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Thomas Jefferson Statue Removed from New York City Hall

thomas jefferosn new york city statue
Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800. Public Domain

A statue of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was removed from the New York City Hall on Monday due to his links with the slave trade.

The removal of the statue, which was sculpted by French artist Pierre-Jeanne David d’Angers in 1833, came after a unanimous vote by the city’s Public Design Commission.

The statue, which stands seven feet tall and weighs nearly 900 pounds, will be moved to the New York Historical Society, where it will be on display in the museum.

Thomas Jefferson owned 600 slaves throughout his life

Although Jefferson was by all accounts a brilliant man and played a significant role in the shaping of the US, many historians and activists have noted that the third US president owned around 600 enslaved people.

In the past, many framed Jefferson as a “benevolent” slave owner, but many have come to question if the brutal, horrific nature of chattel slavery in the US even allows for such a figure to exist.

This is despite the fact that, as president, he spoke out against the transatlantic slave trade.

Jefferson even fathered a number of children by Sally Hemmings, his slave who was the half-sister of his late wife Martha. Their long-term sexual relationship was proven by DNA tests conducted on confirmed relatives of both Hemmings and Jefferson that proved that he was, in fact, the father of her children.

Sally Hemmings was the daughter of Martha’s father and one of his own slaves. Such relationships, many of which were likely not consensual, were not uncommon during the period.

Jefferson allowed two of his children with Hemmings to escape Monticello, his plantation, and he freed another two in his will.

Push to remove Jefferson statue from New York City Hall

Many City council members pushed to have the statue removed in the wake of the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, during which the crowd shouted “Jews will not replace us” and a counter protester was rammed with a car and killed.

The rally occurred as a response to calls to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a public park in the city.

Since that event, many towns and cities have chosen to remove statues of figures associated with slavery or the Confederacy from public buildings.

But the decisions are controversial, as many argue that removing statues of the founders of the country could cause a lack of historical awareness in future generations.

Joe Borelli, Republican New York City Council member, stated that removing the Jefferson statue amounted to “sidelining history.”

Yet Erin Thompson, professor at John Jay College and author of book “Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments,” argues that removing such statues does not destroy knowledge of US history, rather it deepens it.

“Moving this statue doesn’t mean New Yorkers will forget who Thomas Jefferson was — but some of them might learn from the controversy that the man who wrote ‘all men are created equal’ owned over 600 of his fellow humans,” she told the New York Post.

Others state that simply removing such statue from public buildings can actually sanitize the actions and beliefs of the people they represent.

Michele Bogart, professor emeritus of art history at Stony Brook University in New York, stated that removing the statue “deflects attention” from the actions of such men, rather than challenging or examining them and their relationship to the US and its history.

Thompson expressed a similar belief, arguing that a public discussion must follow the removal:

“Removing a monument without a public conversation about why it’s happening is useless. New Yorkers all need to talk about who we want to honor and why.”

Third US President friend of Greek philologist Adamantios Korais

Philologist Adamantios Korais and Jefferson exchanged important correspondence during the Greek War of Independence, sharing ideas on the concepts of democracy and liberty.

The little-known friendship and exchange of ideas between the two men can be found in the letters they wrote to each other, which are preserved in the Korais Library on the island of Chios.

The Greek scholar had a deep knowledge of his nation’s ancient culture and was one of the most important representatives of the modern Greek enlightenment. He was also a pioneer in the publication of ancient Greek philosophy and literature.

Jefferson served two consecutive terms as President of the US(1801-1809) and was the main author of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a proponent of the separation of church and state and founded the University of Virginia.

“Equality between people and individual well-being is now recognized as the only legitimate objective goals of a government,” Jefferson wrote to Korais in 1823.

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