Courtland Milloy’s visit to Monticello and his decision to write about it cheered me. I wish more people would get to know Thomas Jefferson better [“At Monticello, retracing ‘deep rooted prejudices,’ ” Metro, Aug. 29]. Many people are prejudiced against Jefferson because of his relationship with Sally Hemings.
Martha Jefferson died shortly after giving birth, and Thomas Jefferson never remarried. He developed a strong bond and affection for Hemings. Jefferson treated Hemings with special regard, including manumission of some of her relatives. That Hemings was only 16 when she bore their first child is not astonishing. In the 18th century, many women (girls) married in their early teens and bore children.
It was against the law for Jefferson to marry Hemings. Jefferson waffled over the issue of slavery, but, as he was the governor of a state that was entrenched in a plantation economy that was dependent upon slave labor, it would not have been prudent for him to abolish slavery.
As the author of the Declaration of Independence, governor of Virginia, third president of the United States and the person who engineered the Louisiana Purchase from France, he deserves far better. Could any of us, the enlightened in the 21st century, walk a mile in his shoes? That the abolition of slavery did not occur in his time does not mean that he did not recognize its evil and desire its end.
Edward McManus, Washington