Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

It has happened again. Poor Thomas Jefferson is under fire – the enemy? Credulity and malicious suspicion. The rumor, of course, is the infamous Sally Hemings case in which Jefferson is accused of romantic affairs and/ or rape of the young slave Miss Hemings. I have addressed this rumor before – it made national headlines but was quickly debunked as being unprovable at best. And yet, some people still love bringing this back up and continue to put forth zero evidence.

This time, the article I could not leave alone is from consortiumnews.com in which Robert Perry attempts to label Thomas Jefferson as a rapist –  the reason for attacking one of our more intelligent and open-minded presidents remains unknown. Mr. Perry begins his argument in a somewhat repulsive way, “Jefferson apologists raised finicky demands for conclusive proof of the liaison, as if it were absurd to envision that a relatively young man then in his mid-40s, a widower since his wife died in 1782, would have initiated a sexual relationship with an African-American female, even an attractive light-skinned mulatto like Hemings” almost as if Perry expects anyone to want to abuse Miss. Hemings.

The most important sentence in this page-long conspiracy accurately describes the whole Jefferson-Sally Hemings case

Though it’s true that unequivocal evidence does not exist…

If I had the honor of Mr.Perry reading this post – or any Jeffersonian conspirator, I would ask them to please read that slower: “evidence does not exist”.

The article could have stopped there! In fact, I would argue that if any idea, assertion, or story was not found in any evidence, it is a mute point. A good weapon to use in an argument lacing any facts is to say, “Anything asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”. As to this case, consider it dismissed.

 

Thomas Jefferson’s Scandal

Perhaps one of the biggest human flaw is accepting truths before researching the facts. This is the case for far too many issues today, but everyone falls victim to this flaw at least once – I, victim to this human error more than I can count. The scandal regarding Thomas Jefferson and his slaves is one that I have not truly researched and accepted for fact until now.

The rumors from the 1700’s to DNA tests in the 1990’s have damned Jefferson’s reputation and deemed him a rapist. If, indeed, Jefferson did have a relationship with his slaves, it may only help his anti-slavery stance. But the damning part about the scandal is that he was labeled a rapist. This fact the the author of the Declaration of Independence was a rapist could stain his freedom-loving reputation with hypocrisy and racism. Thankfully, for those who revere Jefferson as a man of morality and liberty, it is not true.

The story that originally got so much attention, was the DNA test that claimed Thomas Jefferson was the father of at least 2 of Sally Hemings children. The reason for the immediate attention is simply because we love a good scandal. The drama of our past still lives through a  Life Time Network-like need for drama. The very first studies that caught the public eye is the 1953 study by Fawn Brodie that seemed to have hinted at the Heming relationship. From there the rumors spread to more publications by historian Henry Randall who claimed, “She [Hemings] had children which resembled Mr. Jefferson so closely that it was plain that they had his blood in their veins … He [Randolph] said in one instance, a gentleman dining with Mr. Jefferson, looked so startled as he raised his eyes from the latter to the servant behind him, that his discovery of the resemblance was perfectly obvious to all.” 

These hearsay claims are not without legitimate studies to accompany it. The 1998 DNA study sealed Mr. Jefferson’s fate by claiming with 100% certainty that Sally Heming’s son, Eston was his child. This study is based on the Y-chromosome of the sons of Miss Hemings to link the males together. The only problem is that Jefferson’s DNA was not used and he did not have any descendants to use for DNA. There have been many protests to the study due to it’s faulty science. Dr. Eugene Foster investigated the claims and found that it is extreamly unlikely to have any DNA link between Heming’s children and Mr. Jefferson. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In a collaborative study, PBS published the evidence attempting to debunk the bogus studies of the past:

1. Tested Subjects

Thomas Jefferson had no male decedents to test so a direct link to Sally Hemings children could not be tested. To run the DNA test, Eugene Foster used material from male relatives to Jefferson. So the results leave 8 possible father’s if the results are positive…and the results gives a <1% probability.

2. Rare Halotype

The average frequency of a genetic halotype like Jefferson’s is about 1.5%. It has never been observed outside the Jefferson family, and it was not found among a sample of 670 European or 1,200 people worldwide – and not found in Heming’s children

3. Nonspecific DNA results

In Dr. Foster’s results, he found that the 1% match was with Eston Heming and the decedents of Thomas Jefferson’s Uncle, Field Jefferson. This leads us to the next problem with the results

4. Multiple Possible links

The DNA tests indicated that any one of 8 Jeffersons could have been the father of Eston with a 1% certainty and there was nothing to indicate it was Thomas. The 8 possibilities identified by the DNA tests are Thomas, Randolph (Jefferson’s brother), Randolph’s 5 sons, and a cousin George and in 5 of Randolph’s sons, who were in their teens or 20’s when Sally Hemings was having children.

5. Misleading results

Again, the most damning part of the case against Jefferson is the drama oriented media. The media reacts to good juicy stories like the public does: it accepts it as fact if they want it to be a fact. After the DNA test came out, CNN reported the study with the headline “Jefferson Fathered Slave’s Last Child”.

6. New Results

In March of 2000, new DNA results came from the Woodson Association to show that “beyond any reasonable doubt that Thomas Jefferson was not the father”. The only reason the results did not get as much attention is because it did not conform to the more Jerry Springer-like results.

7. Grave located

Those who desire a Heming-Jeffersonian link keep claiming they know where William Hemings grave is. William Hemings, the missing link the Heming family is basing their relationship on. But the true grave has finally been found and negates any facts relying on the original grave site and puts any other facts relying on oral history in a skeptical light.

8. Thomas Jefferson Exhumation

If Thomas Jefferson were exhumed for Y chromosome DNA testing it would only confirm that he carried the same Y chromosome as the other 7 Jeffersons in question. The only way this would not be true is if Thomas Jefferson were illegitimate. Besides being futile, it is very unlikely that there would be usable DNA that could be tested after so many years.

9. Illegitimacy

The genetic trail also could have been broken in subsequent generations if any of the mothers in the presumed chain actually had her son by a man outside the Jefferson line. Some of the Hemings’ lines cannot be tested, as there are no male line descendants.

In short, this scandal has gone on for far too long and has even tarnished Jefferson’s reputation to such an extent that he is labelled a racist and bigot by the Black Lives Matters organization. If only there are more fact checkers to spread the word. The lesson to this: questions everything, because ignorance is a strong weapon. So strong, it has blemished the strongest warrior of freedom. That should be enough to disturb anyone who values facts and skepticism.

Thomas Jefferson on Slavery

It is of no exaggeration to say that Thomas Jefferson, or any of the Founding Fathers, were far ahead of their time. But when it comes to the rather repulsive issue of slavery, Thomas Jefferson is at least 100 years ahead of his time. Having had seen so many uneducated claims that Jefferson was a racist and a bigot on social media, news articles, and more recently within the University of Virginia: the very University Jefferson founded, I have been called to action to try and clear some of the myths – the biggest myth being his stance on slavery.

The author of the Declaration of Independence, and the one who coined the term that “all men are created equal”, Thomas Jefferson is known as the sage of Monticello, and the Sage of liberty. Having said that, it is difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that such negative and slanderous rumors have boiled out of the uneducated masses of the young left. And yet, here we are: at a point in history where we must defend an anti-slavery, pro-liberty Founding Father of America. Assistant Professor of Psychology, Noelle Hurd, who started a petition against using Jefferson in quotes on the Virginia University campus has claimed, “I think that Jefferson is often celebrated for his accomplishments with little or no acknowledgement of the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings”

Lets unpack this claim – Jefferson must be spinning around in his grave at this point. “the atrocities he committed against hundred of human beings” – I cannot think of any atrocities committed besides Jefferson and the slaves. before we go into that, it is important to first look at his words and actions in regards to slavery. It is a well known and documented fact that Jefferson was completely anti-slavery sating it is a “moral depravity” as well as a “hideous blot” on man kinds history. Further more, he believed that slavery posed the greatest threat to the survival of America as a nation due to it’s divisiveness and suppression of life and liberty. When the Founding Fathers began the legislation to start the new nation, Jefferson was adamant about including the abolition of slavery.  In his home state of Virginia in 1778 – a hundred years before Lincoln’s time – Jefferson drafted a law that would prohibit the importation of enslaved Africans. Just 6 years later, Jefferson came back to propose an ordinance to ban slavery in the Northwest territories (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan area). Arguably, having these territories set the North up for an anti-slavery stance during the pre-Civil War tensions. In the Jefferson Memorial itself, a quote by Jefferson states that, “I tremble for my country to think that god is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever” – noting the deplorable slavery of hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia alone.

The failure of the majority of his propositions has mainly been attributed to the reality of slavery already so depended on and entrenched in the economy and culture of the young nation. When Jefferson was born, slavery had already existed to far too long – nearly 75 years! He grew up around it and luckily rejected the depravity. At the point of death, the slave population in Virginia had reached almost 450,000. Jefferson had hopped that the North’s abolition of slavery would, in time, lead to the overall elimination of slavery – and of course he was wrong. He did take an incredibly brave stance against slavery that ultimately lead to the anti-slave North and arguably influenced Lincoln’s point of view as well – in a letter from 1859, Lincoln explains his thoughts on Jefferson’s ideals, saying:

All honor to Jefferson – to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.

Anyone, including the uninformed masses at the University of Virginia, claiming Jefferson was a force for evil clearly have no idea what they are talking about. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if these people’s brains have succumb to rot so far to their core that they would claim Lincoln was pro-slavery. It does exist.

The last point that must be made is one that is probably at the center of the anti-Jefferson rhetoric – that is the fact that Jefferson owned slaves. A lesser known fact, but Jefferson had bondsman on his property of Monticello. In the book Author of America, it i mentioned that Jefferson received the slaves from his father in-law and begrudgingly kept some of them. In time he did free seven of the members of the Hemmings family – the family I will talk about in a later post. The slaves he did keep were known to have been treated exceptionally well. One problem with freeing large groups of slaves is that they ran the risk of being captured and re-enslaved to a worse mater than before. because of that, freeing all of his slaves was just not practical or ideal for the bondsman.  Jefferson was a lover of freedom and loved his slaves like his own family – there is still a small grave yard at Monticello where Mr. Jefferson buried his slaves. A practice that is largely unheard of. Like I said, I will go into the Hemmings relationship with Jefferson in a later post, but let me leave this one with a quote that perfectly embodies Jefferson’s feelings about slavery from a letter to Thomas Cooper in 1814:

There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.