Skip to comments.The Jefferson DNA Case: Propaganda and Myth
Posted on 07/06/2005 9:26:24 PM PDT by CaptIsaacDavis
The Jefferson DNA Case: Propaganda and Myth
"Their amalgamation with the other color produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent." Thomas Jefferson (letter to Edward Coles, Aug. 1814).
DNA Evidence of a family connection between the Jefferson line and a descendent of the slave Sally Hemings will play "a pivotal role in dispelling the myth of separation between blacks and whites." -- U.S. News & World Report (9 Nov. 1998)
New Republican Archive. James F. Burke
Several years ago, at the height of the Clintonista era of historical revisionism and socialist realism, news of DNA tests concerning the ancestry of individuals who put forth the legend of their paternal relationship to President Thomas Jefferson prompted many to conclude that the case had been solved: Thomas Jefferson, they argued, fathered a child, Eston Hemings (born in 1808), with his inherited mixed-race slave, Sally Hemings. However, there are numerous inconsistencies in the case, which warrant a review of the accuracy not of the DNA research, which raised more questions than it solved, but of the conclusions being put forth by participants in the study and Liberal propagandists eager to undermine the authority of one of Americas heroes. Not content to offer history, Liberal propagandists went wild and turned what is a fascinating tale of Jeffersons nephews into vulgar propaganda targeting Thomas Jefferson himself, most notably in some irresponsible works that appeared in U.S. News & World Report and on CBS television (the infamous "Sally Hemings: An American Scandal").
In fact, this is nothing new. This "story" was floated by political opponents in 1802, by Abolitionists and radicals in the late 19th century, and kept alive by 20th century Marxist saboteurs deliberately hurling lies and myth into the popular understanding of history in order "sabotage" our political context and cohesion (before any DNA research was available they just proclaimed it must be true, because their political fantasy world requires it to be). Now we can add in Clintonistas and internationalists eager to tear down the walls around our republican national identity.
The most fundamental problem with the study is that the authors, who published their findings in the UK journal Nature, set out to see whether DNA evidence can support modern mythology, rather than taking the unbiased and scientific approach of letting the DNA evidence suggest possibilities. What they ended up with was a case that actually conclusively destroyed revisionist legends concerning a "proximity" case related to the timing of the birth of a child Sally Hemings had after returning from Paris (the one at the center of the 1802 controversy, who was named "Tom" and sent to live with a family with the name Woodson, and which Madison Hemings claimed died shortly after birth), and raised new questions concerning the possibility a Jefferson line descendent fathered the last of her children, Eston Hemings (whose descendants had previously accepted the claims of Jeffersons granddaughters that it was a "Carr" family member, a nephew, not a Jefferson, who fathered Sallys other children).
After the initial flurry of propaganda surrounding the news, which was hyped to the stratosphere by some in order to make Clintons behavior seem only marginally less despicable, a sense of calm and reason returned to the subject. While the world has been distracted by war, this great revelation and "scientific truth" has been reduced to the merely speculative. Not only have the original authors of the study publicly added a host of caveats that were missing from the initial findings, but even the Thomas Jefferson Foundation had to revise their statement and position on the matter (after initially appearing overly receptive to the changed "party line" being forced upon them). In Feb. 2003, they posted a new statement on the controversy (9 months after denying descendants of Sally Hemmings membership):"Although the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings has been for many years, and will surely continue to be, a subject of intense interest to historians and the public, the evidence is not definitive, and the complete story may never be known."
How did this all start? With some very flimsy "science." Former Tufts professor, Dr. Eugene Foster, analyzed "Y" chromosomes of various descendants from Thomas Jeffersons grandfather, and others in the story, to offer convincing evidence for the following: (1) that the child of Sally Hemings that revisionists and accusers had long claimed was the most likely to have been Thomas Jeffersons ("Thomas Woodson," who was purportedly conceived in Paris while Ambassador Thomas Jefferson and Sally were in Paris) was definitively NOT related to the Jefferson line (again, NOT fathered by Jefferson); and (2) that a direct descendant of Sallys last child, Eston Hemings, has a Y chromosome mutation identical to that of a direct male line descendant of Thomas Jeffersons uncle, Field Jefferson. In other words, the authors of the study offered an ENTIRELY NEW CHARGE: that Thomas Jefferson, only 6 years after facing a national scandal (every bit as dramatic as Clintons "Lewinsky Affair") pushed by his political opponents, and DENIED by Thomas Jefferson in a private letter from 1805 (and subsequently in private correspondence by his daughter Martha), widowed and elderly at the time (he was 65 when Eston Hemings was born, the mother was 35), fathered Eston Hemings, the last child of Sally Hemings, in 1808. Keep those private denials by Thomas Jefferson, daughter Martha, and granddaughters in mind when considering one of Jeffersons more famous quotes:"There is not a truth existing which I fear or would wish unknown to the whole world." He had nothing to hide in private certainly on this matter. He has nothing to hide in the cold light of history.
One central problem with Fosters original work is that the most solid evidence uncovered the lack of a connection between "Thomas Woodson" (the child Sally Hemings supposedly had after coming back from Paris with Thomas Jefferson) and the Jefferson line and the destruction of James T. Callenders myth from 1802, was marginalized to focus on the weakest case in terms of "oral history" and "proximity" the link to Eston Hemings. Foster pushed the envelope of credibility to be the first to apply a Y chromosome analysis to a task for which it was, and is, wholly inadequate. Advocates of the slander against Jefferson talked constantly about "DNA" tests, but what was conducted was not a typical "DNA test" that readers may associate with one that looks at multiple chromosomes of high variability (across the 22 that we have in addition to the "Y" chromosome). Dr. Foster looked at the one gene that is among the least variable, and thus most common across specific population groups, e.g., Carr and Field Jefferson lines (it also has by far the fewest genes of any of the 23 most modern humans carry, and is thus the least informative for these purposes). He touted in a PBS interview a "1 in a 100" chance that it was purely an accidental match, but that statistic is a BIG LIE, based on the probability of random selection across the human population (Africans, Indians, Slavs, you name it). What we are talking about here is not random probability, but descendants of a narrow range of families in Virginia (where there had been prior written hints that a nephew of the president was the father). Indeed, ALL of the adult characters in this story are even reported to be related including possibly Sally Hemings (if the claims of Madison Hemings are to be believed, she might even have been the bastard half-sister of Martha Wales [Jeffersons wife, who died in 1782]).
Foster admitted in an interview with PBSs "Frontline" that Y chromosome analysis hadnt been applied before to the question because of some basic problems. See http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/interviews/foster.html As he explained:"The experts and I had thought that, after five, six or seven generations, the DNA of the person who you're interested in. . . would be diluted so much that you can hardly find any. In other words, in each generation, a parent passes on only half or less of his or her DNA to the children, so with each generation, it begins to disappear. So even if we knew what was specifically characteristic of Thomas Jefferson's DNA, we would have very little chance of finding it in people who are his descendants or think they're his descendants. And then the whole thing was complicated because of other family relationships, like the fact that Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson's wife probably had the same father. The Carr brothers, who were also implicated in this affair, had ancestors common with the Jeffersons, and so forth. So it was just going to be impossible..But the Y chromosome is something that is passed. It's the chromosome that determines whether you are a man. So a man has the Y chromosome and an X chromosome and the woman has two X chromosomes. The beauty of that is, since you only have one Y chromosome and it's gotten only from your father, that means it isn't diluted. It goes from generation to generation, father to son, unchanged. No one had thought of using it for these purposes, because it had not been thought to have enough variation. We don't know exactly how reliable it is There is not enough variation in the Y chromosome to make it like a fingerprint." Really? "No one?" More exaggerations. Of course, people had thought of it. They just didnt want to undertake something so unscientific.
The key point here is that the analysis focused on the one chromosome that had the greatest chance of duplication due to cross-breading with other lineages that is, the connection might have been because the great great great great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson sired a male line descendent that ended up joining with a male line descendent at some point connected to the "Eston Hemmings" line (either before, after, or resulting in Eston). The studys authors also found that modern descendants of the "Carr" family line are not likely to be related to Eston, BUT they offered no definitive analysis of whether the negative result from the contemporary "Y" chromosome may have been the result of illegitimacy or a flaw in the records. Nor is there any evidence concerning whether her other children might have been sired by one of the Carr boys. Thus, the most definitive "oral history" that from Jeffersons granddaughters and daughter Martha, which holds that it was a nephew (possibly Carr, but also perhaps a son of Thomass brother Randolph), has not been definitively impeached.
Keep in mind that we are looking at the Y chromosome. This is the very chromosome that has so little variation over 6, 7, or 20 generations. Thus, the intersection of the two lines could have occurred 1, 5, even 20 generations PRIOR to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (and thus, through this widely cast network of lineage, any one of several possibilities between "Eston" and his modern heirs). Fact: Eston Hemings is not the only result of a union through which the "Jefferson Y" chromosome could have been integrated into the contemporary Hemings line. Ah, theres the rub. The studys authors didnt have enough knowledge to screen out such a vast array of possibilities. Instead they sampled 5 "old Virginia family" lines to come up with the claim that the haplotype is supposedly rare. Thus, the "DNA evidence" is not "proof" positive, nor even informative, but rather a mere curiosity.
Dr. Foster told the Washington Times on Nov. 9 (see WT, National Weekly Edition, Nov. 16-22, p.14): "We say in our report that the simplest, most easily explained and most probable explanation for our data is that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings Jefferson." It was a rather strong assertion considering that he only has the most inconclusive DNA evidence possible, and no definitive historical record (which is currently absent serious investigation into the activities of the presidents nephews) in which to analyze it. Dr. Foster did go on to criticize the editors of Nature magazine, who chose to publish a commentary by Eric Lander and Joseph Ellis clearly politicizing their scientific paper by comparing Thomas Jeffersons purported indiscretions with those of President Clinton. However, the commentary by Lander and Ellis was little removed from the "analysis" offered by Mr. Foster.
One of Mr. Fosters colleagues has publicly backed off the aggressive propaganda asserting the new charge as fact. Christopher Tyler-Smith (University of Oxford), who participated in the original analysis of the DNA evidence, was cornered, on a McLaughlin Group TV episode covering the story, into taking the only "scientific" position possible by admitting that any one of the nephews could also have fathered Eston Hemings. However, he later retreated to the ideological (PC) safety of arguing that the evidence supported the recent "contextual case" offered by political activists trying to promote an anti-Jefferson agenda. It is a shame to see so many widely-read publications take the same path, and thereby suppress research into what is more likely an equally fascinating tale concerning one of Jeffersons nephews.
The authors of the DNA research have NOT proven that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings Jefferson. They have only shown that a male descended from Thomas Jeffersons paternal uncle, Field Jefferson (or any of his forefathers!), was the father of Eston Hemings. The rest of the case is based on false assumptions, which need to be explored: the most important of which is that none of Field Jeffersons sons could have been the father (research on this possibility has been virtually non-existent, because it had not been necessary until now). This is a huge assumption. There were at least six targeted male Y chromosome carriers of compatible ages (and some 24 in all), excluding Thomas Jefferson, and certainly closer to Sallys age than the elderly ex-President Jefferson. All of these six men lived near, and visited, Monticello during the period when Eston Hemings was conceived. The most likely targets are any of the 5 sons of Randolph Jefferson (Thomas brother), who were then in their 20s and teens. Dr. Foster later conceded publicly that any one of Randolphs boys could have been the father, while the study was also flawed by the lack of a definitive historical record concerning the Carr family line (to exclude all possibilities for why the "Y" chromosome of modern descendants would differ).
The associated timing contention (drawing a link because conception occurred only when Jefferson was at Monticello) is absurd, because if Jefferson had been having what amounted to a very long-term affair with her, why only then? Sally Hemings was, after all, tasked with being a nurse-maid for Jeffersons children, and traveled with Jefferson widely. Moreover, there is an internal contradiction in the claims of some agitators and "committees" reviewing the evidence, which reveals the heart of the matter. The DNA evidence demonstrated conclusively that "Woodson" was not related in any way. However, considering the close involvement of Ms. Hemings with the family, and upbringing of his children (with Jeffersons deceased wife), it stretches credulity a step further to argue that Hemings had only one, but no other children with Jefferson. One can only imagine what the Presidents response would have been to such events if he had been in love with her long enough to carry on such a long-term relationship. Thus, it really is an all-or-nothing proposition. All of her children were his, or they were not. "Thomas W." the one presumed child of Sally Hemings, where the entire weight of the "oral history" and "proximity" case rested (because no other Jefferson was in Paris when the boy was conceived), was found to be NOT related to the Jefferson line (not only by the research of Dr. Foster but through other DNA tests on "Woodson" line descendants). End of story?
There is documented testimony from Thomas Jeffersons grandchildren via his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph, that it was, in fact, one of Jeffersons nephews, long thought to be possibly either Peter or Samuel Carr (but why not one of Randolphs boys?), who took liberties with Sally and fathered several very light-skinned slaves at Monticello. http://www.monticello.org Whoever it was fathering these children, it is reasonable to assume that his daughters would know who the culprit, or culprits, were. Thus, to make their case, the accusers of Jefferson have to attack not only Thomas credibility, but also that of his daughter Martha, and his grand-children. Moreover, while Jefferson freed all of Sallys children (and no other), he never freed her (not even in his will, through which he freed Madison and Eston Hemings). Strange. It seems pretty likely that he, too, knew one of his nephews was up to no-good with her, but never (and in no letter or writing ever) showed any preference for Ms. Hemmings. Indeed, one wonders if Ms. Hemmings, who had a penchant for pushing out bastard children, helped to shape Thomas Jeffersons utter contempt for some slaves so evident in his August 25, 1814 letter to Edward Coles. The full text of that famous letter, in which explained the need for future generations to emancipate the slaves or risk bloody violence is available widely on the web. However, the key excerpts are as follows:
"The hour of emancipation is advancing, in the march of time. It will come; and whether brought on by the generous energy of our own minds; or by the bloody process of St Domingo For men probably of any color, but of this color we know, brought from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them. Their amalgamation with the other color produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent."
So, here we are supposed to believe he was talking privately about his 6 year old son? How about the bastard children sired by one his nephews with a whore of a slave he refused to free and kept on because of her connection to his wife Martha (having been raised with her)? That would make more sense. In fact, it makes absolutely no sense at all that Jefferson would free other slaves, but not the mother of a child of his. Some Liberal propagandists have argued that Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello nine months before each of Hemings children was born, but they conveniently fail to acknowledge the obvious: when else would his nephews, who lived nearby, visit to consort with Hemings (who often traveled with him). They also conveniently ignore the fact that the DNA research indicated that a Jefferson line descendent did not father at least one of those "proximity" kids. Thus, we are supposed to believe that an elderly and deeply Christian man who had previously weathered a national scandal over now conclusively false allegations (over "Thomas Woodson"), and who was opposed to miscegenation, and told one of his daughters that no such unions occurred, would, in his failing years in retirement, choose to prove his enemies right and openly betray his own family, church, and God?
Unfortunately, much of the media coverage on the new charge has revealed a high degree of rather unscientific analysis in pursuit of a political agenda. An extensive review of the issue published in U.S. News & World Report (9 Nov. 1998) was typical. Evidence of a DNA link to Jeffersons paternal uncle led writers to make a generational leap in the historical record to confirm, without a trace of skepticism or caveats, a "fact," in order to proselytize how the new evidence will play "a pivotal role in dispelling the myth of separation between blacks and whites." "Myth?" What planet do those writers live on?
Such language clearly revealed the larger agenda behind some left-wing propaganda tracts during this period, which were filled with articles grossly exaggerating (to be polite) "estimates" of how many white Americans have black or Indian relatives, or openly touting, like the New York Times did quite often, the theme that America is becoming a "Mongrel Nation" (a phrase used as a blaring headline of one of the papers Sunday edition magazine issues). It was perhaps no coincidence that journals with ties to the Socialist International (the body that seeks to promote coordination of policies and ideological agendas among Labor and Socialist parties around the world) and the radical Left-wing parties in the US were filled with articles in the early 1990s voicing concern about a new wave of nationalist revolutions following the demise of the Soviet empire. They collectively articulated a strategy to counter this expected wave, which threatened to marginalize them (on the heels of the Reagan victories and conservative gains in Western Europe), by promoting new cultural idioms and mythologies (and nihilistic attacks on American icons) concerning race-mixing while also opening up the doors wide to immigration from groups that would be the least likely to assimilate into predominant "national" identities. It was no coincidence that almost simultaneously (1993-1994) in every Western government controlled by radical Left-wing parties immigration policies were changed and border enforcement reigned in, while articles on inter-racial unions, the glorification of the progeny of such unions, and race-mixed casting became the veritable standard in the mass media (television, advertising, film, Liberal newspapers). In the United States, this campaign focused on undermining Thomas Jeffersons pivotal and symbolic legacy as one of our greatest advocates of liberty in the Saxon-dominated Utopia he hoped America would be.
To make their case, the proponents of the new Jefferson mythology have to prove Jefferson was a liar not only to his family (his own daughter), close friends (after denials by private letter), and before God, but to the entire nation on one of the most explosive issues of his day (and ours). It is a case as likely as Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky getting married and having children after all the uproar. Not impossible, but very unlikely. Although, one can imagine now the bogus tabloid stories surrounding Lewinskys first child, when and if that day comes. Will they read "Bubba Cs Love Child?"
In the end, America can live with a hero disgraced, because the ideals of liberty are stronger than one man. However, we cant afford to let lies and exaggerations masquerading as "scientific truth" go largely unchallenged in the cold light of history and the enduring public imagination of the American people.
Who frickin' cares, one way or the other?
Some of us care. I ask you again: if you don't care, why do you bother to read these threads?
I read almost ALL the threads in front page news.
After more than 200 years, don't we have bigger fish to fry?
Whether Jefferson had children by a slave or not is irrelevent to today's society.
Jfferson Saly Hemmings ping.
Too tired to type! lol Let's try this again and correct the spelling.
Jefferson/Sally Hemmings ping
it IS irrelevent to most anyone... except those who conveniently tried to use just such an arguement to blunt the bubba controversy....
Let us consider mindset for a moment...
False idols...the opposite of worshiping false idols isnt indifference....it's hatred...
Liberals *think* the conservatives look twords the founders as "idols"...to be worshipped...
This mindset leads them to believe that these conservative "idols" need to be destroyed...
Because...liberals in fact "idolize" many of their personalities...they in fact worship them...and think that their idols can do no wrong...even when proved to have done so...
While many conservatives realise that the founders where merely men of their contemporary times....todays morals and social norms simply do not apply...
It's not that they have done no wrong per se..only that whatever wrongs they did where by todays standards...not their own contemporaray times...
Thus the move to remove all vestages of Jefferson as a "slave owner"...
Or to simply destroy his historical image...because such an image is a threat...
Sure this is generalised...but the theme runs through out the liberal mantra
Consensual sexual intercourse with someone other than your wife is "destruction"?
Your standards have probably not been met by many human beings except for Jesus Christ and the saints.
Jefferson was a great man, but he was no saint. Whether or not he had sexual intercourse with his beloved deceased wife's half sister, he had other failings, such as ,living beyond his means, being a deadbeat debtor, and stiffing his creditors.
Somehow the world manages to carry on, regardless.
Well, many of the actions, choices, and behaviors of history's great movers are of interest to some people today. We who love history and psychology are interested because "those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it." It's certainly interesting to consider whether or not one of the nation's founders was either a consummate liar and hypocrite, was the innocent victim of ugly, unjust accusations--or was a man who sincerely cared for a half-white slave girl who was the image of his adored late wife. Such questions are of compelling interest to many of us.
It's your prerogative not to be interested. But it's just silly to keep on asking "who cares?" Obviously, millions of us do, or we wouldn't read books and watch movies about these matters.
You talkin to me?
Or was that addressed to something else?
Nicely put Capriole. So what if the founding fathers are proven to be as mortal as the next person. It does not lessen their contribution.
It is relevant if you realize that all scientific journals have editors. Editors are human and have a point of view and are more likely to accept articles and studies that reflect what they already believe. These are then sent to referees who have similar world views. Then a select few are published.
It was addressed to you. You're the one who argued that liberals are trying to tear Jefferson down with the story about him and Sally Hemmings.
Argue?....no..I'm pointing out the fact...
Or is ripping Jefferson's name off a public school in berkley because he was "slave holder" a figment of my imagination?
He was a man plain and simple...
I could care less who he was screwing...but if he committed perjury over it...it might be news worthy..
And For the record...when the hemmings story broke...DUmmies where besides themselves gloating....actually proclaiming the image of Jefferson to be finnally dead...just another rich white guy...a slave owner to boot...
The really funny part...is when those same liberals try and use the words of jefferson to defend the "separation of church and state" clause...which doesnt exist...
That's when someone like me brings up the whole slave owner bit...hehehe
Excellent post...You can judge the state of the cause of freedom by looking at the posts on this site (the purported bastion of conservative freedom-lovers). Many of the posts I read, not just on this topic, but also others, reveal the authors have absolutely no clue how the Left works and roughly 25% (I suspect mostly Libertarian pseudo-conservatives) actually criticize anyone who dares to write or protest or do anything at all it seems to RESIST the incremental destruction of our heritage. No wonder Savage and Buchanan have both all but conceded defeat in the culture war.
Moreover, the questionable agitprop about Jefferson is also important because it is being pushed as propaganda into some state school textbooks.
Thank you!...do I get a T-shirt now?...*grin*
One of the more shallow propaganda tracts