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Ditch Jefferson and no one’s safe

The Thomas Jefferson statue in New York City Hall. Ted Shaffrey/AP

New York’s decision to scrap a statue of Thomas Jefferson that has stood in City Hall for more than 100 years is “astonishing”, says Lionel Shriver in The Times. He was one of America’s founding fathers and – you saw this coming – a slave owner. But so were George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe and Benjamin Franklin. At this rate we’ll have to “bomb Mount Rushmore”, topple the Washington Monument and wipe every Jefferson, Madison and Franklin town or avenue off the map. You may as well rip up the constitution, too, because these “wicked men” wrote it.

“National mythologies help maintain the social fabric, which is alarmingly easy to unravel.” And it’s not only being unravelled in America. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is splashing out £25,000 per borough on “decolonising” street names. Beyond baffling cabbies, what’s the point? The valuable history lesson Jefferson teaches us is that we must stay alert to hypocrisy, past and present. The man who wrote “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence also helped to draft a constitution “in which a slave counted as three-fifths of a human being”. Jefferson may embody the most shameful parts of my country’s history, as well as some of the best. “But to see a man more clearly, you put on your glasses. You don’t throw him in the river.”