Upstart candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, told radio host Hugh Hewitt that that he supports efforts to remove acclaimed president Thomas Jefferson’s name from buildings, honors, and events — specifically the annual Democrat fundraiser, the “Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.”
“Yeah, we’re doing that in Indiana. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Buttigieg said, according to the Washington Free Beacon, though he also offered a fairly neutral, half-hearted defense of the iconic president and author of the Declaration of Independence.
“Over time, you develop and evolve on the things you choose to honor, Jefferson is more problematic,” Buttigieg said. “There’s a lot, of course, to admire in his thinking and his philosophy, but then again if you plunge into his writings, especially the notes on the state of Virginia, you know that he knew slavery was wrong. We are all morally conflicted human beings.”
Buttigieg stopped short of saying Jefferson’s role in the founding of the United States should be wiped out of history books, but does support the idea that Jefferson should be stripped of visible honors, including his name on buildings and Federal institutions, because those visible tributes have an effect on people’s emotional and psychological well-being.
“The real reason I think there is a lot of pressure on this is the relationship between the past and present that we’re finding in a million different ways that racism isn’t some curiosity out of the past that we’re embarrassed about but moved on from,” Buttigieg explained.
He ultimately added that he sees it as his responsibility to make protect the affected from further harm: “It’s alive. It’s well. It’s hurting people and it’s one of the main reasons to be in politics today is to try to change or reverse the harms that went along with that.”
Jefferson has a conflicted record on slavery. Although he owned 175 slaves over the course of his life, and did not free them upon his death as some other founders did, Jefferson did author a law prohibiting the importation of new slaves into the state of Virginia as early as 1778. He officially abolished the slave trade in the United States in 1807, though in many cases the practice continued, out of the eye of the Federal government.
But Jefferson is also the product of his time, and historical figures need to be assessed within the context of the era in which they lived. Jefferson, like all historical figures, is a person, and complex — and his contributions to the formation of the United States are far too great to be ignored.
There is, however, a concerted movement within the United States — and almost exclusively on the left — to erase aspects of American history now considered unsavory. Statues of Confederate war heroes have been removed across the south, certainly, but beyond that, groups have tried to remove everything from statues of missionary priests in California (St. Junipero Serra, specifically) to the Natural History Museum’s statue of former president Theodore Roosevelt, whom protesters claim is an emblem of “patriarchy, white supremacy and settler-colonialism.”
The state of Indiana did successfully change its Jefferson-Jackson Dinner to the “Hoosier Hospitality Dinner,” a vague name stripped of honors that the party claimed was a thumb in the eye of Vice President Mike Pence, who they considered “unwelcoming” while he served as governor of Indiana.