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Thomas Jefferson and Women’s Rights

What was Thomas Jefferson’s position regarding women and government, the man who wrote our Declaration of Independence?  He wrote:

The appointment of a woman to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor I.

In a letter dated September 5, 1816, to a man regarding the question of the “right of representation for their slaves,” Jefferson responded:   

Were our State a pure democracy, . . . there would yet be excluded from their deliberations, 1. Infants, until arrived at years of discretion. 2. Women, who, to prevent depravation of morals and ambiguity of issue, could not mix promiscuously in the public meetings of men. 3. Slaves, from whom the unfortunate state of things with us takes away the rights of will and of property.

When Jefferson went to France, he was most uncomfortable and disturbed by the fact that women stepped out of their role as housewives and mothers and extended their influence over politics.  He wrote to Washington:

The manners of the nation allow them to visit, alone, all persons in office, to solicit the affairs of the husband, family, or friends, and their solicitations bid defiance to laws and regulation . . . [Few Americans] can possibly understand the desperate state which things are reduced in this country from the omnipotence of an influence which, fortunately for the happiness of the sex itself, does not endeavor to extend itself in our country beyond the domestic line.

He contrasted American women by lauding them as they:

who have the good sense to value domestic happiness above all other . . . Our good ladies, I trust, have been too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics. They are contented to soothe and calm the minds of their husbands returning from political debate. . . .  It is a comparison of Amazons to Angels.

Oh for such good sense to return today, such good ladies of wisdom!  If the French were Amazons in the latter 1700s, what would Americans be today?  If angels, most certainly fallen angels. 

Furthermore, if Jefferson were to return today, he would indeed be glad that the black man had been emancipated; but he would also see that our insane welfare program had created a life worse than slavery.  Andrew Cherlin reports in his book, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, that during the days of slavery a black child was more likely to grow up living with both parents than he or she is today. 

Some will object to or dismiss what Jefferson said here; but keep in mind, if Thomas Jefferson came to America today, he would be shocked and ashamed, and appalled that the Declaration he wrote had come to represent a people of such depravity and lack of self-discipline and principle.  It is not that Jefferson, the one who gave us this revered document, was wrong in his position regarding women.  No, we are wrong!  We are the ones who have corrupted our patriarchal government and the integrity that produced this nation.  We are the ones who are wrong; and hopefully soon we will see our grave error and “deprivation of morals” and be blush-faced ashamed.  It is incredibly puzzling that today we look back and condemn slavery and the holocaust and wonder how men could have participated in such, but we do not see our own reprehensible actions relative to the three-part Curse of 1920.

The aberrant social behavior today in what Jefferson’s generation called “courting,” would cause Jefferson to shrink back in horror at the thought that his own children would have been exposed to such loose and destructive behavior. He wrote to his daughter concerning dress:

A lady who has been seen as a sloven or slut in the morning will never efface the impression she has made, with all dress and pageantry she can afterwards involve herself in. . . . I hope therefore, the moment you rise from bed, your first work will be to dress yourself in such style as that you may be seen by any gentleman without his being able to discover a pin amiss. [A Jefferson Profile, 1956, p. 16].

What a glaring contrast to the looseness and unkemptness and even bold gaudiness and immodesty of women’s clothing today!  Furthermore, our altered laws concerning women and divorce and voting would drive Jefferson to rage, or more likely to sink into despondent disgust and shame and wonder how the nation he helped begin had been reduced to such deprivation.  Our wealth and prosperity would not impress him in light of our exceeding moral and social depravity and governmental irresponsibility and shameful error.  Nor would our penchant for idleness, such as videos and movies, impress him, as he wrote here regarding novels:

A great obstacle to good education is the ordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real businesses of life. 

Undoubtedly, Jefferson would thereby far rather desire to return to the period from which he had come, and I for one would prefer to be there with him.

Given the state of our nation today, I am certain he would choose quill and parchment over the fastest computer.  He would choose the simplicity of a parlor with a friend and a glass of wine over the newest high-definition television or CD player.  He would choose horseback over a luxury car.  He would choose the simple beauty of a sunset at Monticello over any new DVD.  He would choose a quiet breakfast with his daughter over seeing her shamefully rush out as a sloven slut to be with peers.  He would choose simplicity and virtue over moral and social corruptness.  He would choose to remain with the Declaration of Independence that he wrote and signed, and not with that which deceived and feminized men have made it out to be.