Monticello on the Fourth of July
Every fourth of July, some new Americans are sworn in on the West Lawn of Monticello. It is moving to hear some of the new citizens speak about their journey to become a citizen. Jefferson has a great international appeal. He is not just one of the founding fathers of our country, but the inspirational icon of nearly every democratic movement in the world from the French Revolution to the fall of Communism, Jefferson’s concept that the individual matters will continue to make his words live on for centuries.
One of the most interesting thing about working at Monticello was talking to some of the tourists that came from far away on a pilgrimage to see a man who has in some way inspired their life. I was just a carpenter, not a tour guide, but would often get in conversations with people after their tour ended and they wandered the grounds, as if still hoping to see a glimpse of the man. There are probably a dozen Jefferson related books written each year, and it is easy to find a bit of ones self in some aspect of Jefferson. Each new president, regardless of political party, sites Jefferson, often misquoting out of context, but he is always there. Portraits in the Oval office change each new election, but no one ever takes down Jefferson. Even as his scandals revive centuries later, Jefferson still endures. I mention all this at the picture of his garden because with some false humility, Jefferson often claimed himself a simple farmer. He liked his garden and the nearby Mulberry row. It was part of his concept of independence, the idea that he could grow his own food and make his own nails and build his own house. He was however operating on a much larger scale than this pioneering concept of self sufficient living. Jefferson was a CEO of a business that had over 200 people, mostly slaves. He spent a tremendous amount on building Monticello, as president as well as taking on debts of other family members. At the end of his life, the tobacco prices fell and like many people of his day, he died heavily in debt, only spared foreclosure during his lifetime due to his former role as president.
Jefferson’s early years of his marriage were spent here, in the 20×20 foot honeymoon cottage. It was from here that he watched his grand house being built, started a family and wrote much of his political writing including the Declaration of Independence. In this little one room house, big dreams for this country and his grand home were sketched out with pen and paper. As you walk around the Fenton Inn, you will find some octagons and other design features I credit to Jefferson as well as the ability to dream a bit big as I drew up my plans for the Inn. Thanks Mr Jefferson and Happy Fourth of July!