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Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy Paperback – March 29, 1998
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Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Sally Hemings was 1/4 African in descent, 3/4's European. By all accounts, she was a picture of beauty. Jefferson was, apparently, unexpectedly presented with her youthful beauty when Sally accompanied his youngest daughter from his former, deceased wife to France where Jefferson was representing US government interests.
Some reviewers have referred to Jefferson as a rapist and a child molestor. I think that's a bit much. The "past is a different place" as some thoughtful historian once described it. Teenage girls in the 18th century--and for much of the 19th century--were seen as legitimate romantic interests and potential wives for middle aged men of substance. It, apparently, was not particularly frowned upon during that period. Gordon-Reed gives an example of this with Jefferson's friend James Madison who was hopelessly in love with a teenage girl. She rejected him for someone closer to her own age. However, he eventually wound up with a much younger Dolly Madison for a wife. And apparently was not socially condemned for it. The past is a different place. Not better by any means, necessarily, but different. Something to keep in mind....
The author makes the argument that Jefferson's real sin was not in loving a "slave girl." The real sin was his enslavement of other humans for his own financial benefit. He couldn't let go of the financial benefits and the ease of living that his slaves brought him.Read more ›
Malone, Dumas, Wills, Adair - all have tried to paint "Dusky Sally" as a prostitute, and Jefferson as something akin to a saint. Using letters and their "intellectual imaginations" they surmise that someone as morally impeccable as Jefferson could not have been involved with a slave, although he evidently wasn't morally impeccable enough not to sell many of them on the auction block upon his death.
I've always admired Jefferson for his contributions to American governance and culture - that he might have fathered children by Sally Hemings in a 38 year long affair only enhances his distinction for me. He was a man with needs - ok, a genius, but a man all the same. He promised his wife that he wouldn't remarry. And Sally, being the half sister of his wife, Martha, could have been the kind of arms he sought refuge in.
Becoming lovers with a slave was not uncommon. Although it was rarely discussed in polite circles, "masters" often found that taking slaves as concubines limited their responsiblities, while at the same time helped fulfill their needs. One has to remember that many slaves looked very similar to their white "masters." Sally Hemings, for example, was 3/4 white, "with long, straight hair down her back." This doesn't negate her slave status, or make her more "acceptable"; rather, pointing out the "whiteness" of these slaves shows just how incredibly foreign the idea of slavery is to the natural state.
Gordon Reed makes an excellent case in her book.Read more ›
The truth, unfortunately, is more complicated, and in an odd way this book hints at why historians are forced to use different standards. There is no compromise solution to this controversy, Jefferson either fathered these children or he didn't, some part of our regard for this important figure hangs in the balance, and yet there is no evidence which settles the matter conclusively, not even a perponderance of evidence which suggests that one outcome is more likely.
What of the famous "DNA evidence"? It's a wash. Those who pay careful attention to what the article in "Nature" found will discover that this scientific evidence disproved a whole branch of oral testimony of alleged Jefferson descendants which, ironicly, had been the strongest evidence up to that point for the liason. Hemmings did not have a child by Jefferson when the two were in Paris, that has now been proven scientifically beyond all doubt, so some arguments in this book have been overtaken by events.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I got these dates from the web, so I'm going to assume that they are correct. Thomas Jefferson's daughter Maria died on April 17, 1804. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Mike Huffman
A very in depth analysis. Analyzes the times and dates as well as where the names came fromPublished 4 months ago by Bill Pautz
Whether you believe it or not Sally Hemings story needed to be told. This is one of the most objective accounts I've read.Published 10 months ago by Kindle Customer