It sits on a hilltop in Virginia, a stunning throwback to another era in American political life.

Monticello is the former plantation home of Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father and the third president of the U.S.

Tourists flock here to soak up the beauty of the site and the soaring ideas and words of the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

It is also the kind of place, I found, where you can get away from the uglier moments of this current race to be the next president. 

Mind you, these days the tour guides are quick to point out the ugly side to Jefferson's life here: slavery.

Before you even enter the mansion, you are reminded that the man who wrote about "unalienable rights ... including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" owned hundreds of slaves.

"The house that was built by imagination and the man who wrote the famous phrase that all men are created equal, this house was in part built by and cared for by the hands of those who were not free," goes one guide's introduction.

Still, Jefferson is seen as one of the great thinkers and statesman of this country.  And Monticello's historian, Christa Dierksheide, is more than happy to talk about the power of his leadership.

"Jefferson was such an instrumental leader because he really was focussed on bringing people together and bridging divides.

"He was always trying to build consensus and build friendships because he didn't think that his union could survive if there was division, so he was always trying to build harmony."

'Alley fight'

These days, the union isn't under threat, but the Republican Party just might be.

With billionaire developer Donald Trump leading an insult-strewn field, the Republican Party's race for the presidential nomination is looking more like an effort at self-destruction than at choosing someone who could be a national unifier.

GOP 2016 Trump

Photojournalist Christopher Morris is escorted from a Donald Trump rally at Radford University in Radford, Va., on Monday. Morris was working for Time magazine and stepped out of the press pen briefly to photograph a Black Lives Matter protest. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

It is a distinction not lost on those visiting this presidential shrine. Like Stanley Gora from New Jersey, who was soaking up some sun on Monticello's sprawling lawn.

He loved the tour of Jefferson's past. He loathes what's happening in the current political scene. 

"Whoever the Republicans put up is a travesty," Gora says. "I am embarrassed to have voted Republican in the last few elections. I have a lot of friends and we talk about this. We are not voting. So that is the state of politics for me."

Gora hates that personal attacks seem more important than a policy debate.

Stanley Gora

Stanley Gora, from Cape May, N.J., says he is so fed up with Republican Party politics he is probably not going to vote this time around. (Cara Cruz/CBC)

"It is an alley fight. It is a backdoor brass knuckles alley fight," which he feels Trump might win. He asks me: "Canada. Would they take me?"

Anger about anger

I asked several people here the same question. What do you think of the state of politics in your country?

"It is absurd. I think the politics are completely out of control. Like beyond out of control — from a nightmare," Jeff Finck from North Carolina told me.

He was almost shaking with dismay.

For some time now, we've been hearing about anger in America. That people are enraged at politicians and that is driving them to support non-traditional candidates like Donald Trump.

What I found was a lot of anger about the anger, about how that mood appears to have taken over the entire political conversation.

Dierksheide, the historian, says this populist rage on display in this current primary season may be grabbing all the attention now, but in the general election it is bound to clash with American voters' apathy. 

Christa Dierksheide

Christa Dierksheide is historian at Monticello, the home of the late president Thomas Jefferson, the man who penned the Declaration of Independence. (Cara Cruz/CBC)

"Democracy was at its peak in this country in the 1830 and '40s," she says.

"Since then, voting has declined in proportion to general populations, so even though we are seeing this populism aspect to this election I think it has to bolstered by a widened electorate to really make sense."

For his part, Thomas Jefferson said that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing. 

He, of course, was a revolutionary who went on to become a great statesman. 

So I wondered if Dierksheide could imagine an historic site dedicated to a president Donald Trump?

 "I don't think I can imagine a historic site, but if you go down the road a few miles there is a Trump winery," she said. And then she laughed.


  • The Republican Party was not founded by Thomas Jefferson as was stated in an earlier version of this story.
    Mar 01, 2016 12:15 PM ET