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Meet Thomas Jefferson

Portraying a 19th-century president

Issue 121, Summer 2023

Thomas Jefferson: Panic Four (Spotty WiFi), 2017, acrylic on canvas by Shawn Huckins. Courtesy the artist

When Thomas Jefferson appears in the doorway, a collective in-breath of appreciation halts the chatter in the dim gallery. He meets his guests on this Thursday morning in February dressed casually in a red vest with silver buttons over a white shirt and cravat, dark breeches, and a sweeping midnight-blue greatcoat. White-haired and blue-eyed, he stands over six feet tall, with a quietly dignified bearing, so serene you might wonder whether retirement on his mountain has insulated him from the fiery arguments playing out across the nation over his life’s meaning.

“Good morning, citizens,” he says, removing his hat. Six women of different ages and races await him on the museum’s benches. We have traveled to Virginia from New Jersey and Florida and Georgia; later several will go up the mountain to tour Jefferson’s famous house, Monticello.

An enormous reproduction of John Trumbull’s painting of the Second Continental Congress shows Jefferson and four others presenting their draft of the Declaration of Independence. So much time has passed since then, when he was thirty-three years old and “not yet dry behind the ears,” he says. “We still wore tricorn hats.”

“It is the year ’23 now, is it not?” he asks. His listeners confirm that it is. “1823!” he says with raised eyebrows, and they laugh.

An 1823 facsimile of the original Declaration, commissioned by John Quincy Adams, hangs behind glass at the back of the room. Lights in its display case periodically blink on, illuminating flowing black script on graying paper so rippled with age that it resembles a raised-relief map. Tinny baroque music can be heard at intervals from a nearby gallery as Jefferson tells the story of the Declaration and his life leading up to that point. His first attempt at that founding document had condemned King George for preventing the colonies from abolishing slavery, but other representatives had that passage struck.

“It took me three days to draft it,” Jefferson says, holding a marked-up sheaf of parchment on his lap. “I was guilty of something we’re all guilty of.” He allows a pause for anyone to guess what that is. “I make mistakes,” he says simply, looking around the room.

At the end of his talk, he takes questions.

“Why didn’t you free your slaves?” one of the women asks. Jefferson, who wrote that “all men are created equal” and called slavery a “moral depravity,” still enslaved more than six hundred African American people over his lifetime.

Thomas Jefferson says this is a good question. He explains the Virginia laws of the period and the long intermingling of Black and white blood. “I will not sell my people,” he had repeatedly written. Deep in debt for most of his adult life, he had little else that interested his creditors. He believed that future generations would accomplish emancipation, though he did not. “I’m not going to live to see it. I’ve failed. Every generation is going to fail at something. But we must keep working.”

“Wow. Is there a book in the bookstore you would recommend so I can learn more about this?” Jefferson appears not to comprehend this question but says that perhaps someday his writings might be available to the public.

After a few more questions, everyone gathers around for portraits with Jefferson.

Citizens (and others) can “Meet Thomas Jefferson” at Monticello most Tuesdays through Saturdays, at eleven, twelve, two, and three o’clock. In a month or so the mountaintop will be a riot of springtime color, with trees in bloom and tulips bright against the azure panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the gentle sprawl of Charlottesville. Jefferson will talk with his guests, who come from all over the United States and the world, under the sugar maple, near the fish pond. In February, however, the light is gray and the grass is dry and the trees are mostly bare. Jefferson greets guests inside the visitor center auditorium and the museum. The Declaration program is new, and he is still working out the timing.

“We’ve had a failure of what they call technology,” Jefferson explains to the handful of people still in the Declaration exhibit room after his first presentation. He has just returned from the visitor center, where the largest and most elaborate magic lantern show he has ever seen won’t stop running scenes from his life, narrated by an invisible woman. Back in the center, his assistant for the day was trying to stop Thomas Jefferson’s World, a 2009 film created for the site and updated in 2020, so far to no avail. “I’ll be too overpowered and mesmerized,” Jefferson told the gathered viewers. Who in 1823 could imagine such a lifelike illusion? Then, he invited them to follow him to the exhibit room.

There, a woman asks what he was thinking when he drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

He was thinking about Thinking. “Without honoring man’s ability to think, we force hypocrisy,” he says. Before the Statute, Virginians were required to pay taxes to support the Anglican Church and to attend services regularly. Jefferson opposed mandatory observance and religious tests for civil liberties. He wrote of his bill that equal protection was due “the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian, the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.”

Along with his authoring of the Declaration of Independence and founding of the University of Virginia, the Statute was the proudest accomplishment of his life; he chose to have this trifecta engraved on his tombstone, which lies partway down the mountain behind an ornate wrought-iron fence enclosing the family cemetery.

These actions are highlighted in the show that wouldn’t stop playing. But if Thomas Jefferson had lingered in amazement, he would be forced to see some of his greatest shames exposed too. One of the hundreds of people he enslaved was Sally Hemings, who was his late wife’s half-sister and the mother of at least six of his children. The four who survived babyhood were forced to labor on his plantation while their white siblings lived in luxury.

Anyone might be discomfited to stumble upon a seven-and-a-half-minute film summarizing their life, but in 2023, Thomas Jefferson’s time on earth seems most often remembered in terms of “contradiction” or “hypocrisy,” depending on one’s perspective. In 2021, his statue was removed from the New York City Council’s chambers, at the request of the council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, who argued that it provided “a constant reminder of the injustices that have plagued communities of color since the inception of our country.” Schools that bore Jefferson’s name have dropped it or begun the process in Ohio, California, Minnesota, Virginia, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. “The Board of Education will no longer hold up an enslaver as a role model for students,” members decided in Maplewood, New Jersey, last August after students called for Jefferson Elementary to be renamed.

“TJ is a lightning rod,” says Bill Barker, who has been portraying Thomas Jefferson for more than forty years, ever since he was a young stage actor in Philadelphia whose friend told him that Independence Hall needed someone to play Jefferson at an event. Slim, tall, and handsome, with auburn hair and keys to several costume rooms, Barker impressed audiences with his resemblance to the third president. Moreover, he’d majored in history at Villanova and could improvise in character based on memorized texts.

Now he is the most prominent Jefferson interpreter in the world, having played the famous Founder for twenty-six years at Colonial Williamsburg and absorbed a vast number of quotations from Jefferson into his memory. Barker proved so popular in Williamsburg that in 2019 Monticello hired him as its first full-time Thomas Jefferson, to interact with visitors and appear in educational and promotional media. That same year, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation published his memoir, Becoming Jefferson: My Life as a Founding Father.

The Monticello Farm Table café is quiet while Barker talks over peach iced tea and Brunswick stew between performances, the Virginia accent of his character fading away. When he moved from Williamsburg to Charlottesville, he showed his new hair stylist a painting of Jefferson on his iPhone. Luckily, his nineteenth-century cut is versatile enough that he can brush his short bangs and jaw-length hair to the sides of his head when work is over and become once again a citizen of the twenty-first century. As himself, Barker comes across as reserved but warm, with the slightly formal manners that may be inevitable for someone who spends his workdays playing an eighteenth-century statesman. He has told me that, even after all these years, he still feels flutters of nerves when he prepares to appear in character, something he was reassured to learn that even Richard Burton experienced at the height of his acting career.

While we talk about his Declaration program, a café worker discovers a cell phone left behind on a table. Barker remembers its owner, a woman from Colorado who spoke with him after his last presentation, and dashes off with it to see if she’s still nearby.

In 1998, Barker and other public-facing members of the Jefferson field were invited to a seminar at Monticello. At the final luncheon, they were told that the Washington Post was about to publish the story that DNA tests had confirmed that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings’s children. A year earlier, Annette Gordon-Reed had provided detailed evidence for the rumored relationship in Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Popular understanding of Jefferson changed dramatically after the revelation as people absorbed the gulf between his inspiring writings on liberty and his own conduct.

Monticello does not avoid Jefferson’s contradictions. Since 1993, their Getting Word African American Oral History Project has been conducting interviews with descendants of people Jefferson enslaved, including the Hemingses, and gathering what is known of the families’ lives on the plantation. In the 2010s, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation began a large-scale project to recreate Mulberry Row, where enslaved people lived and worked. “Slavery at Monticello” tours discuss this history each day. Tours of the marvelous Palladian house may inform visitors that Jefferson’s “people,” as he called them, had leveled the mountain and built the home. Enslaved boys between the ages of ten and sixteen toiled in a workshop manufacturing the nails that hold Monticello together. Master carpenters and world-class chefs lived in bondage among the stunning vistas.

Jefferson formally freed only two people while he was alive and five in his will; he allowed a handful of others to escape or become informally free. After he died, still deeply in debt, the 130 enslaved people remaining at Monticello were sold at a public auction in Charlottesville that “separated husbands and wives and parents and children, and created a diaspora of Monticello’s enslaved community,” as Monticello’s website explains. Monticello is now part of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, whose members seek to use history “to engage the public with a deeper understanding of the past and inspire action to shape a just future.” (Clint Smith offers further context for Monticello’s evolving presentation of slavery in How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America.)

“While you are here, you may meet some of our families,” Thomas Jefferson now tells visitors, “including the Grangers, the Fossetts, and the Hemingses. I mean those people who had no choice in coming here.”

Not all visitors appreciate this honesty. JEFFERSON MONTICELLO ESTATE ACCUSED OF GOING WOKE said the chyron below the talking heads on Fox & Friends one day in July 2022. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of wokeness?” host Brian Kilmeade sneered, announcing his guest, Jeffrey Tucker, a mirthful silver-haired man wearing round tortoise-shell glasses and a yellow bowtie. Tucker, founder of a think tank critical of government-imposed pandemic restrictions, said he visited on the Fourth of July “to pay homage to the great man” but was shocked to find criticism of Jefferson pervasive. Two days before his Fox appearance, the New York Post had quoted Tucker in an article accusing Monticello of distorting history and depressing visitors with its focus on slavery.

“The surly tour guides,” Tucker said on air, seemed dedicated to proving “that [Jefferson] was a hypocrite, he was a liar, he was a bad person, and so on. It’s just truly heartbreaking.…All the other people on my tour, they just were left demoralized and sad and robbed of forty bucks.”

“We have to demand our past back,” said Kilmeade, who seemed much angrier than Tucker at the end of their conversation. “He was born into a slave society, he could not figure a way to get out of it—bad on him—he knew the evils of slavery, was unable to stop it, and you’ve got to go read about him, put yourself back in those times, to fully appreciate what was happening.”

Tucker agreed: “Thomas Jefferson is an American treasure and a treasure for the whole world, and he belongs to this country and he belongs to everybody in this country.”

“Go on a tour and be ready to answer for the tour guide bringing you around, diminishing his legacy,” Kilmeade said, speaking directly to viewers.

Some of them listened; after the Post and Fox News stories, Barker and his colleagues noticed an increase in visitors trying to surreptitiously record during presentations. The would-be documentarians often worked in pairs, with one person loudly asking a provocative question while the other recorded. “They’re always white men,” Barker says, “and they’ll ask something like ‘You know slavery wasn’t at the crux of states’ rights, don’t you?’” Once, when a volunteer asked someone to stop recording, the man left in a huff, but Barker soon spotted him peeking out from behind the sugar maple, phone pointed. Nasty reviews appeared on Tripadvisor, echoing the media commentators.

An overwhelming number of the thousands of reviews of Monticello on Tripadvisor are positive, and most visitors seem cheerful or at least curious. But last year, metal detectors and bag checks were added to the front entrance to the courtyard connecting the ticket office, gift shop, visitor center, and museum. (Guests have long had to pass through security to access Monticello’s grounds.) Pocket knives must be stowed in the plastic “knife hotel,” as I heard one volunteer rather whimsically call it, which is guarded by the staffers who oversee security screening.

Virginia is a prominent battleground in today’s history wars. Governor Glenn Youngkin’s first executive order after taking office in 2022 was the eradication of “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory,” from public schools in the state. But Monticello’s increased security may reflect the larger U.S. climate of unrest and daily reports of public violence more than a response to conservative history buffs who find the place unpatriotic. (Monticello spokespeople declined to discuss the changes I observed between visits.) Like many U.S. cities, Charlottesville has seen an increase in gun violence in the past year. A week and a half before my visit, a thirty-six-year-old man was shot to death in his parked car near the university for no discernible reason, only days after a young boy and a thirty-year-old woman were shot in two separate incidents. In November, three University of Virginia football players were killed by a former teammate. A Monticello volunteer who attends law school at UVA says that it seems like she gets emails from campus police about gun-related incidents on a weekly basis. The small city is still haunted by the deadly “Unite the Right” rally of 2017, when one of the attending white supremacists sped his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.

Barker says that he has felt a menacing vibe in recent days, noticing more trucks driving up State Route 53, Thomas Jefferson Parkway, with aggressive iconography. I had wondered if he knew of some kind of event going on, after I had seen a Confederate flag license plate on one truck in the Holiday Inn Charlottesville–Monticello parking lot that morning, another with a huge decal that said AMERICA!!! over a cartoon of an assault rifle, and an SUV with three American flags attached to the hitch and a confusing message soaped on its back window featuring the year 1776. He wonders if they are going to or from Washington, D.C., since he doesn’t usually see so many of these displays at once in Charlottesville.

In addition to questions about slavery, Thomas Jefferson has grown accustomed to charged inquiries about mask mandates, gun control, and whether he was an atheist. But despite the controversy surrounding him from all sides, most of the questions I hear over three days at Monticello are pretty innocuous.

“Ladies, may I be seated?” Jefferson always asks after his initial pleasantries, explaining that he follows the English etiquette that it would be boorish for a gentleman to fling himself into a chair in the presence of women without first asking their leave. “Please do not think I ascend this dais as a monarch upon a throne,” he says, stepping up on a platform perhaps eight inches high. “I am no friend of monarchy.”

“I heard a story told about you and a moose,” one man starts on Thursday afternoon.

Some of the most consistent questions concern Jefferson’s ornately buckled shoes, whether they hurt to walk in. They take a lot of breaking in and splashing through puddles, but they are comfortable, and built to last, he answers when people ask. Twenty years ago, cobblers at Williamsburg made the pair that now encase his feet, which rest upon the dais, but now that Barker is responsible for his own costumes, he gets them resoled at Ace Shoe Repair in a strip mall in Charlottesville. He mends his clothes himself, a necessary skill from his years in theater, though there’s currently a coat-button on his desk that seems to peer accusingly at him every time he passes. During the hot months, Barker doesn’t like people to enter his office, which also serves as his wardrobe, since at any given time he may have Jefferson’s shirts draped around the furniture.

Sometimes questions about his attire are uncomfortably intimate. “What kind of underwear do you wear under all that?” a short elderly man in dark sunglasses and a flat-brimmed cap asks Thomas Jefferson in the courtyard between sessions one day. “Boxers or briefs?” He chuckles at his daring.

“What a question!” Jefferson says, startled.

“I mean, they had to wear something,” the man shrugs.

Jefferson leans forward. “I wear smallclothes,” he says discreetly, eyebrows raised.


“Wool. Linen in the summer.”

“Let’s get our Christmas picture,” an older couple says before it’s time to go in, handing a phone to a bystander and arranging themselves on either side of Jefferson. He squints in the bright sunlight. Other groups follow suit.

Photo courtesy the author

After the last Saturday presentation, Barker still has several more hours as Jefferson ahead of him. In addition to his regular meetings with citizens at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson has a busy travel schedule. This evening, he will go to his retreat at Poplar Forest, a historic site near Lynchburg owned and restored by a different nonprofit organization. There, he will change into a dark suit and silk vest to raise a glass at a Valentine’s Day–themed candlelight dinner and share recollections of his marriage with Martha Jefferson. A week later, he will reconvene in Boston with John and Abigail Adams at the John F. Kennedy Library’s Presidents’ Day Festival. Abraham Lincoln will join them.

It’s true—some of the best-known presidents regularly meet across space and time. Last year, at a White House Historical Association conference in Dallas, Jefferson and Lincoln appeared on a panel discussion with Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. The original plan was to gather the Mount Rushmore presidents, but George Washington couldn’t make it, so Truman stepped up. After a few more speakers, the program was crowned by a surprise appearance from another group of distinctively dressed celebrities—the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

In recent years, Thomas Jefferson has also enjoyed lively conversations with his younger self, who still resides in his old stomping grounds of Williamsburg. Bill Barker helped audition his successor, Kurt Smith, and began mentoring him as he prepared to take over the role in 2016. Sometimes Barker misses the daily sound of fife and drums and the rattle of carriage wheels past his rented house on Duke of Gloucester Street in the historic district. But he appreciates the covered parking and modern HVAC system of his new apartment in Charlottesville, where he does not have to hide his TV and computer screens from the windows to preserve the eighteenth-century illusion. He wouldn’t trade the challenge of performing at Monticello, though.

Smith’s new role has required lessons in horseback riding from the actor who plays the Marquis de Lafayette, practice in English country dancing, and forays into Latin and violin, but those are not what make it the toughest or most important job he has ever held, he said last year when Barker and I joined him for lunch in the Williamsburg historic district. A big part of playing Jefferson is “nudging myth back to fact,” as Smith puts it, without villainizing or deifying him. Barker and Smith agree that Jefferson’s complexity can be a conduit for important conversations about our nation’s continuing paradoxes. They try to meet any question with honesty. “A big part of this job is teaching civil discourse,” Smith says. “We use Jefferson not just to teach Jefferson, but as a tool to engage in discourse.”

Photo courtesy the author

For some, however, Thomas Jefferson’s sins and the violent legacy they represent are too grave for dispassionate conversation. “What is it like to be a pedophile?” an audience member once asked during the Q&A at a very formal program, referring to the fact that Sally Hemings was about sixteen when her first child with Jefferson was born. It was the only time Barker was truly shocked, since so many families with children were present.

When the Jefferson statue was proposed to be moved from the New York City Council’s chambers to the New-York Historical Society, state assemblyman Charles Barron said, “I don’t think it should go anywhere. I don’t think it should exist.” As a former council member, he had fought for its removal since 2001. “I think it should be put in storage or destroyed or whatever.”

More recently, in Virginia, a visitor to Monticello became upset while talking to Jefferson about slavery and the Declaration of Independence.

A cardinal rule of live historical interpretation in character is not to put words in a historical figure’s mouth that contradict what he or she is known to have said or written. Jefferson did not denounce himself as a hypocrite; slavery was legal then, though he claimed to abhor it and made some efforts early in his career to end it. Preserving the fledgling republic was his life’s goal, and he eventually settled into the assurance that America’s ideals of liberty would lead future generations to abolish slavery. He did not publicly deny published accusations during his lifetime that he kept Sally Hemings as his “concubine,” or retaliate against their author, proving his commitment to freedom of speech and of the press, if not to equality between people under the law. He did sexually exploit Hemings, who had no legal right to bodily autonomy. He did not apologize for that, as far as anyone today knows.

Barker’s calm demeanor as he attempted to engage with the question seemed only to anger the woman further. “I’m done talking about this,” she said, and abruptly left the session.

What do people who visit Monticello want from Thomas Jefferson in 2023? In many cases, it seems, just a photo. Perhaps endorsement of their own views. In some cases, maybe an explanation. Maybe some want to know how they should feel about America, whether you can admire someone who championed religious liberty, public education, and freedom of the press, whose writings on human rights inspired independence movements across the world, but who also enslaved and exploited people and participated in displacing Native Americans. Some of Jefferson’s writings are painful to read; his Notes on the State of Virginia, not originally intended for publication, includes some of his highly offensive “suspicions” about Black people’s appearance and abilities, and his pessimism that Black and white people could live peacefully together after abolition. In his 1874 Life of Thomas Jefferson, James Parton wrote, “If Jefferson was wrong, America is wrong. If America is right, Jefferson was right.” With everything we know about Jefferson and about America in this year of 2023, this formula is unsettling.

In the year of ’23—1823—Thomas Jefferson will turn eighty years old. He has eaten a mostly plant-based diet, drunk alcohol in moderation, exercised regularly, and kept his mind sharp with activity, but he is growing frail, and in three years he will die, fifty years to the day of July 4, 1776, his nation’s birthday.

“Is what I am doing here viable?” Barker says he wonders sometimes about his role at Monticello. A few weeks earlier, Leslie Greene Bowman announced that she would step down from her presidency of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, a position she held for fourteen years. As of this writing, Bowman’s successor has not yet been named. Barker says he hopes that the new leadership will continue the project of representing the site’s difficult history. Right now, he says, “They don’t shirk the responsibility to talk about slavery.”

If anyone is qualified to comment on the viability of portraying Thomas Jefferson, it is Richard Josey. Josey runs a consulting business called Collective Journeys, which advises museums and historical sites around the country on diversity, inclusion, and belonging. He has also known Barker since they worked together as interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg in the late 1990s and 2000s; Josey regularly played Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved manservant, Jupiter Evans. Josey and Barker spoke often about how Jefferson’s and Evans’s lives intertwined, how they might reflect each other after spending thirty-three years in close quarters, and the emotions each might have toward the other, incorporating these ideas into their characters. They appeared together in a short play called White Goes First, in which Jefferson and Evans speak pointedly about race and freedom over a game of chess. Josey also developed programs in which he portrayed other historical figures.

Josey only occasionally gets into character now—last year he reprised his role as Dred Scott for two different events at the Hale Farm and Village historic site in Ohio. But he still believes that character interpretation is a powerful tool for creating connections between people and deepening our understanding of how history shapes the present. He believes that figures such as Thomas Jefferson who are now so controversial belong in the project as much as anyone.

“Personally, I think one of the best things that can happen is the portrayal of these individuals,” he says. “However, I think part of the issue is that we have to reconcile how we see human beings. Jefferson has a light side. Jefferson also has a dark side. All of us have a light side and a dark side. So, I’m always intrigued by this idea that we have difficulty with seeing the light and dark in Jefferson, and maybe that contributes to the fact that we have unconscious difficulty seeing the light and dark sides of ourselves.

“I love to see the Jefferson character, the [Patrick] Henry character, the Washington and the Adams. I love to see them, because it has the potential of creating an opportunity for us to be in a position to reconcile with all the perfection that we painted these folks with and what we’ve been told, and then what we discover along the way. All of these stories serve as a catalyst for us to understanding ourselves. And I think we oftentimes miss the opportunity to understand ourselves: we miss the opportunity to ask ourselves why do we think the way we think.…We build these interpretations, and they aren’t forever.”

For Barker, character interpretation is a chance to engage in the Jeffersonian ideal of free inquiry and pursuit of the truth, even if it leads to uncomfortable conversations about the president he plays. He credits his history education with making him civically aware. Growing up in the Philadelphia area, he remembers being taught at the Quaker school he attended that slavery was the cause of the Civil War and that the present-day civil rights movement’s activists were battling racial injustice that had been present since America’s inception. He was surprised and dismayed upon hearing of the “inherently divisive concepts” order for Virginia schools last year, considering it diametrically opposed to the freedom of thought Jefferson cherished.

Thought may be free, but “facts are stubborn things,” as Jefferson often reminds citizens, quoting John Adams. “That’s just not so,” he’s often obliged to tell people who are confused or misinformed about America’s past.

“Bill is a bulldog sometimes,” Kurt Smith says. “He’s not afraid to correct the record.”

Sometimes people want to know what Thomas Jefferson thinks about the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the South. “What is a Confederate?” he replies. “Do you mean to tell me they committed treason against our republic?” he asks in astonishment when the Civil War has been explained. “And people put up statues of them?”

On July 9, 1776, he tells them, after the Declaration of Independence was read in New York City, an impassioned crowd pulled down a lead statue of King George III in Roman garb on horseback. Afterward, the revolutionaries had the monument melted down to make musket balls for the war against the British.

“How do you feel about the struggle for democracy in the United States now?” a woman asks Thomas Jefferson on Friday.

“It is an eternal struggle. I hope it will continue to inspire us to keep working to guarantee the promise of our Declaration,” he says. “Take it personally—it’s meant to be taken personally.” He looks around the visitor center’s small auditorium from his seat on the dais. “Have we arrived at it in this year of 1823? Who did not have a voice in this last election?”

Women; people of color; white men who did not own their property outright.

“No vote, no voice,” he admonishes the group. “Does that represent that first line of our Constitution?”

Heads shake no.

“That’s our work. The American Revolution continues.”

Thomas Jefferson will try to answer most questions presented him, but for almost every audience, he returns one of his own—one that holds special resonance coming from him. “What may future generations say about us?” he wants to know.

C. J. Bartunek

C. J. Bartunek has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Pacific Standard, the Big Roundtable, and other publications. She lives in Athens, Georgia, where she is managing editor for the Georgia Review.