On Jefferson, whose sins were grave and now well-known, Lily still spoke a plain truth that didn’t diminish his flaws. “He had a pretty daunting task ahead of him,” in the summer of 1776: Expression of the American mind … How one man could get his hands on the American mind, boil it down, and fit it all on one page — that is remarkable.”
As a writer, I was overwhelmed with the idea of Jefferson’s task. As a father, I asked myself if was raising my children so that they would stand up to power and for what is right, as the rebels of 1776 did.
The story of our founding can be told a thousand ways. And we shouldn’t hide the sins and flaws. But we also must avoid that very modern hatred of sentimentality and contemporary conceit that causes us to disdain every generation before us.
Lily painted the American Revolution the same way Dougherty as a kid saw the Ireland of 1916: a people coming out of captivity. The work done in Independence Hall was incomplete, as reflected by the visits Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony would make to that same building over the next 100 years. It’s still incomplete. But the imperfection of the revolution doesn’t mean we should “cancel” Betsy Ross’ flag and Thomas Jefferson, to use the parlance of today.