Jefferson's sex life...why does it matter?
This political cartoon depicts Thomas Jefferson "courting" Sally Hemings.
Jefferson's political opponents used it to discredit Jefferson during the 1804 election.
A new book has been released challenging the notion that Thomas Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings’ children. It is the latest contribution to a historical debate that has been going on for centuries. One side of the argument believes that Jefferson was involved in an adult-relationship with Sally Hemings which resulted in the birth of six children. Naysayers claim that it was his brother Randolph who is the rightful father.
DNA testing conducted in 1998 concluded that Thomas Jefferson was most likely the father of Elston Hemings and possibly five other slave siblings. In 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation conducted its own investigation that drew the same conclusion. The Heritage Society disagreed with these findings and established their own committee to look into the affair. In 2001, they released a report disputing both of their counterpart’s conclusions. This 400-page book, titled Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission, is the commissions’ final product from this investigation.
I certainly intend to buy this book as I consider myself to be very well read on Mr. Jefferson. In fact, with the exception of “Stonewall” Jackson, I don’t believe I have studied more material on any other person. I have casually posted about this subject from time to time and tend to line up with the Foundation’s findings. I often wonder what really drives this debate. Why do some people feel the need to defend Thomas Jefferson while others chastise him? I have personally witnessed scholars, historians and regular everyday people becoming emotional over this subject. (“Pissed-off” is more of an accurate description.) So, what exactly is the big deal? Is this really a search for truth, or do folks take issue with this accusation on a personal level?
There are many complex facets to this story… You have the master and slave relationship, the older man and younger woman, the interracial aspect, and the illegitimate children? Back then it would have been (and almost was) a HUGE scandal, but other than the human-bondage aspect, this kind of relationship is fairly common in today’s world. Yes, the idea that a Founding Father was involved in a sexual relationship with a young slave girl and possibly sired multiple children is a bit controversial. That said…
Assuming that it is true and Thomas Jefferson was involved in a consenting physical relationship with a Sally Hemings, so what? Can anyone blame him? His wife had passed away before he turned 40 and he never remarried. He was a widower, with needs. If he had sex with a young, attractive woman is that really for us to judge? By all accounts that we have, the relationship between the two was not one of forced physicality. Yes Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves over the course of his life, but he was not known to have sexually abused them. Sally was not raped as far as we know. There appears to have been a mutual like between them. So whatever the nature of their experiences together it does not appear to have been cruel.
One could argue the morality of this situation, but I don’t think that applies to how we should view Jefferson’s overall contributions to society. He had his share of faults for sure, first and foremost being a slave-owner. The fact that he owned Sally does add an element of disappointment to the mix. However, it doesn't diminish the fact that from what we know, the nature of their affection appears to be sincere.
So although we will never know for sure whether it was Thomas or Randolph Jefferson who fathered Sally Hemings’ children, people need to accept the reality that he was, beyond everything else, a man. What he did in the privacy of his own bedroom should have no bearing on how we regard his accomplishments today. Personally, I don't care who he slept with. It should only matter to the descendants of the Jeffersons and the Hemings. The rest of us are either meddlers or prudes.
JJ. Bell over at Boston 1775 has posted a couple excellent pieces relating to the "Join, or Die." flag: The “Join, or Die” Rattlesnake - The Rattlesnake Reforms. This is the banner that I fly at my home and is the namesake behind this blog’s title. Enjoy.
Posted by ny5/pinstripepress
at 9:59 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2011 11:24 AM EDT
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Today it gives me great pleasure to announce that All-Access Battlefield Tours (LLC) is officially open for business!
AABT is a new private tour service designed especially for wheelchair travelers who wish to fully explore and experience the hallowed grounds of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, VA. AABT’s all‐accessible individual or group tours take visitors, their families and friends directly to historical hotspots while moving at their own pace. In order to provide a safe and comfortable expedition, visitors have the option of being transferred to customized travel wheelchairs that feature special wheels and canopies. These rugged outdoor chairs, combined with portable ramps, enable visitors to traverse fields, trails and roads that are otherwise inaccessible. Each experience includes complete accessibility assistance and the highest quality tours, featuring a unique staff of experts made up of local historians, authors and preservationists.
We are scheduling tours to begin on the first weekend of October. To view our press release, brochure, blog and contact information, visit our website at www.pinstripepress.net/AABT.html. Each wheelchair traveler will receive a special package containing battlefield maps, information on NPS tour site accessibility, travel wheelchair literature, discounts on our guide’s books, DVDs and more.
I am very thankful for all of the media coverage that AABT has already received. Tomorrow I am doing an interview with Clint Schemmer at The Free Lance-Star. On Saturday I will be shooting some video on the battlefield at the Slaughter Pen Farm to promote our service online. Both items will be posted here upon completion. Until then, here are links to some of the other promotions that AABT has received in recent weeks. Thanks to all of these folks for helping to make my dream a reality.
Civil War Trust
Civil War Traveler
Civil War News
Civil War Courier
Fredericksburg Tourism Bureau
Rollins Rains Report
Little Touch of History
Confederate Book Review
Also look for us in upcoming issues of Special Living and Palaestra Magazine.
The Constitution: Is it broken?
The Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia PA.
Strictly an Op-Ed…
On September 17, 1787, the United States Constitution was signed solidifying the newly formed American nation as a united republic. Each year on this date, Constitution Day is recognized as the national day of celebration commemorating the ratification of this vital document.
America’s political divide has sparked a renewed interest in the Constitution. I cannot think of any other time in which this charter has been more hotly debated by both sides of the political spectrum. Each party seems to have assumed proprietorship over the Constitution in order to support their own respective agendas. This biased exploitation has forced voters on both sides to reexamine the document in an attempt to not only interpret what the Founding Fathers may have intended, but also to determine how the document’s precepts fit in today’s modern society.
Some analysts and attorneys have stated that the Constitution has become antiquated and far too restrictive. To them, it prevents the country from achieving any substantial political growth. Others believe the document to be infallible and demand that it remain exactly as is. (The last addition to the Constitution occurred in 1992 when the Twenty-seventh Amendment prohibited any law that increased or decreased the salary of members of the Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives.)
As a document that both empowers and limits government, it is understandable that the Constitution is viewed differently. In one camp, constitutional experts believe that the charter begs updating as America has undergone radical changes over the last 200 years. This includes drastic expansion in the country’s culture, ethnicity, religious mixes, and technology. The United States is a much more diverse and tolerant society, whose status in the world has been drastically altered in recent years. One could also argue that the size and structure of the government has grown far beyond its constitutional framework and that the Founding Fathers could never have envisioned the global society that we live in today.
Others believe that the U.S. Constitution must remain untouched and preserved in order to maintain the sanctity of the oldest government charter that is still in effect. When it was drafted, America was an infantile, largely untapped area, rich in natural resources and lacking in population. It had risen against all odds to defeat the most powerful military on the planet in order to secure an unlikely independence. It also became the first country to go from straight colonialism to a democratic republic. In their minds, the Constitution must be preserved as the keystone in the legislative foundation of the country.
Both sides have a point. There is something extraordinary about the United States Constitution and we should all remain eternally grateful to the men who crafted it. At the same time ‘their world’ no longer resembles ‘our world’ and America must adapt. We appear to be running in place while less gifted countries are passing us by.
While on campaign in 2008, Senator Barak Obama stated that people tend to focus on what the Constitution says the government can’t do, while he prefers to focus on what it says the government can do. Following his election, the Tea Party vehemently opposed this perspective stating that the U.S. Constitution is the most significant restraint on Federal power that we have.
There is the inherent risk of preventing political progress in favor of preserving the past. I think the answer comes down to accountability, enforcing what the Constitution says, while proposing more amendments for what it doesn’t. It can be a working and living document if managed in the way it was intended. It should guide us in what the government can’t do, but perhaps even more important in today’s world, it should help us identify what the government can do.
My opinion is that the U.S. Constitution should not be viewed as a political hindrance and the United States Government should not be viewed as the enemy by its own people. If neither appears to be working then logic dictates that a change is necessary. Change can be good.
The architect and author of the document James Madison himself said, “Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”
Perhaps we should look no further for guidance than Abraham Lincoln who calls upon all of us to first change ourselves in order to change our government. He said, “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”
Posted by ny5/pinstripepress
at 10:35 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2011 10:11 AM EDT
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