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"Dancing with the Devil in the City of God" A deeply reported and beautifully written biography of the seductive and chaotic city of Rio de Janeiro, from prizewinning journalist Juliana Barbassa. Learn more
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I was a history major in college and believe that Virginus Dabney makes excellent use of both primary and secondary sources, unlike Brodie who merely speculates about Jefferson's love life without providing any facts. Dabney's book is written like a history thesis with a little bit of humor between the lines. Brodie's book reads like a novel and should be in the fiction section, not with the biographies.
I take offense to one of the comments below assuming that white readers who accept the occurance of the Maria Cosway affair, while "denying" the Hemmings affair are racist... this is simply ridiculous. History is not about what we think should have happened. It's about what did happen based on the available evidence. If the evidence says that Thomas Jefferson had an affair with a slave, fine, but my hunch is that Jefferson did not father Sally Hemmings' children and that his nephew was the father. However, my opinion is based on the evidence that is currently available and does not make me a racist.
As Dabney points out, the fact that prominent historians such as Gary Wills in addition to the three leading Jeffersonian experts in the world also doubt the historical integrity of Brodie's book adds credibility to Dabney's thesis statement. Brodie was not qualified to write such a "comprehensive" analysis of Jefferson's life. Her background was not in history, so what is she doing pretending to be an historian?
The Jefferson Scandals: A Rebuttal - by Virginius Dabney
Virginius Dabney (February 8, 1901 - December 28, 1995) was a U.S. teacher, journalist, writer, and editor. He was the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 1936 to 1969. His mother was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson's sister Martha Carr and his father was the son of a Confederate veteran.
Largely forgotten charges that Thomas Jefferson had a handsome light-skinned slave as his mistress for several decades have been resurrected in a recent Jefferson biography. This book was followed by a popular novel elaborating upon the same theme. 'The appearance of these works has brought to public attention allegations that were first given currency a year after Jefferson became president of the United States in 1801. Growing out of the charges were others to the effect that a beautiful daughter of the master of Monticello and his purported paramour was sold into prostitution in the New Orleans slave market, with Jefferson's knowledge and consent.
The question whether the allegations are true is actually a peripheral one, since the renown of Jefferson as an innovator in government, education, science, law, architecture, agriculture, and other fields is such that nothing can shake it. However, revival of the charges makes it highly desirable that they be appraised. A monopoly of books (all paternity believers) written since the DNA results have gone far beyond the evidence and transmuted conjecture into apparent fact, and in most instances, engaged in a careless misreading of the record.
The virulent rumor was first started by the scandal-mongering journalist James Callender, who burned for political revenge against Jefferson.Read more ›
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The current DNA testing apparently links SOME MALE of the Jefferson line with the African female. American historians have consistently indicated that there are several candidates for who that male could have been, given the known opportunities and timing.
Importantly, it does NOT 'prove' that Thomas Jefferson himself fathered any child by this female. For those who understand the most basic concepts of DNA and genetic inheritance, it is obvious that TJ cannot be shown to be the 'paternity' until and when his own DNA is tested, if ever.
Put another way: NO -- as a result of the latest DNA testing -- it has not ever been 'proved' that TJ fathered any child by Sally Hemmings, nor ever had any relations with her. Until his own DNA is tested -- if ever -- that story remains a spurious conjecture, if not slander.
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Note to a previous reviewer: Virginius Dabney was a man. He was a longtime Virginia newspaper editor and died shortly after "The Jefferson Scandals" was published. He was unquestionably a sincere gentleman and passionate in his defense of Jefferson's honor and purity. He didn't live to see the definitive DNA evidence that confirms the Sally Hemings relationship. The consistent denials of the affair by Jefferson apologists, in my opinion, involve more than a tinge of racism. These same scholars have no problem affirming Jefferson's liaison with Maria Cosway, who was probably much less virtuous than Sally Hemings. It is entertaining, however, to read Dabney's book with Fawn Brodie's back-to-back. We eagerly await an up-to-date Jefferson biography that fully explores the new evidence.