Posted in Reference Questions, TJ Encyclopedia Entries, tagged Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Freemasons, ice cream, inventions, macaroni and cheese, marijuana, Qur'an, religion, vanilla on January 23, 2010|
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Everybody loves countdowns, right? Right. So, I’ve come up with my own list of things people get wrong about Jefferson, based on my extensive observation of the stuff people put on the Internet or ask us about. Here goes:
- Thomas Jefferson wrote the Constitution. That would be the Declaration of Independence. For Pete’s sake, they don’t even rhyme or anything, people!
- Thomas Jefferson invented coathangers/triple-sashed windows/skylights/polygraphs/dirt. Well, this is somewhat debatable, depending on what your definition of an “invention” is, but the party line now is that Jefferson invented only the moldboard plow and not any of those other things.
- Thomas Jefferson said [x]. TJ said lots of things, but strangely enough, not most of the things people think he said.
- Thomas Jefferson was a Democrat/Republican/liberal/conservative. Yeah, you wish, Democrats/Republicans/liberals/conservatives! For one thing, the names of the parties have changed (that one really gets the ignoramuses out there). For another, it’s practically impossible to put a modern political label on TJ, because, well, he’s not a modern politician.
- Thomas Jefferson grew marijuana. He did grow hemp, but as I understand it, the type of industrial hemp grown to make rope and cloth and so forth contains only minimal amounts of the compound that makes so many people so happy. Nice try, potheads!
- Thomas Jefferson was an atheist/Deist/not a Christian. Some say that TJ cannot be called a Christian because he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. On the other hand, TJ called himself a Christian, so I’m just going to take him at his word.
- Thomas Jefferson was my ancestor/relative. Well, that could be, actually. Statistically speaking, however, most people would be wrong about this.
- Jefferson was the first to bring vanilla/macaroni & cheese/ice cream to the United States. Jefferson was most likely not the first person to bring any of these foods to America, although his name probably has become attached to them because these were foods he served at dinners during his Presidency, which tended to be highly remarked-upon. So perhaps one could say that although he didn’t introduce them, he may have played a large part in popularizing them.
- Jefferson was a Freemason. Negatory.
- Thomas Jefferson bought a Qur’an so he could study his enemies and fight the Muslims. Some people clearly wish this was true, but sadly: no.
So there you go. I apologize if your favorite Jefferson misconception didn’t make it onto the list, but you can always post it in the comments. I love misconceptions, as long as they’re not mine!
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Over the July 4th weekend I celebrated by watching a lot of Founding-Fathery patriotic television shows. This was more disturbing than entertaining, as one particular show – which I shall forebear to mention here – set me off on a Rumpelstilskin-esque fit of rage. I actually yelled at my television as it, in all earnestness, told me the story of the “Unknown Patriot,” a mysterious figure who appeared at the Continental Congress and exhorted the members to Sign the Declaration! (Because they never would have, if some guy at the back of the room that nobody had ever seen before hadn’t told them to.) There was all sorts of discussion on the television of who this mysterious figure might have been, and astral planes and so forth.
Of course, there’s just one problem. The story of the “Unknown Patriot” is a piece of historical fiction, written by a nineteenth-century novelist named George Lippard. Seriously. What if, 100 years from now, people thought that Sam Spade was a real person, and his adventures in pursuit of the Maltese Falcon actually happened? You get my point.
Immediately following this was a segment on Thomas Jefferson and His Love for Hemp. Apparently he loved hemp. He wrote the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. He brought back hemp from Europe. He invented a new method of separating hemp fibers. (They didn’t actually say that he smoked it, but you know they probably hoped he did.)
Oh, Television! You are wrong again:
- The Declaration of Independence was not written on hemp paper. (Lots of hemp aficionado sites in the Internets will tell you it was, but they would say that, wouldn’t they?)
- I haven’t found any specific mention of bringing hemp back from Europe, at least in raw or seed form.
- Jefferson did not invent a new method of separating hemp fibers; they are probably talking about his hemp break, but he certainly didn’t invent that.
So: don’t believe everything the television tells you. In fact, it’s probably best to assume the television is wrong.
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Since 1994 the Scout Report has listed and annotated praiseworthy websites of interest to librarians, teachers, students, and scholars. Here’s one that we will add to our Thomas Jefferson Portal research database: Creating the United States. More info:
As with other countries, the United States is very much a “work in progress”. Of course, the nation’s founders made a concerted effort to form a republic that would be able to govern effectively across a large geographic region and a plethora of different cultural traditions. This thoughtful and introspective online exhibit from the Library of Congress brings together a set of interactive resources and activities organized around themes that include “Creating the Declaration of Independence” and “Creating the Bill of Rights”. Clicking on these themes will bring visitors to a brief narrative essay that sets the tone for the primary and secondary historical documents within each area. Here visitors will find such gems as an early map of the Appalachians, woodcuts of early Presidents, and the musings of Thomas Paine, among many others. Moving on, visitors should not miss the “Interactives” area. Here they can test their mettle by connecting particular phrases and ideas set down in the Declaration of Independence with the key texts that preceded it. And if visitors aren’t stumped there (or even if they are), they can try the same tasks with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. After a visit to this site, some may even find themselves dusting off their old civics textbooks or at least planning a strip to a local government facility for further edification.
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