Why did Thomas Jefferson risk his political career to translate an Afrocentric Classic into English?
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While serving as Ambassador to France(1785-1789), Thomas Jefferson seriously imperiled his political future by secretly joining with the noted anti- slavery poet and founder of ''the American Mercury, Joel Barlow to provide his friend Constantin-Francois Volney with an English translation of The Ruins: Or a Survey of the Revolutions of Empires, a translation from the French Les Ruines ou Meditations sur les Revolutions des Empires, published in 1796 by William A. Davis, in New York. This is an admittedly radical work even by today's Liberal standards. Maybe that is why it took the University of Virginia 185 years to remember that Jefferson had given it not one, but two copies of his personally selected translations of Volney's work.
One copy was presented to the Library of Congress just in time for it's 200th birthday. This translation of Volney's work is the same edition as the one Jefferson had sold to The Library of Congress in 1815, but which was sadly lost to flames in 1851.
Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections division at the Library of Congress, has called Volney's work an “important source,..”, “that influenced Jefferson's thinking”. Just think, “Afro-Centric Scholars” (Not an oxymoron) have been teaching for decades that this particular translation of this work is an important primary source. Its taken almost 200 years, but thanks to the ongoing deification of Thomas Jefferson, more mainstream scholars may finally work up the nerve to examine Volney's message in the exact words that President Jefferson chanced so much to pass along.
Why did Jefferson do it? Did his Unitarian beliefs play any role? Any Ideas?