Dear Gentleman Who Gave Us a Tour of Monticello,
I’m sorry. I know that Thomas Jefferson was the Father of Democracy and a very nice man. But you see, my son is eight, and about an hour before we came for the official tour of Monticello, we saw a movie about Thomas Jefferson that mentioned, among other things, that Thomas Jefferson owned 120 slaves. And you know how some things stick out for kids. So when you offered the introductory “and Thomas Jefferson believed that all men were created equal” before leading us into the house itself, it was only natural that my son would say “and he owned one hundred twenty slaves!” When you went to say, “that’s very good, my young friend, he inherited them from his father!” it didn’t necessarily make the situation any less awkward, because although my son has a degree in neither philosophy, nor history, he seems to know, inherently that there can be no celebration of all men being created equal if you own slaves.
And then when we stood in Thomas Jefferson’s bedroom, and you said “let’s address the slave issue right now”, and then explained that although it bothered Thomas Jefferson a great deal, Monticello needed to be built and he concluded that the issue of slavery would be resolved by the next generation, the reason that my son snorted “good one!” is because that doesn’t make sense to a child. Like, if he messes up his room, he knows that his father and I expect him to clean it up right away, or at least before company comes over and the whole “the next generation will deal with it” excuse will not fly.
It’s not your fault, of course. Thomas Jefferson was a great man living in an imperfect time. But just so you know, if the explanations don’t pass an eight-year-old’s BS test, it may be time to refine them.