Saturday, November 04, 2006

Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings

Leo and I have had a brief discussion on slavery in America in a so-called "Christian Nation". Leo mentioned the hypocricy of Thomas Jefferson with regard to slavery which brought up the subject of Sally Hemings. I think that many people are still unaware that the DNA testing which supposedly proved that Thomas Jefferson fathered Hemings' children has been discredited. What the DNA has proved is that Hemings' children were related to "a" Jefferson, but not necessarily Thomas Jefferson. I decided to bring my comments here as a blogpost.

Dave Barton has an excellent article outlining the whole sordid affair. It's too sad that in recent times Jefferson has been maligned and his reputation ruined by those whose goal it is to paint our founders as bigoted monsters who deserve no respect and whose ideals are passe. (These rumors originated in Jefferson's day by a journalist who had a vendetta against him. Barton goes into great detail in his article.) Some have also spread malicious and untrue gossip about President George Washington.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Barton's article. I think you will find the entire article well worth the read.

"Herbert Barger, the Jefferson family historian and genealogist who assisted in the original DNA study for Nature (and who strenuously objected to the conclusions published in the original story) explained:

"My study indicates to me that Thomas Jefferson was not the father of Eston or any other Hemings child. The study indicates that Randolph [Thomas' younger brother] is possibly the father of Eston and the others. Randolph, named for his maternal Randolph family, was a widower and between wives when, shortly after his wife's death, Sally became pregnant with her first child. . . . She continued having children until 1808 when Eston was born. Randolph Jefferson would marry his second wife the next year, 1809. . . . [Significantly, t]hree of Sally Hemings' children, Harriet, Beverly and Eston (the latter two not common names), were given names of the Randolph family." (emphasis in original)


The Jefferson-Hemings Scholars Commission released a 565 page report on the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings controversy. The Executive Summary of that report states:

"The question of whether Thomas Jefferson fathered one or more children by his slave Sally Hemings is an issue about which honorable people can and do disagree. After a careful review of all of the evidence, the commission agrees unanimously that the allegation is by no means proven; and we find it regrettable that public confusion about the 1998 DNA testing and other evidence has misled many people. With the exception of one member, whose views are set forth both below and in his more detailed appended dissent, our individual conclusions range from serious skepticism about the charge to a conviction that it is almost certainly false."

From what I've read, I tend to agree with Herbert Barger. He's done a most exellent job of putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I think the Hemings' children were probably fathered by a Jefferson, but not Thomas Jefferson. I agree wholeheartedly with the Jefferson-Hemings Scholars Commission that there is no conclusive evidence that has proven Thomas Jefferson to be the father of Hemings' children. As Barton's article states, the research wasn't even thorough.

My husband has read many of Jefferson's writings. He and I have discussed the slavery issue with regard to Jefferson's view. He said that Jefferson was against slavery, but he was also concerned about the economical effects that abolition would cause. He feared economic collapse and the future of America's existence as its own country. I'm sure there were other factors, but I can't remember them all because this was years ago that we discussed it.

What really boggles the mind is the fact that there are still some who claim Jesus as Saviour and Lord that would allow slavery today.

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At Sunday, November 05, 2006 7:08:00 AM, Blogger Leo said...

Ah, quite a subject isn't it? I found this on the website today. It seems that the President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation accepts as fact the relationship and some if not all of the children as those of our Third President. He does recognize as we all do that good people will disagree.

href=">Monticello Statement

Ultimately, I find Jefferson to be a compelling figure so brilliant yet so full of contradictions. A Founding Father yet a human like the rest of us.

At Monday, November 06, 2006 4:54:00 PM, Blogger Dawn said...

Just because the scholars at the Monticello Organization and the President of TJF believe Thomas Jefferson to be the father of Sally Hemings' children doesn't make it true. Just as the belief of the scholars at the Scholars Commission do not believe Thomas Jefferson to be the father of Sally Hemings' children doesn't make their findings true.

I agree that Jefferson is a human like the rest of us and none of us is perfect. But still, I think that these people purporting such serious accusations against Thomas Jefferson as proven fact when there are plausible explanations is so very wrong.

I tried to reply on your blog, but the word verification is coming up as a red "x". I guess there may be something wrong with the beta. I'll try again later.

I'm going to put links to both sides of the argument up and let everyone decide for themselves.

At Tuesday, November 07, 2006 6:29:00 AM, Blogger Leo said...

Your comments did come through.

If true, I do not condemn Jefferson for his involvement with Hemings. Assuming that the attention was welcomed, that is. The time and place that Jefferson lived in did not permit relationships between the races so Jefferson would have been protecting his political and social status by not affirming the accusations - not very gallant of him but quite pragmatic. My wife assures me that such contradictions in male behavior are common.

At Wednesday, November 08, 2006 1:28:00 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

LOL I agree that such contradictions in male behavior are common, but it doesn't make it true in this case.

I've brought my comments here from your site.

Leo: "Again, I do not have a problem accepting this claim about Jefferson and Hemings. Actually, I would rather believe that Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson were lovers rather than Jefferson allowing his nephews or whomever in the house to take sexual advantage of her."

I don't have a problem with the racial mixing. Though, it does cause family problems and problems for the children who are of a mixed race. If true, I have a huge problem with Jefferson bearing children out of wedlock and also for not treating them as his own.

Like you, I did wonder if the Carr brothers and his own brother fathered any of her children why Thomas allowed it and didn't put his foot down over it. Maybe he did, but it fell on deaf ears.

It could be that the Carr brothers did not take sexual advantage of her, but that she was a very willing participant.

The reasons I tend to believe Thomas Jefferson to be innocent of the charges are: his stance on interracial marriage and reproduction; his stance on promiscuity and illegitimate children; his denial of it in a letter to Robert Smith, Secretary of the Navy (I know I'm speculating here, but I don't see how he could not have addressed this accusation with his cabinet for they certainly would have needed a denial or admission from him. And certainly the accusations made against him by the Federalists included the Hemings children. I understand his refusal to make any type of public statement about it, but I disagree with his decision on that front. I think anyone (especially those in public office) who is publicly accused of sexual misconduct should publicly deny erroneous accusations, if they are untrue.); his statement that he would be half-way admitting to guilt if he acknowledged the accusations publicly; and the statements he made made below about letting God be the Judge.
From Barton's site:


"I know that I might have filled the courts of the United States with actions for these slanders, and have ruined perhaps many persons who are not innocent. But this would be no equivalent to the loss of [my own] character [by retaliating against them]. I leave them, therefore, to the reproof of their own consciences. If these do not condemn them, there will yet come a day when the false witness will meet a Judge who has not slept over his slanders."

He later told Abigail Adams that he did not fear a blemish on his reputation from Callender's charges because, as he explained:

"I am not afraid to appeal to the nation at large, to posterity, and still less to that Being Who sees Himself our motives, Who will judge us from His own knowledge of them."


These last statements are very powerful to me. Jefferson may not have been a Christian, but he certainly believed in God and in the judgment and wrath of God. Surely Jefferson would have feared making such a statement had he been guilty as accused.

But these are just my opinions.

At Wednesday, November 08, 2006 6:27:00 PM, Blogger Leo said...

Mr. Barton should have quoted what Abigail Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson after it had been revealed that Jefferson used Callender to attack her husband. I quote from American Sphinx,

“The last reference was to the Republican Propaganda campaign against Adams during his presidency, chiefly the libelous accusations of Callender in the Prospect Before Us, which Jefferson had in fact subsidized and approved. It described Adams a as vain (true), dangerously unbalanced (exaggerated distortion of the truth) and covertly monarchical (mostly untrue) instrument of Federalist corruption (completely untrue). Jefferson had made a concerted effort to reopen the lines of communication with the Sage of Quincy in 1804, trying the indirect route through Abigail. But he made the double mistake of mentioning his own anger at Adams for the appointment of Midnight Judges and then claiming complete ignorance of the whole Callender business. Abigail responded like a lioness protecting her pride. Jefferson had once been a trusted friend, she explained, and some residue of affection “still resides in Bosom, even after esteem has taken its flight.” But she no longer respected or trusted a man so capable of either hypocrisy or self-deception, and she acknowledged personal sense of poetic justice when “the serpent you cherished and warmed [i.e., Callender], bit the hand that nourished him,” a reference to the Sally Hemings accusations, “Faithful are the wounds of a Friend,” she observed caustically, then declared any subsequent correspondence unnecessary.” American Sphinx Page 236. Joseph Ellis, 1996

I am not sure of the degree of Jefferson's fear of God as he displayed such hypocrisy while he wrote that to Abigail Adams.

I appreciate Barton but he needs to do better research.

I think Jefferson was the prototype for Bill Clinton. Jefferson was more brilliant than Clinton and more caring for his country but just as deceptive as Clinton in my opinion. Actually much better than Clinton.

At Thursday, November 09, 2006 2:03:00 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

What do you mean that Barton needed to do better research? Jefferson having been "behind" the Callender attack against Adams was not the issue Barton was trying to convey. Barton's point was that Jefferson was denying to Abigail Adams that Callender's accusations were true and that he would let God be the judge.

Barton ususally does do the better research actually going back to the original documents. I don't know if Ellis has done this. Usually these "historians" have only gone back to what revisionists have written and they're simply quoting these revisionists. Ellis may have gone back to the originals, I don't know. But I don't see anything in the quote you've given that proves that Jefferson was indeed "behind" all the accusations against Adams. I'm not saying that he was not, but I'd like to see the documentation.

Ellis says, "The last reference was to the Republican Propaganda campaign against Adams during his presidency, chiefly the libelous accusations of Callender in the Prospect Before Us, which Jefferson had in fact subsidized and approved."

Is the proof that Jefferson was indeed "behind" these libelous accusations against Adams in Ellis' book? Or is this just a theory? It's one thing to libel and quite another to attack one's ideals.

Leo: "I am not sure of the degree of Jefferson's fear of God as he displayed such hypocrisy while he wrote that to Abigail Adams."

Do you have the dates of the letters handy (are they in the footnotes)? I really need to see the whole thing in context because I'm a little lost. But from what you have quoted it doesn't seem to me that Jefferson is trying to hide anything. He's even still admitting that Adams did indeed anger him with his "midnight judge" appointments. And was Jefferson really claiming complete ignorance of the whole Callender business? It is not a direct quote, but rather they are Ellis' words.

I'm sorry Leo. I'm not trying to be difficult. I just don't trust everything that is written out there. Especially by people who have ulterior motives. I'm not saying Ellis' motives are less than pure. I just don't know whether they are or not.

But if you have the dates of those letters handy, I'd sure appreciate it.

At Thursday, November 09, 2006 3:12:00 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

I find it very telling that the descendants of Madison Hemings will not allow them to test William Hemings', the son of Madison Hemings, DNA. They had agreed at first. Then they decided against it (I think they were persuaded by others to not allow it). I think that they feared that if the DNA doesn't match "a" Jefferson, it will destroy not only their own oral history but also the theory that Thomas and Sally had a 38 year monogamous realtionship. It might even corroborate the claims of the Jefferson family that the Carr brothers could be the father of some of Sally's children.

At Thursday, November 09, 2006 5:15:00 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

Were you aware that Joseph Ellis was caught in telling some lies?


1) He had been a combat platoon leader in Vietnam.

2) He had been an anti-war leader at Yale.

3) He had been active in civil rights campaigns in the South.

He was suspended for a year without pay by Mount Holyoke, had his prestigious endowed chair taken away and prohibited from again teaching his popular course on the 1960s in which most of his personal lies were told to students.

At Thursday, November 09, 2006 6:28:00 PM, Blogger Leo said...


Please remember that Joseph Ellis does not believe that Jefferson fathered any child with Hemings or any other slave.

Concerning the quote that I transcribed, the footnotes state: Abigail Adams to Jefferson, July 1 and August 18, 1804, Lester G. Cappon, ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondance between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams, 2 vols. (Chapel Hill, 1959), 1, 268-274.

Concerning Barton, my point was that the Barton Statement should have stated that Abigail held Jefferon in suspicion of undermining her husbands administration at this time. My research backs her up on this:. Roger G. Kennedy, Ellis and Ron Chernow.

I will have to check but I believe that Jefferson's duplicity in this and other schemes was only discovered in the late 1800's. I'll be near the library tomorrow so I'll get the book.

I only learned of Ellis's lack of truthfulness issues about his military experience a couple of days ago. I am not aware of his historical work being called into question. Are you?

At Friday, November 10, 2006 2:41:00 PM, Blogger Dawn said...

Leo, don't go to all that trouble about going to get the book at the library. I just assumed you had the book. Really, it's not that big a deal.

No, I am not aware of Ellis' historical work having been called into question. However, if he is willing to publicly lie about certain things, then who's to say that he would not slant things to his way of thinking in his writings.

At Friday, November 10, 2006 2:42:00 PM, Blogger Dawn said...

Thanks for the references I will check them out soon.

At Wednesday, November 15, 2006 12:46:00 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

So far, I've found the letter from Abigail to Jefferson, but it doesn't say that she cut-off their writing relationship. Though, it does appear that there may be have been a portion of the letter omitted. I hate it when people who publish these letter omit part of the letter! Anyway, I'll keep searching when I get the time. Just thought I'd touch base with you on this matter.

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 5:56:00 AM, Blogger Leo said...

Thanks, I was able to find volume two of their letters but not the first. The first had the letter in question. Note that The Adam's did not communicate with Jefferson for eight or so years after this letter. It was Benjamin Rush that brought them back together.

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 6:44:00 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

Thanks for the info on the eight year absence of correspondence between them. I did see where she said she read a letter from Jefferson to Callender where he applauded him for his writing and gave him $50, but I'd like to see that letter. (I did try to find it but did not have time to continue tryings.) Abigail did say that she forgave him which I thought was admirable.

I could be entirely wrong, but the way I see it is that Jefferson did like it that Callender was writing against the Federalists and exposing some of their intentions. Though, Jefferson may not have condoned everything written by Callender. Just as I enjoy certain political writers, but may not agree "everything" they write. Ann Coulter comes to mind.


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