News From Terre Haute, Indiana


January 5, 2013

RONN MOTT: Mr. Jefferson

This is something of a high-water mark for these articles of opinion I write for the Tribune-Star. This is article No. 100.  

Everybody who knows me well knows you can always get me a book as a gift … Christmas, birthdays, or Hello there, Ronald. I received two books for Christmas. One is by Jon Meacham. It’s called The Art of Power, and it’s about Thomas Jefferson, a very complicated man. The other is called The Generals, by Thomas E. Ricks. It’s about the training, promotion, and demotion of America’s generals.

The book on the generals is this government trying to understand why some do so well and some do so poorly. It has been this way since the Civil War. And this study is about the generals of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and our more recent forays into the Middle East … Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m just getting started with this book, but it has already dealt with Gen. George C. Marshall, an Army Chief during WWII … a “Cool Hand Luke” if there has ever been one. I know I’m going to enjoy Mr. Meacham’s book on Thomas Jefferson because not only was he a founding father, he was a great leader and a very flawed individual.

With this country so untapped for resources at the time of Jefferson, one can understand why he dreamed of an agrarian society. And his belief in liberty and justice for all was also the dream of all who would come after him.  

And that seems to be the big rub against Mr. Jefferson. It seemed he sincerely and lovingly believed what he wrote, but his meager wealth was held together on his plantation by the effort and hard work of slaves. The things he enjoyed, the good books, the best wines, all the creature comforts, hinged greatly on slavery. And that is where the flaw comes in. Mr. Jefferson could not give up those wonderful things that made his life rich and full. That also included his love of an intimate relationship with Sally Hemmings.

That relationship is also rather complicated. Sally Hemmings, a beautiful woman, could have stayed in Paris when she went there with Mr. Jefferson and been free. But her love for him and what would become her family at Monticello kept her in slavery. The relationship wasn’t only me, master, you, slave, she was the half sister of his one and only wife. So, if it was down and dirty and ugly, at least it was kept in the family.

David Frisse gave me two books to read about a very heroic battle in WWII … The Battle of  Bastogne, where men of many regiments and outfits spearheaded by the 101st Airborne, stopped the Germany army dead in their tracks when they were trying to break through to Antwerp, Belgium. They did not, and Hitler wasted men and material and ultimately sealed his doom.

So, let it snow and blow and be a winter. I’ll be as snug as a mouse in a library with much reading to be done.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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