Monticello is going woke — and trashing Thomas Jefferson’s good name in the process.
The Charlottesville, Virginia home of the Founding Father and America’s third president is one of our best-known national monuments, familiar from its appearance on the nickel since 1938.
But the hilltop mansion designed by Jefferson himself, once preserved as a tribute to the author of the Declaration of Independence, now offers visitors a harangue on the horrors of slavery.
“The whole thing has the feel of propaganda and manipulation,” Jeffrey Tucker, founder of the libertarian Brownstone Institute and a recent visitor, told The Post. “People on my tour seemed sad and demoralized.”
The new emphasis is the culmination of a 10-year effort to balance the historical record, officials of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit that owns the estate, have said.
But visitors complain that employees go out of their way to belittle Jefferson and his life.
“The tour guides play ‘besmirchment derby,’ never missing a chance to defame this brilliant, complex man,” Stephen Owen of Enochville, NC, wrote on Facebook.
“Half of the comments on Jefferson were critical,” wrote William Bailes of Chester, Virginia in an online review after visiting in June. “Even my 11-year-old daughter noticed the bias.”
Tucker described his guide last month as “surly and dismissive” of Jefferson’s accomplishments.
“Someone asked if Jefferson had built a machine in the house, and the guide said, ‘Nah, he never built anything, he was just a tinkerer,’” Tucker recalled.
“It was ridiculous. He was the architect of this house and of the University of Virginia — what are you talking about?”
Jefferson’s life story is full of thorny contradictions. The world’s foremost proponent of liberty, who wrote the immortal words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” was nonetheless a committed slave owner until his death in 1826.
That has made him a prime target for the left. Last year, a Jefferson statue was unceremoniously booted from the New York City Council’s chamber, where it had stood for 187 years.
In the past, the managers of Monticello sanitized Jefferson’s history for the 25 million tourists who have flocked there since it was opened to the public in 1923. References to slavery were few, and signs labeled “Servants’ Quarters” marked sites where Jefferson’s slaves once lived.
“Our goal is to present an honest, inclusive history of Monticello in all its aspects as well as Jefferson’s contributions to the founding of the country,” Jenn Lyon, a Monticello spokesperson, said.
But on a visit this week, The Post found, the grievance has become the predominant theme at Monticello, from the ticket booth in the visitor’s center — decorated with a contemporary painting of Jefferson’s weeping slaves — to its final gift-shop display.
Not even the president’s world-famous music room, an octagonal space carefully restored to its 18th century grandeur and decorated with Gilbert Stuart’s original presidential portrait and classical busts, is safe from revisionist disapproval.
A grim modern painting of a faceless figure with a matte black head now looms over the room, positioned so that it directly confronts visitors as they enter the mansion.
The huge 4-foot-by-5-foot work, a new addition to Monticello’s collection, was “commissioned in honor of Juneteenth last month,” said Susan Woodward, The Post’s guide on Wednesday. “It’s quite provocative, I do believe,” she added.
The figure’s “hands and face of featureless tar” represent “the faceless lives of all who served in bondage, witnessing but never recognized,” an identifying card explains.
The anachronistic artwork is just one of many jarring signs of over-the-top politicization at Jefferson’s beloved home.
Guides begin their outdoor tours of Monticello’s gardens and grounds by invoking the Native Americans who once lived on the land.
“How does that land come to be in European possession?” a guide named Justin asked an unresponsive group of vacationers from Germany. “A lot of violence, right?” he prodded.
Placards with conversation starters on the topic of civil rights festoon a patio outside the snack shop. “Is ‘all men are created equal’ being lived up to in our country today?” one reads. “When will we know when it is?” it continues — supplying a negative answer to the first question.
Books by critical race theory proponents Ibram X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates enjoy pride of place in the visitor center’s gift shop, while the smaller Farm Shop store displays five titles on Jefferson’s slaves — and a single biography of the man himself.
Interpretive signage throughout the estate places slavery at the forefront of each historical feature by adding the word “enslaved” before every possible job description, often multiple times: “an enslaved cook,” “enslaved postilions,” “Jefferson’s enslaved valet, Burwell Colbert.”
Meanwhile, a “trigger warning” alerts sensitive visitors outside a basement room that plays a video about Sally Hemings, the mixed-race slave who, many historians believe, bore Jefferson six unacknowledged children.
The presentation “covers difficult subject matter and can inspire strong emotions … We encourage you to respect the feelings of your fellow guests,” the signage reads.
Indeed, the story of Hemings is told in more detail — and with far greater sympathy — than that of the third president himself.
Guides launch into Hemings’s biography on the slightest pretext. During The Post’s tour, a description of an interior archway in the library, as well as a comment on Jefferson’s love of French cuisine in the dining room, gave Woodward openings to expound on what little is known of Hemings’s life.
“The entire focus was on his mistress,” complained Wesley Stevens of Tulsa, Okla. “They are trying to rewrite history to make it seem like the founding fathers were terrible immoral creatures that happened to start a country.”
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation is run by a roster of big-money Dem donors and former Democratic officials, including:
- Chair Melody Barnes, a former assistant to President Barack Obama and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. “I grew up in Virginia, where Jefferson was always — and only — celebrated,” Barnes griped in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed.
- Foundation president Leslie Greene Bowman, who was appointed to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House by President Bill Clinton. Bowman in 2021 decried “the flaws in [Jefferson’s] promise of liberty that haunt us to this day.”
- Vice Chair Tobias Dengel, the CEO of a Virginia tech company who lists his pronouns in his LinkedIn bio, donated $75,000 to President Joe Biden’s superPAC and other Democratic campaigns in 2020.
- Secretary Molly Hardie, another major Dem donor, gave more than $50,000 to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s PAC in 2016.
- Board member Renée Grisham, wife of bestselling novelist John Grisham, won an appointment to a state foundation from Virginia’s former Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe.
Monticello’s push to “finish the restoration of the landscape of slavery” on the estate has largely been funded by left-leaning philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, who donated $20 million toward that effort in 2015.
Rubenstein, a private-equity billionaire and former Carter Administration official — recently pledged to continue his extensive investments in China — and is on the boards of the globalist World Economic Forum, China’s Tsinghua University, and the Council on Foreign Relations, among others.
“In the long term, China has a very bright economic outlook, it has a large population, very hardworking people, well-educated and so forth,” Rubenstein said in May at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as he hailed the country’s government its “pretty good handle” on the economy.
But in Virginia, George Allen, the state’s former GOP governor and US Senator, blasted Monticello’s new focus as “contemporary politicization of a beautiful historic property.”
“Some of this to me just detracts from how people can be inspired and understand Thomas Jefferson and his time and how brilliant he was, how creative he was, his innovations and how ahead of his time he was,” Allen said.
Douglas MacKinnon, author of “The 56 – Liberty Lessons From Those Who Risked All To Sign The Declaration of Independence, agreed.
“It’s very problematic to look at 1776 and Thomas Jefferson through the prism of 2022,” MacKinnon said. “You can’t go back 250 years to know what was in their hearts at that time.”
“Jefferson was the ultimate Founding Father of our nation,” he added. “His name should not be diminished because of our political disagreements.”