Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sorry, Mr. Jefferson

The Hartford Courant (which is the oldest still publishing continuous paper in the US) apologized in 1993 for publishing materials against him during his election in honor of his 250th birthday:
Dear Tom Jefferson
April 13, 1993

On your 250th birthday today, it seems proper to let bygones be bygones.

During the post-Colonial years, you and The Courant didn't see eye to eye about America's future. On these pages, this newspaper called you an anti-Christian, a dupe and a cat's paw of the French.

Remember The Courant's campaign against you in the presidential election of 1800? In a series of letters signed by "Burleigh," the publishers Barzillai Hudson and George Goodwin gave their reasons why your presidency would spell disaster. They feared that you would sacrifice the Constitution to the radical Jacobins, who were feared in their time as the Communists have been feared in our times.

One particularly gloomy outburst from Mr. Burleigh predicted the following outcome under your presidency: "Neighbors will become the enemies of neighbors, fathers of their sons, and sons of their fathers. Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practised, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes."

You didn't like Alexander Hamilton's ideas of a central government; The Courant did. You advocated separation of church and state, which The Courant thought to be a blasphemous idea. This newspaper denounced your purchase of the Louisiana Territory. When you raised concerns about limiting voting rights to property-owning white males, Messrs. Hudson and Goodwin became all the more convinced you were a Jacobin.

Well, it's never too late to admit a mistake. We, the 1990s stewards of the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper, have the benefit of hindsight. You turned out to be a good influence on America. In fact, some would say that you were a terrific influence on the world.

The Courant's early publishers weren't entirely off the mark, however. They were right to point out the contradiction, and hypocrisy, of your owning slaves and preaching freedom.

So you weren't perfect, Tom. But The Courant wishes you happy birthday anyway. And if you were around in 1992, our hunch is that we would have championed your candidacy for president.

Jefferson and the Courant did not have a great relationship - he actually sued them for libel!

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