15 February 2018 - Charlotte, NC - President Thomas Jefferson made an appearance this evening at the ballroom of the Hilton Inn Executive Park. Or so it seemed to many!
President Jefferson (Bill Barker) Right with several Mecklenburg County SAR Patriots. Image courtesy of: Mecklenburg County SAR
In celebration of Presidents Day 2018, the Mecklenburg Chapter NC Sons of the American Revolution hosted historian and actor, Bill Barker, who professionally protrays President Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Barker has for a number of years represented the person, rhetoric, and philosophy of our 3rd president for Colonial Williamsburg. His dedication to research, history, and communication is unparalled. One must wonder if Bill can even be "himself" any more as he is so engrossed in his time traveling version of Thomas Jefferson!
The event was sold out and very much anticipated by all who attended. After a very fine dinner and period musical entertainment, Mr. Jefferson rose to speak. If one were there for mere entertainment they got far more than anticipated! Mr. Barker...I'm sorry... President Thomas Jefferson was portrayed precisely to ca. 1807. He spoke in a most pleasing post colonial Virginia accent, playing the part brilliantly and convinceingly.
Had he stopped at such precision, the evening would have been well worth it. However, the President waxed eloquent regarding three essentials close to his heart that he wished to convey to those of us "in the future." They were; the value of good manners, the ability to freely experess one's opinions, and the necessity of a good education. All threee were tied to the success of the Repubic.
The President began speaking of the value of good manners by recalling his mentor who stressed the value of such by practicing them. Professor Smalls of the College of William and Mary, said Mr. Jefferson, was treated with respect from the students as he respectfully treated them. When all practice good manners, the body politic functions at a much higher level. Compromise benefiting all parties is greatly enhanced when people of good manners rhetorically clash. The President contends that when good manners are present, compromises benefiting everyone will be not only possible, but likely.
Not only are good manners important to the preservation of the Republic but the free exercise of opinions in the public square. That all opinions have a right to expression without censure is essential to good government. Once any opinion is censured, all opinions are subject to censure. The President strongly stated that all opinions have a right to be expressed especially those regarding religion, press, and self governance.
Finally, the President asserted the necessity of a good education. Otherwise, good manners and expression of all opinions will suffer nulification. Without education one would be ignorant of what good manners even are. Without education one would be unable to even form opinions, and if said opinions would be formed, one could not articulate them. Parental involvent and self-disipline are essential to a good education according to President Jefferson. He spoke lovingly of his father whose greatest gift to him was the provision of a good education. But, as the President pointed out, he was partly formally educated and partly self educated, a process that is always ongoing until one's departure from this life. Mr. Jefferson studied at the College of William and Mary but for only two years. Afterward he came under the tutilege of George Wythe who prepared him to sit for his law license. For his entire life, the President has continued to self educate himself and is dedicating much of his time, energy, and resources to the establishment of the University of Virginia in near by Charlottesville.
And so, the Presidents discourse ended. Afterward he gracioulsly accepted questions from the audience. One in particutlar had to do with the question of slavery and how he (President Jefferson) could own slaves personally while advocating that "all men are created equal." Here is where Mr. Barker's standing as a historian shown brightly. The President spent quite a few minutues reviewing all the various efforts he put forth over his lifetime to bring the practice to a close. Citing not only the history, but the historical context in which said history was being communicated, the President asserted that he was a "gradualist." In regards to these matters, preserving the union until such a time that the practice could end peacefully and without civil war was always his priority. In regards to slavery, voter role expansion, and female sufferage, the President stated a number of times that it is his hope that future generations, using the Constitution, will expand American Liberty over time for an ever growing number of people.
The evening ended with an enthusiastic standing ovation for Bill Barker. Or, was it for President Jefferson? As I was there, I would have to say both.