This series explores the question “if you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be?”
The invitation came by telegram. It was an honor, if not a little old fashioned in method. Nonetheless, we excitedly gathered our things.
“I can’t believe this. This is amazing.” My husband stated.
“It’s pretty cool.” I added.
“Pretty cool?! It’s awesome. What do I say? What should I wear?”
“Pants. Definitely pants.” I responded, looking at him in his boxer shorts.
“Pants! Of course!”
I rolled my eyes and continued to pack.
What did you pack for an occasion like this? What, in fact, would I say? This could be the most spectacular weekend of my life.
“Come on, Steven. We need to get going.” I called out to my husband.
“Okay, I’m ready.” He said, coming out of the bedroom in what I can only assume was a really bad costume from a Civil War era stage performance.
“You are far from ready.” I said, and helped him put on a more appropriate outfit for the trip.
After hours in the car, we pulled into the impressive residence we were invited to stay at for the weekend.
“Wow.” Steven remarked.
“So this is it. This is Monticello.” I said, amazed at what I was seeing.
I was shaking as we approached the front door. Before we could knock, we heard a surprisingly youthful voice shout out –
“Come in! Come in! I’ve been expecting you!”
We walked into the gorgeous Virginia plantation home. Taking our eyes away from the amazing architecture was an old man spinning around in what looked like a really old office chair.
“Mr. Jefferson, thank you so much for having us.” I offered, amused and confused about what I was witnessing.
“Of course!” He replied, slowing the chair so he could stand up. Wobbly, he walked over in our general direction and remarked, “with all I hath accomplished, thy swivel chair is my favorite.”
The size of my husband’s eyes doubled when he exclaimed, “you invented the swivel chair?!”
“Indeed. Allow me to show you to your room for the weekend.” Jefferson replied.
A short while later, we reconvened for dinner in the dining hall.
“I hope you like turducken!” Said Jefferson, as he unveiled the main entrée.
I smiled, remembering my meal with George Washington.
“Would you believe I once saw George eat an entire turducken himself?!” He asked.
“Oh, I believe it.” I replied, concealing a giggle.
We continued dinner and enjoyed polite conversation. Granted, it was mostly about the swivel chair and nickels.
The next day, we met Jefferson in his library for tea.
“Whoa! This is quite the literary collection you have.” I said about his many, many books.
“I cannot live without books.” 1 He replied. “What exciting and interesting new works hath been written since the day I met my demise?” He continued, grimly.
“Harry Potter, the novelization of the Star Wars saga, Hardy Boys.” Steven answered.
Jefferson stared back, blankly.
“Don’t mind him.” I said. “He actually doesn’t read much.”
We sat down to enjoy our tea, and got finally to talk about some of today’s issues.
“Sir, you used a term in a letter you wrote to the Danbury Baptists – separation of Church and State – that has since become a major controversy.” 2 Steven stated with concern.
“Yes, sir. Many have taken that to mean that the State mustn’t have anything that resembles our Judeo-Christian heritage. The Ten Commandments have been taken off State property, including schools; prayers and the bible are not allowed to be taught in public schools; nativity scenes put up as Christmas decorations on State grounds are considered unconstitutional and it also considered to be unconstitutional to require science teachers to teach both creation and evolution as widely accepted scientific ideas.” I added.
“They seemed to have made a lot of laws surrounding a term I used in a private letter.” Jefferson pondered.
“They definitely have.” I agreed.
“The letter I wrote was in response to the Baptists’ letter. In the letter they wrote to me, they stated their belief that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.3 Perhaps we’d be better off to keep that idea in mind.”
“Agreed. The government has become too big and legislates too much.” Steven insisted.
“And they spend too much.” I added. “Our national debt is over 19.5 trillion dollars.”
“Good grief!” Jefferson exclaimed, angrily. “I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government; I mean an additional article taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing. I now deny their power of making paper money or anything else a legal tender. I know that to pay all proper expenses within the year would, in case of war, be hard on us. But not so hard as ten wars instead of one. For wars could be reduced in that proportion; besides that, the State governments would be free to lend their credit in borrowing quotas.” 4
“That would literally have been a life saver.” I remarked.
“My teen years were filled with people telling me about the huge national debt my generation would inherit, but I seldom heard politicians try to fix it. And when they do, the answer is always raise taxes, not cut spending.” Steven said.
“And when they propose a new tax, it’s more often to spend on another government program than it is to pay off our debts and keep us safe.” I added.
“It is disappointing to hear of the careless and shameful behavior of the administrations that has incurred this debt. It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes.” 5 Jefferson declared.
After our passionate conversation, we took a beautiful tour of the plantation. The weekend was incredible. It was better than I ever imagined. Parting with this legendary patriot and his sprawling Virginia plantation was not easy.
“Thank you so much for your kind hospitality. It won’t soon be forgotten.” I said, sadden by our departure.
“It was – well, it was really amazing being here. Thank you.” Steven said graciously.
“Of course, dears. I appreciate your company. Let me offer you this piece of advice before we part – In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
- Letter to John Adams, June 10, 1815
- Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, January 1, 1802
- Letter from the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut to Thomas Jefferson, October 7, 1801
- Letter to John Taylor, November 26, 1798
- Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1820.