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Thomas Jefferson Statue to be Removed from New York City Hall

Histórica estatua de Thomas Jefferson será removida del Ayuntamiento de Nueva York

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The little-known New York City Council’s Public Design Commission voted on Monday afternoon to remove from the Chambers a century-old statue of the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, third president and one of America’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.

The decision, which was unanimous, does not determine where the Jefferson figure will be moved, although some suggest it should remain in the building because of its historical value.

The historic statue, which dates from 1833, was expected to be given on “long-term loan” to the New-York Historical Society before the end of the year.

Despite having been a consistent public opponent of slavery and referring to it as a “moral depravity” and a “hideous blot” on American history, the New York City Council made the decision on the grounds that Jefferson would have owned more than 600 slaves.

The statue was a donation to the city by Jewish naval officer Uriah P. Levy in recognition of Thomas Jefferson’s commitment to religious freedom.

For that reason, a group of historians led by Professor Todd Fine, drafted a letter to the City Council suggesting that the figure be relocated to the Governor’s Office.

“Whatever one’s judgement on Jefferson’s politics, character, or relationship to the institution of slavery, the statue has value as a long-time fixture in the building,” the letter reads. “Locating the statue for viewing in the Governor’s Room, where it was originally placed and apparently stood for much of its history, would be the most reasonable compromise.”

“Have we lost our minds?”

While it is true that, like much of the aristocracy of the day, Jefferson owned slaves, he was also the drafter of the first legislation seeking the abolition of slavery during the American Revolution.

While serving as the second governor of the state of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson drafted a law prohibiting the importation of enslaved Africans and gradually proposed bans on the expansion of slavery.

During his term as the third president of the United States, Jefferson made the international exchange of slaves illegal, and set a precedent for the gradual emancipation and colonization of African Americans under the democratic model.

However, the dispute has deepened in the halls of City Hall since several of its members, under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson, sent a public letter to Mayor Bill De Blasio in 2020 asking that the statue be removed because of Jefferson’s ties to slavery.

In that regard, De Blasio referred to the positions on Jefferson as “complex,” and said he understood the motivations of those seeking to remove the statue from City Council Chambers.

“The thing that is so troubling to people is that even someone who understood so deeply the values of freedom and human dignity and the value of each life was still a slave owner,” de Blasio said. “And I understand why that profoundly bothers people.”

On the other hand, New York City mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa voiced his rejection of the measure in an impassioned speech last Thursday.

“Do we suddenly wipe out the images, the markings, the names of all those great patriots because they were slaveholders and slave holding was quite common at that time?” said Sliwa. “Are we going to do that to the Thomas Jefferson statue? Are we completely losing our minds?”

City Council members agreed to find a suitable home for the statue before the end of the year.

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