Right-wing media freak out over Monticello teaching visitors that Thomas Jefferson enslaved hundreds

An image of Thomas Jefferson's home with flowers in the foreground and the on-air graphic reading: "Visitors say Jefferson's estate insults his legacy."

The right-wing media ecosystem is expressing outrage following a New York Post story that Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson, is teaching visitors that the principal author of the Declaration of Independence enslaved hundreds of people.

The conservative freakout seemingly started with a July 4 tweet from Jeffrey A. Tucker, who complained of “aggressive political messaging” at Monticello. Tucker, who is the president of the Brownstone Institute — formed in May 2021 to oppose COVID-19 precautions — also wrote a column the same day for the conspiracy theory website The Epoch Times complaining about his visit there. The New York Post picked up the story and interviewed Tucker for its July 9 article titled “Monticello is going woke — and trashing Thomas Jefferson’s legacy in the process.” The Post made clear that its ire is primarily focused on the estate teaching that Jefferson enslaved people:

Monticello is going woke — and trashing Thomas Jefferson’s good name in the process.

The Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the Founding Father and America’s third president is one of our best-known national monuments, familiar from its appearance on the nickel since 1938.

But the hilltop mansion designed by Jefferson himself, once preserved as a tribute to the author of the Declaration of Independence, now offers visitors a harangue on the horrors of slavery.

“The whole thing has the feel of propaganda and manipulation,” Jeffrey Tucker, founder of the libertarian Brownstone Institute and a recent visitor, told The Post. “People on my tour seemed sad and demoralized.”

In the past, the managers of Monticello sanitized Jefferson’s history for the 25 million tourists who have flocked there since it was opened to the public in 1923. References to slavery were few, and signs labeled “Servants’ Quarters” marked sites where Jefferson’s slaves once lived.

“Our goal is to present an honest, inclusive history of Monticello in all its aspects as well as Jefferson’s contributions to the founding of the country,” said Jenn Lyon, a Monticello spokesperson.

But on a visit this week, The Post found, the grievance has become the predominant theme at Monticello, from the ticket booth in the visitors center — decorated with a contemporary painting of Jefferson’s weeping slaves — to its final gift-shop display.

Monticello’s website has a section on slavery and clearly explains, “Jefferson enslaved over six hundred people throughout his life. Four hundred men, women, and children lived in bondage at Monticello.”

Fox News devoted multiple cable segments, a digital article, and a podcast episode to expressing outrage over the estate teaching this history: 

  • On the July 10 edition of Fox & Friends Weekend, co-host Pete Hegseth said that the “people behind the foundation that runs it [are] all leftists” and that “they're committed to telling the worst story of America.” Co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy replied, “This is a diabolical plan on their part to populate these positions that have influence over how America tells its story.” 
  • On July 11, Fox & Friends First also aired a segment highlighting the Post story, featuring Carol Swain, who has previously defended white nationalists. During the interview, she claimed Monticello is trying “to destroy” Jefferson’s legacy. 
  • Also on July 11, Fox & Friends interviewed Tucker, who lamented that the “disease of wokeism” has infected Monticello. 
  • A FoxNews.com article aggregated both of these July 11 interviews to further push the freakout. 
  • Fox host Will Cain covered the Post story on his July 11 podcast, during which he attempted to downplay American slavery by going on at length about slavery in other societies.

Fox wasn’t the only right-wing outlet to amplify the Post’s story:

  • The Daily Mail on July 9 cited the Post in its article titled “Thomas Jefferson's famed Monticello home is accused of haranguing visitors with constant references to racism and evils of slave-owning former president's past.”
  • On July 10, the Drudge Report highlighted the Post story on its homepage with the headline “Monticello goes woke – trashing Jefferson’s legacy.” 
  • The Western Journal covered the Post story on July 10 with the headline: “Monticello visitors shocked after discovering tour of Jefferson’s home has a woke new spin.” 
  • Noted anti-Muslim bigot Robert Spencer wrote an article for PJ Media on July 10 titled “Thomas Jefferson’s home has been taken over by Leftist America-Haters.”

Some right-wing media figures also expressed outrage on Twitter about Monticello teaching that Jefferson enslaved several hundred people:

Jon Levine, the co-author of the Post’s piece, also tagged Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin about the story on Twitter: