In Defense of Thomas Jefferson

In Defense of Thomas Jefferson

The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal

Book - 2009
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The belief that Thomas Jefferson had an affair and fathered a child (or children) with slave Sally Hemings---and that such an allegation was proven by DNA testing--has become so pervasive in American popular culture that it is not only widely accepted but taught to students as historical fact . But as William G. Hyland Jr. demonstrates, this "fact" is nothing more than the accumulation of salacious rumors and irresponsible scholarship over the years, much of it inspired by political grudges, academic opportunism, and the trend of historical revisionism that seeks to drag the reputation of the Founding Fathers through the mud. In this startling and revelatory argument, Hyland shows not only that the evidence against Jefferson is lacking, but that in fact he is entirely innocent ofthe charge of having sexual relations with Hemings.

Historians have the wrong Jefferson. Hyland, an experienced trial lawyer, presents the most reliable historical evidence while dissecting the unreliable, and in doing so he cuts through centuries of unsubstantiated charges. The author reminds us that the DNA tests identified Eston Hemings, Sally's youngest child, as being merely the descendant of a "Jefferson male." Randolph Jefferson, the president's wayward, younger brother with a reputation for socializing among the Monticello slaves, emerges as the most likely of several possible candidates. Meanwhile, the author traces the evolution of this rumor about Thomas Jefferson back to the allegation made by one James Callendar, a "drunken ruffian" who carried a grudge after unsuccessfully lobbying the president for a postmaster appointment---and who then openly bragged of ruining Jefferson's reputation. Hyland also delves into Hemings family oral histories that go against the popular rumor, as well as the ways in which the Jefferson rumors were advanced by less-than-historical dramas and by flawed scholarly research often shaped by political agendas.

Reflecting both a layperson's curiosity and a lawyer's precision, Hyland definitively puts to rest the allegation of the thirty-eight-year liaison between Jefferson and Hemings. In doing so, he reclaims the nation's third president from the arena of Hollywood-style myth and melodrama and gives his readers a unique opportunity to serve as jurors on this enduringly fascinating episode in American history.

Publisher: New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 2009.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780312561000
0312561008
Branch Call Number: 973.46 Hyland 08/2009
Characteristics: xix, 292 p. ;,25 cm.

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floy
Jul 04, 2011

This book tries to refute claims that Thomas Jefferson impregnated one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.
Hyland writes that Jefferson could not have fathered a child with Sally Hemings because Jefferson was a perfect gentleman, a man of refinement and intellect. Having an affair with a “house servant� (meaning slave) would be preposterously out of character for Jefferson, the author maintains.
Many of our early Presidents owned slaves and somehow didn't see that as a conflict with being a perfect gentleman; I hardly think having sex with their “property� would have been considered incompatible with being a gentleman since Southern gentlemen had been doing that very thing for 200 years.
The author claimed to be shocked that Jefferson (a prolific journal writer and letter writer) never wrote about what Hyland described as an “exotic sexual liaison with his servant�. How many white men in those days did write about their sex habits at all, much less with the slaves? Since Sally Hemings was a slave, she could hardly refuse her owner's attentions. Sex between “owners� and slaves were often either forced rape or the result of strong verbal pressure from men who could have an enslaved woman beaten or sold. I would hardly call that an “exotic sexual liaison�. Nor would I expect men to brag about it in their journals or letters.
Mr. Hyland further claims that the lack of any evidence from Sally Hemings indicates Jefferson's innocence. He doesn't seem to understand that slaves were usually illiterate since it was against the law to teach them to read or write. It's quite understandable that she wouldn't have written about Jefferson. He also said no obituary was written about her that claimed Jefferson was the father of her child. Huh? I believe back then slaves didn't get their obituaries printed in the local paper.
One proof the author offers to refute the allegations is that it would be so terribly inconsistent with Jefferson's persona. Jefferson had been quoted as saying that the crime he most abhorred was miscegenation. That was the standard Southern man's position and yet many of them had sex with slaves. It's hardly unusual that a human being is inconsistent and hypocritical.
The author criticizes people who vilify Jefferson as a slave-owning hypocrite, misogynist and racist. From my point of view, he is clearly all three. No one denies that he owned slaves and enslaving African people is inherently racist. He was instrumental in the birth of this nation and wrote eloquently about how all people are created equal and yet he held slaves. Is that not the epitome of hypocrisy? And yes, he is misogynist because he did not believe women were equal either and had no intention of allowing them to vote. He enslaved black women just as he enslaved black men.
I only read about fifty pages of the book; I couldn't stand to go on.

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