel, Chinese, and even people from Atlantis. These theories were not just ideas. Those who believed the mounds were built by ancient Europeans believed the Indians should be removed to reclaim the land. And they were removed, by the Trail of Tears and other forced relocations.
Native Americans did indeed build the mounds. But the truth did not gain steam until a lengthy report in 1894 by a man named Cyrus Thomas. But there were those who already knew the truth a full century before the 1894 report .. Thomas Jefferson was one of them. After excavating a mound, Jefferson concluded by the artifacts found that Indians had made the mounds. He also noted that ancient burial practices depicted in the mounds closely resembled burial practices of Indians during his time.
Which means Jefferson did not go looking for evidence to support a thesis of white supremacy. He objectively observed the evidence and spoke the truth, even though the majority opinion during his time that Indians were in no way capable of building the mounds. This is just one story, but I believe it shows that the founders were not quite as racist as some people say.
Today the mound building cultures go under the names of Cahokia, Adena, Hopewell, and a number of other names. A number of famous parks and sites today are attributed to the mound builders, such as Monks Mound in Illinois and Serpent Mound in Ohio.
Filed under: Politics