Cartoon: Founding Father Wisdom, Featuring Thomas Jefferson

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This cartoon is drawn by the awesome Leah S. Metters! Leah describes herself as “an illustrator and visual development artist working hard to create amazing books and comics so she can take over the world, one smile at a time.”

OMG, isn’t Leah’s art great? I love looking at this cartoon. It’s pretty and fun and energetic and her Thomas Jefferson’s expressions are hilarious to look at. I probably would have had Jefferson monologue for a couple more panels if I’d known in advance how much of a kick I’d get from how Leah draws him.

Yes, Jefferson really did and said all the things attributed to him in this cartoon. (Other than calling himself a rapist asshat, that is.)

There’s a good argument, I think, that – as many Jefferson apologists have said – Thomas Jefferson was, in part, a product of his time.

But only “in part.” His times can’t excuse the terrible things Jefferson did. There were contemporaries of Thomas Jefferson who understood slavery was wrong. Indeed, Jefferson himself was one of those contemporaries in his youth – although never to the extent of actually freeing his slaves.

By the end of Jefferson’s life, he was firmly pro-slavery. Obviously, many Blacks in Jefferson’s lifetime knew how evil slavery was, and Jefferson should have learned from them. There were also white abolitionists like Moses Brown (like Jefferson, a wealthy slave-owner; unlike Jefferson, he eventually freed all his slaves and was consistently anti-slavery to the end of his life.)

The main thing I mean, when I say Jefferson’s flaws were a product of his time, is that a similarly terrible person, but born in 1943 instead of 1743, would have found different ways to be terrible – maybe by being anti-civil-rights instead of pro-slavery.

Jefferson’s flaws – being a slaver, a racist, a misogynist, an abusive factory-owner, etc. – are unforgivable. (Not that he’s alive to be forgiven, anyway). But they were common flaws for a rich white man of his time. The ways Jefferson was terrible were also ways he was mediocre.

He was extraordinary in other ways, such as being a gifted writer and politician – but none of that should make us forget the ways he was mediocre and evil.

The problem is that many Americans insist that Jefferson and all the other founding fathers were extraordinary, not just for their political or military successes, but for their wisdom and morality. And when it comes to wisdom and morality, most founding fathers were, at best, mediocre, and sometimes much worse.

This cartoon is less about Jefferson, than it is about how ridiculous it is that anyone today venerates Jefferson for wisdom or morality.


This cartoon has four panels.


Two children, a boy with huge glasses and a backpack, and a girl with her hair in a puff pony and wearing a colorful striped shirt, are in a park full of lush greenery. They’ve stopped by a wooden park bench; seated on the bench, wearing an early-1800s style suit and a peruke (which is what the white wigs most founding fathers wore were called), is the ghost of Thomas Jefferson. We know he’s a ghost because he’s a glowing pale blue color, he’s a little transparent, and he sort of twirls out of existence below the waist rather than having legs.

The boy and girl look enthusiastic; Jefferson seems quietly flattered.

BOY: It’s the ghost of Thomas Jefferson!

GIRL: The founding fathers were moral and intellectual giants! Share your wisdom with us, President Jefferson?

JEFFERSON: Very well.


A close-up of Jefferson. He looks a little wide-eyed and intense, and his gesturing with his hands to emphasize his points.

JEFFERSON: To get rich, run a nail factory, and whip workers who make less than 5,000 nails a day. Children too!

JEFFERSON: And as I told my friends, invest every dollar you have in slaves!


Another one-shot of Jefferson. He’s now looking more thoughtful, smiling a little with a finger pressed against his chin.

JEFFERSON: Orangutans are more attracted to black women than to other orangutans. That’s just science!

JEFFERSON: Let’s see, what other founder wisdom can I share?


A shot of the three of them. The two kids look pissed; Jefferson concedes cheerfully.

GIRL: Actually, we’ve changed our minds about caring what you thought.

JEFFERSON: Solid choice! I was a slave-owning rapist asshat.

This cartoon on Patreon.

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11 Responses to Cartoon: Founding Father Wisdom, Featuring Thomas Jefferson

  1. 1
    Görkem says:

    The founding fathers were evil. Their political work was evil, and we are paying for it.

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    The Founders (some women WERE involved) were human. As is common with human beings they were wise about some things and dead wrong about others. We should embrace their wisdom and reject their errors.

    That of course leads to debates on what of what a given person says is wisdom and what is error. That’s a fair debate to have. But the fact that someone is in gross error in some things does not mean that they are in error in all things.

    Heck, Ted Kennedy was a rapist and a murderer. But many people happily embraced his work in the Senate.

  3. 3
    Kate says:

    I am all for taking down the thousands of monuments dedicated to Ted Kennedy, as well as renaming schools, airforce bases and the like.
    Seriously, Ron, a mere decade after his death the only people who ever think of the man are people who knew him personally and conservatives playing gotcha. In 250 years no one apart from maybe a few historians will remember who he was. Comparing him to Thomas Jefferson in either his accomplishments or his sins is laughable.

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    But the fact that someone is in gross error in some things does not mean that they are in error in all things.

    I agree. But if the things they were in gross error about are important, it might mean that they shouldn’t be venerated.

    As for Ted Kennedy, I’m with Kate. If there’s a petition to take a statue of him down, I’ll happily sign it. Looking at what’s happened to Cuomo and Franken, though, I think the Democrats have changed – or at least, what the base is willing to put up with has changed.

  5. 5
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Is it possible to respect good ideas without respecting the whole person?

  6. 6
    Kai Jones says:

    I think evaluating a person’s ideas that you think might be good using the information about the areas in which the person’s ideas/behavior/choices were bad is important; context matters, and while things may seem siloed they can have common (and bad) roots.

  7. 7
    Kate says:

    The Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights are flawed documents made by flawed human beings. They are not not the brilliant sacred documents of modern myth.
    The mistakes Jefferson, and the other founders made, chief among them, not respecting the equal rights of ALL human beings, are with us to this day. The Senate, Electoral College and Supreme Court are designed to ignore the will of the majority when it wants to take away the unearned privileges of the powerful, but not when it wants to preserve the basic human rights of the least among us.
    The worship of the founders and the profoundly unequal system they created inhibits our ability to make the U.S. a more equal, just society.
    The modern Republican Party is trying to establish single party rule, by installing supporters of the Big Lie as Secretaries of State everywhere they can, and giving more power to gerrymandered Republican legislatures to overturn elections based on mere rumors. The structure that is allowing these end-runs around Democracy is in the over-worshipped U.S. Constitution.
    Not being real about how profoundly flawed men like Jefferson were has consequences.

  8. 8
    Görkem says:

    Jefferson was not just “flawed”. We are all flawed, including the best of us. Jefferson was not a great but flawed person. He was not even an average person. He was a bad person. Calling him “flawed” minimises his moral terrorism.

  9. 9
    Kate says:

    Calling him “flawed” minimises his moral terrorism.

    No, it doesn’t. In the wrong conditions, only a few, very common flaws are required for an ordinary person to do truly monstrous things.

  10. 10
    Görkem says:

    Yes but Jefferson was not a normal person in a horrible situation. He was in a situation of privilege and comfort, so he has even less excuse for being a horrible person – he was not in any way forced by necessity or stress to harm others, he did it from deeply seated convictions.

    We are all flawed. Jefferson was worse than most of us.

  11. 11
    Kate says:

    Görkem, I think we’re talking past each other. We both agree that Jefferson was gulity of horrible crimes against humanty. My comment @7 was meant to underscore the fact that his reprehensible ideas lead the U.S. founding documents to be crafted in ways that continue to negativly impact the U.S.. That, in fact, his “moral terrorism” reverberates to this day.
    My ideas about the nature of good and evil are not the topic of this thread, which is why I tried to keep my response @9 short. This isn’t the place for Kate’s philosophical thoughts on the nature of good and evil. So, I’ll try to keep this clarification brief as well.
    To call Jefferson’s position one of “privledge and comfort” is too soft. As a member of the slave-owning class in Colonial America, Jefferson was born into a postion of dominance and impunity relative to all but a few of his peers, who often had similarly reprehensible values and behaviours. That type of power will corrupt most, if not all, people given it. That level of power ought not exist.
    Men like Jefferson are created, first and foremost, by systemic injustice.