Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

By Spangler, Jewel L. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Autumn 1997 | Go to article overview

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy


Spangler, Jewel L., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.' An American Controversy. By ANNETTE GORDoN-REED. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1997. xv, 288 pp. $29.95.

UNTIL recently, scholars and the public alike have been quick to dismiss rumors that Thomas Jefferson had a long-term relationship with, and fathered the children of, his slave seamstress, Sally Hemings-allegations first put into print by disgruntled journalist James Thomson Callender in 1802. It is now impossible to turn these accusations aside unthinkingly, because Annette Gordon-Reed has compiled an impressive body of evidence that could serve to support the allegations, while carefully exposing historians' efforts to suppress and ignore that evidence. Her work forces a reconsideration not only of Jefferson's life, but also of the unconscious, and at times racist, assumptions that have long tainted interpretation of the historical record in this case.

Many Jefferson supporters and scholars, from his time to ours, have vigorously refuted Callender's charges in print. Gordon-Reed asserts that the men she calls "Jefferson's defenders" arrived at dead certainty about the falsehood of the allegations only because they disregarded the sources, most of which were generated by African Americans, that could have undermined their convictions. Gordon-Reed's aim is not to settle the debate (she believes that surviving evidence will not support a definitive conclusion), but to shine light on the backstage battle to control "public impressions of the amount and the nature of the evidence" (p. xv) and to correct the short shrift given to African-American testimony. Take, for example, the 1873 autobiography of Hemings's son, Madison Hemings, in which he maintained that his parents' relationship began while Jefferson and Hemings were in France in the 1780s and that his mother returned to Monticello pregnant, after extracting a promise that her children would be freed at the age of twenty-one. Gordon-Reed castigates Jefferson's defenders for dismissing Hemings as a dupe of the former abolitionists or as a man desperate enough to lie about his parentage to gain community respect, when much of his narrative is verifiable by independent sources and has been corroborated by another Monticello slave. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.