"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence...
it was intended to be an expression of the American mind..."

-Thomas Jefferson, 1825

Resources ... The Idea ... Making the Idea a Reality ... Legacy


Jefferson and the Paradox of Liberty

A Closer Look

The Idea

The debate over equal rights and who gets to participate in the Jeffersonian ideal of self-government remains unsettled nearly 250 years after Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson's vision has inspired oppressed people around the globe to expand human freedom and establish civil societies based on the consent of the governed.

Each generation of Americans since 1776 has interpreted “all Men are created equal” in an increasingly inclusive way and fought to make Jefferson’s words a reality for all.

The history of Monticello’s enslaved community and their descendants reveal their vital role in the fight for equality.

Words that Changed the World

“WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the Governed…”

Making the Idea a Reality

The Revolutionary War achieved American independence from Great Britain. Then came the unchartered task of securing the rights that Americans fought for, and creating the state and national governments that would begin the still ongoing experiment with self-government.

A Perpetual Revolution?
A Perpetual Revolution?

The endeavor to extend the promise of equality in the Declaration of Independence spans our nation's history.

Timeline of the ongoing endeavor for equality

Click image for a timeline about the endeavor for equal rights for all

The Legacy

While Jefferson may not have lived up to his ideals, he maintained the belief that future generations, in America and around the world, would continue to advance the cause of human freedom. In Jefferson's words: “all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.” 
The lives and achievements of descendants of Monticello's enslaved community exemplify a quest for equality regardless of race or gender, full citizenship, and manifesting Jefferson's ideals.


Virginia Craft Rose

"Whatever you feel strongly about, fight for it”

William Monroe Trotter, descendant of the Fossett and Hemings families once enslaved at Monticello, was a newspaper man and equal rights activist who co-founded the Niagara Movement.

His niece, Virginia Craft Rose was interviewed by the Getting Word Oral History Project and recollects how her uncle's endeavors inspired her family to their own activism.

Moving Towards Equality

A More Perfect Union - The Modern-Day Struggle For Racial Equality Activists, cultural leaders, and policymakers -- Skip Gates, Bree Newsome, Jamelle Bouie, Melody Barnes and Jon Meacham -- discuss next steps in the struggle for equality.
Young Voices Rising Present Day descendants of Monticello's enslaved community Jabari Jefferson, Andrew Davenport, and Myra Anderson discuss the quest for racial and social justice.

Moving Forward

"I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream ..." -Martin Luther King Jr. (1963)

A Civic Engagement Initiative sponsored by and in collaboration with The New York Community Trust – The Peter G. Peterson FundPeterson Foundation Logo