Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC

James Parton, one of Jefferson’s earliest biographers, said: “If Jefferson is wrong, America is wrong. If America is right, Jefferson was right.” Perhaps it would be better to say that Jefferson, and America, have been right on the large principles, but sometimes wrong in failing t20150827_113555o carry through on them. Jefferson, the greatest articulator of those principles, spectacularly failed to carry them through on the issue of slavery. His failure anticipated America’s greatest failure, corrected only after civil war and a long struggle for civil rights. We know of no better place to meditate on American history, right and wrong, than surrounded by Jefferson’s words in his memorial by the placid Tidal Basin.