Washington, Jefferson, Today:

Thanks to bthun, who wrote to point out that on this date in 1789, Washington delivered his first inaugural address. The page links to numerous other pages, including the online libraries for the papers of Madison and Jefferson. You can search their documents for anything that interests you -- including each others' names, should you like to read their correspondence.

Also at the Jefferson site are several historical articles. I thought the one called "American Sphinx" was, in spite of being a few years old, remarkably telling. It begins with a Jefferson reenactment, which drew four hundred people in small-town New England. It ends with an Iranian dissident:

At the end of August, The Washington Post published a long story on a wealthy Iranian named Bahman Batmanghelidj. His picture looked familiar, and then I recognized him as the philanthropist I met in Worcester. It turned out that Batmanghelidj was rallying opposition to the Merchant and Ivory film on Jefferson, which supposedly sanctions the story of Jefferson's liaison with Sally Hemings.

"Americans don't realize," Batmanghelidj warned, "how profoundly Jefferson and his ideas live on in the hopes and dreams of people in other countries. This movie will undercut all that. People around the world will view it as the defining truth about Jefferson. And of course it is a lie."

Well, yes, it almost certainly is. But then so is a hefty portion of the more attractive sources of Jefferson's image. Batmanghelidj's crusade was just the latest skirmish in the escalating struggle over Jefferson's legacy. The stakes are high, as can be seen in the stark formulation of James Parton, one of Jefferson's earliest biographers: "If Jefferson is wrong, America is wrong. If America is right, Jefferson was right."
It's remarkable the power these great men still hold, two hundred years on.

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