$10M Jefferson Memorial Museum Renovation Recalls Founding Father’s Life

private donation spearheads renovation costs for museum underneath memorial

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

An altruistic billionaire donated $10 million to renovate the Thomas Jefferson Memorial’s museum, according to NPR. David Rubenstein called the gift “patriotic philanthropy,” citing both Jefferson’s accomplishments and misdeeds. The act reminds us of Jefferson’s paradoxical life.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.
While the Jefferson Memorial undergoes repair and restoration projects, the museum underneath the structure also has an ongoing renovation project. Photo by Orhan Cam / Shutterstock

The NPR article said that David Rubenstein has contributed over $40 million to various National Mall landmarks in the last decade. His altruism to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial will lead to a complete overhaul of the museum underneath it and bring countless visitors, reminding them of the contributions and controversies of the historical figure. Jefferson, after all, was involved in a relationship with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves and also underage when the relationship began. However, he contributed great contributions to the nascent nation, including authoring the Declaration of Independence almost single-handedly—and, as fewer may know, forming the United States’ first political party.

Hamilton vs. Jefferson

In the early days of the United States of America, as the Founding Fathers struggled to build the nation’s structure from the inside out, Thomas Jefferson often found himself at odds—and even in shouting matches—with Alexander Hamilton.

“It is entirely possible that Thomas Jefferson had never met Alexander Hamilton before the day Jefferson arrived in New York City to take up his task as Secretary of State,” said Dr. Allen C. Guelzo, Senior Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities and Director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. “But it took him no time at all to conclude that Hamilton was the consummation of every political evil in Jefferson’s dictionary.”

Jefferson, Dr. Guelzo said, complained in letters that Hamilton’s beliefs were both “adverse to liberty” and “calculated to undermine and demolish the republic.” Hamilton was interested in establishing a national bank so the United States “would become the chief guarantor of investments in manufacturing.” Doing so, Jefferson and many others believed, would impoverish a nation largely composed of farmers and ranchers and empower wealthier business owners to profit unhealthily off their workers.

Previously, Jefferson had been no fan of political parties. “But that was then; this was now,” Dr. Guelzo said. “And now required Jefferson to begin the formation of the first American political party to resist Hamilton’s innovations in debt, banking, and manufacturing.”

How Jefferson Formed His Party

Thomas Jefferson began three major undertakings to rally and unite those who shared his convictions. “First, Jefferson began assembling allies, and in some cases, smoothing over previous differences between people he thought he could count upon,” Dr. Guelzo said. This included healing a massive rift between George Mason, who shared Jefferson’s stalwart disdain for the rise of manufacturing; and James Madison, who believed such competing interests in the country were healthy, or at least manageable evils.

“Second, Jefferson began appealing to carefully selected individuals to run for Congress.” Dr. Guelzo cited Colonel Henry Innes, who was courted by Jefferson to run due to his dislike of Hamilton’s banking and debt proposals; and Governor George Clinton, “New York’s arch-anti-federalist.”

Finally, Jefferson earned a foothold in the news industry, which he did much in the same manner as scouting for members of Congress. He hired the journalist Philip Morin Frenau to be a translator in the Department of State. “Frenau might well have been a decent translator of French, but he had made his career since the war as a journalist with the virulently anti-Hamilton New York Daily Advertiser,” Dr. Guelzo said. “Jefferson also sought to woo Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin and the publisher of the General Advertiser.”

These three power plays led to the founding of the Democratic-Republican Party in 1792, fully coming into power after John Adams’s failure to secure a second term as president of the United States in 1800.

Professor Allen Guelzo, Ph.D.

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo contributed to this article. Dr. Guelzo is the Senior Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities and Director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania.