Skip to comments.Giving Thomas Jefferson the Business: The Jefferson-Hemings Hoax
Posted on 12/16/2003 11:18:44 AM PST by mrustow
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And sex is the one universal vice of men.
You are assuming that we are talking about information from Sally Hemings' actual children. The Jefferson DNA samples all came from descendants of Jeffersons's paternal uncle Field Jefferson; the Hemings samples came from male descendants of Hemings generations removed from her children. So, actually, as one commentator pointed out about three years ago (in Chronicles magazine), there are not 25 possible candidates, but hundreds, not all of them white.
What that means is that there did not have to be ANY sexual connection between Sally Hemings and ANY Jefferson male, in order for some of her distant descendants to show Jefferson male DNA.
But how would such a person have contact with Sally Hemmings over a period of many years? No one has given a plausible explanation of this.
No such explanation is necessary. Your problem derives from your assumption that the hoax is true. They have never proven their case. For one example, the Hemings Party has always insisted that Thomas Woodson was her first child, conceived in Paris. Woodson was not the child of any Jefferson male. And reading the Hemings Party's claims in light of the DNA evidence, she was not monogamous (since they insist that Woodson was her child, which would mean that if there is anything to their claims, Hemings would have had to have at least one non-Jefferson lover). But then, having taken the trouble to read the article, you already knew that.
Thus there is actually only one other person other than Jefferson who could have fathered the children, his brother Randolph. But is has been shown that the dates when all these children were conceived coincides with dates when Thomas Jefferson had access to Sally Hemmings.
Not true. The claims are that Jefferson was at his estate when Hemings was impregnated. But there is no knowledge as to HER whereabouts, at the times she was impregnated. And not only did Jefferson's brother show up at Monticello at all of the times that Thomas was there, and regularly carouse with the slaves, but Randolph stopped spending time in the slave quarters at the same time that Sally stopped having children (because the widower Randolph had remarried). And eight different Jefferson males lived near Monticello.
Given the DNA evidence, which should not be taken too far, but is nevertheless irrefutable, a lot of the arguments in this article are irrelevant.
The only DNA evidence that even approaches irrefutability, is the evidence that Thomas Woodson was NOT the son of any Jefferson male. No DNA evidence has shown that Thomas Jefferson was the father of ANY of Sally Hemings' children.
The letter actually said, "His [Jefferson's] apartments had no private entrance not perfectly accessible and visible to all the household. No female domestic ever entered his chambers except at hours when he was known not to be there and none could have entered without being exposed to the public gaze."
In Prof. Gordon-Reed's hands, the second sentence changed, as if by magic, to "No female domestic ever entered his chambers except at hours when he was known not to be in the public gaze."
Gordon-Reed's changes turned the letter's meaning on its head, supporting claims that Jefferson could have had secret trysts with Hemings. Either Gordon-Reed committed one of the most dramatic copying errors in the annals of academia, or one of the most egregious acts of academic fraud of the past generation.
Ironically, it was Prof. Gordon-Reed, who politely, promptly, directed me to the Jefferson Library, where I obtained a copy of the original Coolidge letter. After I e-mailed her three times about the discrepancy, Prof. Gordon-Reed finally responded, "As to the discrepancy, there was an error in transcription in my book. It was corrected for future printings."
Worth repeating. Thanks for the excellent research.
Actually he could have been the child of Jefferson himself. You claim that cases of mis-identified paternity may have occurred among Sally Hemmings descendants. If you claim that a Jefferson Y-chromosome somehow entered into the putative line from Sally Hemmings in later generations, don't you have to allow that it could have left as well?
since they insist that Woodson was her child, which would mean that if there is anything to their claims, Hemings would have had to have at least one non-Jefferson lover). But then, having taken the trouble to read the article, you already knew that.
I admit that the first time I saw the article you posted, I did not read it extremely carefully past a certain point. This is why:
1. The identification of Eric Lander as a "liberal historian" caused me to severely downgrade my opinion of the scholarship of the authors. Lander is an extremely well-known scientist and is someone I have dealt with personally in the past. He clearly is a brilliant guy and not someone who is known for his politics.
2. The article makes the a priori assumption that saying that Jefferson may have fathered a child by a slave is merely an attempt to degrade the achievements of Jefferson. I don't think it is necessary to look at it that way. We already know that Jefferson owned slaves despite being the author of the phrase "all men are created equal" and having considered the justice of abolition. We already know that he was a complicated person, at once a very great man and a hypocrite.
3. The article takes a somewhat racist tone at certain points and overstates the possible political motives of people who have believed in the Jefferson-Hemmings link. "The Jefferson-Hemings hoaxers seek to steal Americas history, and replace it with a counterfeit version, in order to oppress Americas white majority." There was already a long-standing rumor that Jefferson fathered a child by his slave. Then DNA evidence appears that does not confirm this but shows that it is possible. It is to be expected that many people will leap to the simplest conclusion without looking at possible complexities, even if they have no political motive. Another factor is that concluding that Jefferson fathered children with Hemmings simply makes a better headline than saying that this is not quite proven. Newspapers and scientific grant seekers both find hype quite useful.
Having said that and having now read over the article you posted as well as the Nature article by Lander and Ellis, I will say that despite the heavy tendential tone and some factual errors, the authors in the thread article make a lot of good points. Lander made a mistake by allying himself with Ellis, who is highly controversial on his own. As a colaborative work their commentary article is uneven, sometimes not going beyind the evidence and in other places making an assumption that the case is proven. The article does speculate in one paragraph on the relationship with another case. "Politically, the Thomas Jefferson verdict is likely to figure in upcoming impeachment hearings on William Jefferson Clinton's sexual indiscretions, in which DNA testing has also played a role. " This may have been a true statement, but it doesn't seem too appropriate for a scientific journal, even as commentary. (I'm not how much of the article I can quote as it seems to only be available online by subscription.) The Lander and Ellis article does mention some important evidence which is not covered in the thread article: "First, several of the children bore a striking physical resemblance to Jefferson. Second, Sally's fourth child, Madison, testified late in life that Sally had identified Jefferson as the father of all her children."
This is wrong. The existence of a child does not shame a person. You do that on your own!
The most recent thing I read was Setting the World Ablaze, which focused on Adams, Jefferson and Washington by John Ferling. Based on having previously read with some care the chief scholarly biographies of Washington (Douglas Southall Freedman) and Jefferson (Dumas Malone) as well as some of more recent scurulous stuff on Jefferson, my sense was that these modern writers (I hesitate to call them historians even though they hold academic chairs in history) have it in for Jefferson. Many conversatives, especially religious conservatives, dislike Jefferson for his Deism and for his egalitarianism (though his was an egalitarianism of opportunity, not the modern one of result), and even for his generally being a man of the Enlightenment. My own view is that the American Experiment is fully bound up in, and inseparable from, the English and Scottish (at least) Enlightentments and our 'conservative' values today are the values that were seen as liberal, even radical, in their day: individual liberty, economic liberty, and religious tolerance.
I don't know what the truth of the matter is, but I could understand Madison Hemings preferring to tell people "I am the son of Thomas Jefferson" instead of "I am the son of Thomas Jefferson's brother."
LOL. Note that the leaders of the Hemings Party are very insulted by such contentions, and have even insisted, logic be damned, that there would be no reason for Hemings' children to prefer claiming Thomas over Randolph as their father.
That 1873 newspaper article sounds like the one from the political activist editor (Westmore?) who some scholars now say, wrote everything in his own words (i.e., not in the sort of language Hemings would have used), and likely projected his own political project onto the son, because the interview supposedlt contained things that the son could not have learned from his mother, but were fromn the likes of Callender.
Another problem for the Hemings Party is that the two sons represent mutually incompatible oral traditions. The one tradition passed on the belief that Thomas was the father, while the other one maintained that another Jefferson male was the father.
The most important sentence in your post was the last one. These people are such political hacks, that the real significance to the story is as the expression of their expedient, political machinations. They would prostitute all human knowledge.
Remember C-SPAN's excellent AMERICAN PRESIDENTS series? They did right by most of the Founding Fathers, going into fascinating detail about their lives and presidencies.... but when it came time to do the show on Jefferson, they brought in Annette Gordon-Reed and spent THE ENTIRE TWO HOURS debating whether the 3rd President had a kid with one of his slaves. A tragic waste of a show.
Veddy interesting. Gordon-Reed is apparently quite the self-promoter. (She's also not too hard on the eyes, which never hurt.) It also helps when few people in academia have the cojones to call one's bluff.
I recently read that on his deathbed, Dumas Malone is supposed to have said that he thought that Jefferson might have had a go with Hemings once or twice, but not as an ongoing thing.
Then came the report in 1997 -- knowing the story well, I wondered why the authors discounted the possibility of Randolph being the culprit, as the DNA did not in any way point directly to Jefferson, just to a Jefferson familiy male. The DNA would have been complicated, also, if it is true that Hemmings and Jefferson's wife Martha shared the same father.
So, I was much relieved to read the 2000 blue ribbon scholars report, which I commend to anyone intrested. I remain convinced Thomas Jefferson was not responsible for Sally Hemmings children.
I honestly don't know, and doubt we ever will, who the father of hemings' children was. But one thing I do know. If you are going to overturn generations of accepted scholarship, then you must have stronger evidence on behalf of your theory, than that of the proponents of the conventional view. The Hemings Party has provided no stronger, new evidence on behalf of their theory.
I don't think the members of the Hemings Party give a damn about the truth. I think their attitude is no different than that of black New Yorkers who periodically get letters published in the local dailies saying, "All I know is that George Washington owned slaves, so I will never respect anything he did." All is fair, in dealing with dead white male slave owners.
Related to the above-mentioned racial contempt is a form of affirmative action/reparations, whereby the accomplishments of the Founding Fathers are transferred to (read: stolen by) blacks. A spate of articles and books have appeared of late that make Jefferson's slaves the focus of life at Monticello. I expect to soon read that all of Jefferson's inventions, ideas, etc. actually were "stolen" from his slaves.
IMO, the motive for the entire expose` was to lower Jefferson down to Bill Clinton's level in an attempt to protect Clinton. Considering Clinton and the group he rode in on, it's to be expected of them. As for Jefferson, I don't care if he fathered no slaves or twenty, it neither robs me of my respect for him, or breaks my faith in Jefferson's character.
I think you're right about many liberal white historians, but I believe that the black (and some white) academic pseudo-scholars have a more ambitious program, which involves the destruction of the legacy of all of the Founding Fathers.
LOL! Much like Lenin and Stalin and other Russians were responsible for all of the inventions of, and advances in, modern science during the reign of the Bolseviks in Russia.
I agree with you that we cannot know with absolute certainty who fathered Hemings children (although I tend to think the preponderance of the evidence suggests it was not Thomas Jefferson) and absolutely agree that the Hemings Party is indifferent to truth. If they were not so, they would be satisfied with it being "a" Jefferson male who fathered Easton, which is all their new evidence shows. It could have been Randloph or his sons, or it could have been TJ. Based on eyewitness accounts of Randolph's behavior with slaves (and the fact all Hemings' children other than Thomas Woodson (a ?? child) were conceived in between Randolph's two marraiges) and his general reputation, Randolph seems the most likely candidate. To deny this is simply bad scholarship.
The paternity of the other Hemings children remains an open question, and the best evidence still points to the Carrs. Perhaps more research could follow up on Jefferson's daughter's comment that Jefferson was not present when Easton was concevied and determine with certainty whether Sally was somewhere other than Monticello during the time Jefferson was at Monticello in the summer of 1807.
While slavery was an abomination and a blot on white America, it was also white America that did away with slavery. I personally feel no guilt for the large slaveholdings of my forebears, especially for those of the forebear who freed his slaves in 1860 because, as a minister, he believd it unChristian to hold slaves. My Virginian forebears who were contemporaries of Jefferson were more modest folk, yeoman farmers with few, if any, slaves in Bedford County, who all answered the call of their natives state to fight for independence, some as officers, most as private soldiers. I have nothing but contempt for those who would tear down the achievements of the Founders on the basis of modern notions about racial justice.
I believe that you are entirely correct in your view, and have underscored a key point. The ideas of Frances Hutcheson, Lord Kames, and their more illustrious adherents formed the intellectual foundation for the organization of American society, laws, and governance. Of course, tied to liberty, was a complementary belief in individual responsiblity (as you say, egalitarinism of opportunity). Jefferson, as the embodiment of these enlightenment principles, is therefore, the principle target of those who would have them devalued, debunked, and cast aside in favor of their own view of an enlighted society bound up in a much different philisophical tradition expoused by the Socialist, Marxists, et. al.
(or in more contemporary terms) What you said!!
Yes and that was a real scandal. William Franklin went on to become the last Royal Governor of New Jersey and a notorious opponent of the Revolution.
The script of the musical 1776 has Ben refer to him as the "little bastard."
YES! It does matter. When will the blacks ever acknowlege that they are full of crap on this issue? Now they want to discount the Founding Fathers altogether in some school districts back east. They try to claim that they built America, not the whites. I don't however, see any black signers of the Declaration of Independence. Nor do I believe they had anything to do with the framing of the Constitution.
Blacks want the free ride of "Reparations", and to re-write history so that they play the major role in America's founding. Before you start thinking I'm racist, I'm of Irish descent and my people have been oppressed far longer than the blacks, but I am not out trying to change historical facts. Nor am I out looking for a handout. This crap about Jefferson and Hemmings is just that - CRAP! They are killing American history and that is all a part of the PC whoredom that liberal America has bought into.
This, as the article you post suggests, is all part of an ongoing attack. Conservatives need to be aware of how this battle is being fought, not only for this issue, but to understand what is happening on a lot of other fronts in the ideological war as well.
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