I have recently been reading Connor Cruise O'Brien's book on Burke, The Great Melody, which I highly recommend, especially as an antidote to the highly selective uses of Burke by pop conservatives like Brooks and Will. So anyway, I also picked up another book by O'Brien, The Long Affair, which is, in the first place, about Jefferson's fascination with the French Revolution - what O'Brien calls his cult of the French Revolution, and his full-throated defense of Terror in the name of "Liberty." But the thesis is much bigger than that. O'Brien wants to undermine the liberal white-washing of Jefferson, especially when it comes to race. He points out that Jefferson was bitterly opposed to the very idea of a multi-racial society and that the only way he could contemplate slavery ending would be with the freed slaves immediately shipped back to Africa.
The final chapter finds O'Brien worrying, circa 1996, about the prospects of American democracy. He says that American civic religion cannot be adapted to a genuinely multi-racial democracy without jettisoning Jefferson from the pantheon. And he worries that this in turn may produce a schism, with the return of what has been repressed in the liberal portrait of Jefferson ( the release of "the spell-binding and anarchic racist prophet within Jefferson") in which Jefferson would become "the prophet and patriot of the fanatical racist far right in America."
Needless to say, reading this in the wake of the news story from this past summer about the guy who showed up at one of Obama's town-halls with a loaded gun, wearing a shirt inscribed with the "watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants" quote from Jefferson - well, it was beyond chilling.