Thomas Jefferson, college loan deadbeat.
Thomas Jefferson, college loan deadbeat.

Thomas Jefferson, College Loan Deadbeat

Field review by the editors.

Williamsburg, Virginia

There's not much discussion of Thomas Jefferson as a shirker of fiscal responsibility, but this statue just screams to have a particular story brought up.

The bronze statue was a gift from the University of Virginia (the college Jefferson founded in 1819) to the College of William & Mary (the college Jefferson attended from 1760-62). While he was a student, William and Mary was not the premier institution of world-class education that it is today, and later Jefferson occasionally disparaged his alma mater.

Still, that didn't mean there weren't a few benefits attached to a W&M sheepskin. In 1823, Jefferson managed to borrow $24,000 -- a fifth of W&M's small endowment -- to address his myriad financial woes. Then he stiffed 'em, never repaid the loan. Then he died, and his heirs ignored the debt, since William & Mary didn't have much political clout. After the Civil War, the college fell on hard times and closed in 1882 for six years. Just three years earlier, the proceeds of the sale of Jefferson's Shadwell plantation paid back less than half of the original loan, and half a century late.

Now time-travel forward to 1992, and there's the University of Virginia generously donating a statue of everyone's favorite writer of the Declaration of Independence to the College of William and Mary. At the dedication, UVA's president mentioned the debt and hoped it would now be forgiven.

Thomas Jefferson.

Twenty years further on, and Jefferson's original debt seems like small potatoes -- about what it costs an in-state student for one W&M year of study. But even if you spend that year inventing a cipher wheel and an improved swivel chair, then write the Declaration of Independence Turbo Edition... you still don't get to ignore your college loan.

The plaque beneath the statue quotes Jefferson: "I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man."

But the statue's pose says to us something closer to: "A debt, you say? Isn't seeing me as a statue payment enough?"

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Thomas Jefferson, College Loan Deadbeat

College of William and Mary

Address:
Jamestown Rd., Williamsburg, VA
Directions:
On the campus of William and Mary, behind Jefferson Hall and between Washington Hall and McGlothlin-Street Hall.
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