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Escape from Heaven
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 27

Two of the nicest features of the corpus novus are that you don’t have to sleep unless you feel like it and that you never suffer from jet lag.

Thomas Jefferson née King Solomon spent the next 45 or so hours giving me the grand tour of earth. We flew when we felt like seeing the view and translocated directly when we didn’t. It was wonderful not having to worry about immunizations, passports, visa stamps, customs declarations, border crossings, driver’s licenses, tolls, gasoline taxes, or the bone-wearing ordeal that has strangled commercial aviation. You don’t fully appreciate how much crap paranoid bureaucrats have loaded onto the simple act of traveling until you don’t have to put up with it anymore.

King Solomon and I stopped off in Jerusalem and prayed at the Western Wall clothed as Orthodox Jews, then King Suliman and I kept our long beards and donned traditional Islamic dress, to pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque.

From there we popped into the Chicken Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, and spent a pleasant hour at the bar drinking with the ladies.

We spent a day sightseeing around his old stomping grounds in Virginia and Washington D.C. Jefferson gave me a personal tour of Monticello, and pointed out to me punctuation errors in the Bill of Rights when we visited the Library of Congress.

When we took the White House tour, Jefferson complained about how the White House had been turned from what had been intended as “a pleasant office building for the chief executive with a bedroom above the shop” into a fortress more suitable for a Caesar.

“It’s my own fault, too,” said Jefferson, as we were talking near his own memorial in Washington D.C. “I was so intent on expanding out west when I served as president that I forgot my natural mistrust of governmental power.”

I hesitated because I knew what I was going to ask next was a sensitive topic. “How could you, who wrote the phrase “all men are created equal,” have held slaves?”

“I could fall back on the legal argument I used at the time, that Virginia law forbade me to free my slaves.” He paused a moment. “This was never recorded in scripture, Duj, but when God first told the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, the Sixth Commandment he told them was, “You shall not murder nor shall you keep man or woman in bondage.”

“What happened?”

“You have to understand the times. The Israelites were only a few generations separated out from people who still ate the people they conquered. Slavery existed among every people on earth at the time, including the Israelites. They were convinced that freeing their slaves would be disastrous to their way of life, and make them the laughing stock of the world. They begged Moses to go back to God and ask him to take out the slavery prohibition entirely. Moses did, and they came up with a compromise. The anti-slavery clause was moved from the commandments—their constitution, so to speak—into their regular legislations, and modified so that it merely required slaves to be freed after seven years service, if they wished to leave. I’ve long thought that God made a mistake by backing down, but ruling the Israelites was like herding cats—as I well know from personal experience—so likely God had no real choice about it after all.”

He paused a moment. “An interesting historical note, but I evaded your question, didn’t I?”

I smiled.

“The truth is, Duj, that in the mid-to-late eighteenth century I was struggling with what I saw as “the African question,” myself. I didn’t see how people dragged to the New World so terribly could ever forgive white men so I thought the only solution was to put them back on boats to Africa. In my racialist views about Africans I was not all that different from the Nazis, though I thank the Lord I was spared from contemplating a ‘final solution.’ But we came damnably close to a final solution for the Indians, didn’t we? At least they had guns and could shoot back at us as we harried and cheated them into primitive ghettos. It’s the only salve to my guilt that I have.”

With his mention of guns, I decided to bring up one of my pet peeves to him: the way the Second Amendment had been interpreted by the NRA to grant an individual right to keep and bear arms.

Jefferson looked at me surprised. “You are a gun owner yourself?”

“Sure, I have a gun in my bedroom, for protection. That doesn’t mean I think every yahoo should be walking around strapped like it was the Wild West. I have no objection to unenlightened mortals being subjected to some reasonable gun controls.”

He paused a moment and I sensed there was so much he wanted to say that he didn’t know where to begin.

“How long would it take you,” he asked, “if you decided that the planet Jupiter was unsightly and you wanted to blast it from the solar system?”

“About five minutes,” I said. “I’ve never done anything that big before so I’d have to go through the procedure menu by menu.”

“So after a five-minute waiting period,” Jefferson asked, “you can arm yourself well enough to destroy our largest planetary neighbor?”

I could see where he was going. “I think you’re making my point for me,” I said. “Jesus doesn’t resurrect people whom his ‘background check’ doesn’t show can be trusted with that sort of power. And as I understand it, some people have to go through a waiting period of centuries before they’re ready for that sort of responsibility.”

“If earthly government were as unbiased and fairly applied as the divine judgment, I would agree with you entirely,” Jefferson said. “I was in France when the Bill of Rights was being written or I might have suggested an even less ambiguous wording for the Second Amendment, to make its protection of the individual right to keep and bear arms even stronger. As it stands, I agree completely with the NRA’s interpretation.”

I was startled.

“You see, Duj,” Jefferson went on, “in the absence of a divine and just king, there is no mortal who can be counted on to execute the judgments of power justly and even-handedly. When I was president even I, who thought I believed in the innate equality of men, fell into the old habit of the aristocrat, thinking that because of my gentle breeding and fine education I could better decide for others what was good for them. And in my racial views I was barely short of thinking like a Nazi, for God’s sake!

“But at least I understood that the foundations of a free country had to rest on a man’s right to defend himself both from highwayman and tyrant, and to do that he had to be able to have enough power for this right to mean something in the real world. The more the politicians of your era distrust the common people with arms, the more they are telling the common people that they who are there only to serve them have become worthy of being feared as tyrants, themselves.

“The right to defend life from those who would abuse or destroy it is the most basic of all rights that came about as the consequence of God’s creation of individual souls. As sensible-seeming laws as requiring a background check, or training prior to purchase, or even penalizing what some new aristocrat deems unsafe storage of arms has within it the assumption that rights originate not with the people but with the flip of an aristocrat’s wrist, and are therefore merely a privilege to be withdrawn as the aristocrat deems prudent. Nor, I must say, is there much honest debate in this city anymore about what are the actual costs of disarming the people, when by doing so criminals are protected from instant reprisal and terrorists are given a government-guaranteed promise that they will not be opposed by anyone as well-armed as they are.

“The only solution we were able to come up with of how to have a government of imperfect men was to leave the most important powers in the hands of the people themselves, as armed neighbors and jurors, then to disperse the remaining powers the people were entrusting to government as widely as possible.

“Nowhere has our failure been more evident than in this city we designed, where soldiers under direct orders of the undivinely elected have the most powerful weapons at their disposal, yet the citizen whom they are sworn to serve is deprived of his ability to walk the streets with a sidearm appropriate to defending the lives of his loved ones and countrymen. My successors in office will, like me, live to experience the grief of their mistrusting the people with their own lives and property. I only can pray that they will not torture themselves for centuries over their fearful miscalculation as I have.”


Next in Escape from Heaven is Chapter XXVIII.

Escape from Heaven is
Copyright © 2002 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.

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