Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fabulous Founding Father Fun Facts: Jefferson

I know... I went a little nuts on the alliteration in the title.  Can you blame me, though?  I like loads of linguistic liveliness!

Ok, ok...  I'll stop!

It really is fun, though.

What does my insane need to alliterate have to do with Thomas Jefferson?  Well, nothing really... except that it's fun, and I found a lot of fun information about him that I never knew before.

And with that, it's time to say things that'll make people angry.

See, I have a lot of problems with Thomas Jefferson.  I know that's going to make a lot of people angry, but I do.

For one, he wasn't a dog lover.  He had dogs, but he didn't really care for them particularly much.  Indeed, the only reason he even acquired his renouned Bergere was that he had learned that her particular breed instinctively understood tasks like animal husbandry.  Read: He didn't actually have to spend much time with her to get a job accomplished.

Yeah.  Not a dog lover.  Understand now, I'm not saying there's something wrong with a person simply because the person doesn't like like dogs.  However, when a person that doesn't like dogs actually goes out and wanders about for over ten miles in search of one, there may be a little something 'off' in regard to his personality.

And, yes.  He did that.

Second, he owned slaves.  A lot of them.  It has been claimed that he was a good slave owner, but that just doesn't work for me.

The 'everyone else had them, too' argument doesn't work, either.  If you're going to use that argument, you may as well claim that female genital mutilation in Saudia Arabia is ok, since 'everybody else is doing it' in that country.  It comes down to a lack of respect for another human being.

I did find some pretty good information about him, however.  Whatever other (rather huge) flaws he had, he was one of our founding fathers, and deserves respect in that regard.  Also, he was brilliant when it came to knowledge about the land.  

Specifically, I found some fabulous information about his love of gardening and agriculture.  How cool is that?  I want to share some of it with you, this Independence Day.

Thomas Jefferson
"Cultivators of the earth are the most virtuous and independent citizens."
 - Compendium of Agriculture, or the Farmer's Guide, in the Most Essential Parts of  Husbandry and Gardening;, 1824

As you've probably figured out, that's not the full title of the compendium in question.  I know, I know... Bad Rebecca!  No cookie!

Don't worry, though, because you can actually download the entire ebook for free on Barnes and Noble's site.  It's a huge compendium of knowledge, drawn from widely regarded agriculturalists in North America and Europe.  It's been digitized, so you have to deal with all of the frustrations associated with that, but as a primary historical reference, it's pretty awesome to have in your library.

We've all heard about the Monticello Gardens, though most of us have probably never been there.  

Thomas Jefferson was a fabulous farmer and gardener.  He placed a great deal of value on the cultivation of the earth, and felt it was necessary to know everything possible about this endeavor.  His appetite for facts dealing with agriculture was near insatiable.

Some fabulous facts about the agricultural activity in his life are as follows:

Jefferson kept a precise log of his work within his gardens between 1809 and 1826.  

By precise, I truly mean precise.  He talked about exact distances between seed plantings and how much manure was used in each crop.  He talked about which varieties of vegetable were best suited for seed saving, and which should be eradicated in entirety.  Everything was recorded, and he used those records to ensure a better crop.

Jefferson actively participated in attempts to eradicate the hessian fly, a pest that ravaged American wheat fields.

He formed a committee in the 1790s whose purpose was to study the insect and discover a way to combat it.  Indeed, he grew his own batch of the flies in order to learn about their life cycle, and discover clues as to how they got into the fields in the first place, and how wheat may be protected from them in the first place.

It should be noted that people of that time were not particularly happy with the idea of government and science working together.  Jefferson was pretty much crucified by the federalists, who felt his love of science clouded his political judgement.

Jefferson ate very little meat at all.

He wasn't a vegetarian, understand, but he ate very little meat, preferring to eat the crops that he grew within his gardens.  As his granddaughter said,

"He lived principally on vegetables . . . . The little meat he took seemed mostly as a seasoning for his vegetables." 

Very different from most Americans today, I daresay!

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