Friday, June 17, 2011

What the MSM Doesn't Tell You: Reasonable Doubts Persist Regarding the Claims that Jefferson Fathered Some or All of the Children of His Slave Sally

While the tests did show that one descendent of Sally Hemings had a Jefferson male line haplotype, … there are at least seven Jeffersons other than Thomas with that same haplotype who were frequent visitors to Monticello and may also have been the father (John H. Works, Jr)
In view of the fact that the rumor of Thomas Jefferson being the father of one of his slave's children (and thus a hypocrite and/or a liar) has been taken as an established fact ever since the famous DNA tests of 1998 — it has been brought up a couple of times recently on Instapundit, albeit more as an aside (and remember that in the Army of Davids, Glenn Reynolds is General Dwight (David) Eisenhower) — it bears mentioning that there are quite a few serious scholars who are not convinced that TJ (as my history teacher used to call the man who penned the Declaration of Independence) fathered the children of Sally Hemings.

During my visit to Monticello in February, I picked up a couple of books on the subject. (Many, if not most books sold at the Monticello book shop do accept the proposition that TJ shared his bed with Sally and it is important to note that there is a spat between two bodies involved in this controversy — Monticello's Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which propounds the father story, and the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, which denies it.)

Indeed, a number of authors bring the theme into question (either as an aside or as their main subject) — pointing out that there are at least "seven other [members of the Jefferson family], any one of whom could have fathered [say] Eston Hemings" and more likely, indeed, to have done so in view of their character or the lack thereof (dissolute lives and/or a lack of interest in politics and personal renown).

You will notice that in negative comments on their books on Amazon, the authors are regularly denounced as imbeciles, radicals, extremists, lunatic white people, or, or course, racists. (A couple of examples from the press come from the New York Times who referred to the "Hemings-Jefferson Deniers" as "Desperate" and from American Heritage's editor-in-chief, who ridiculed "the extremes to which the true disbelievers are driven in their fervor to exonerate the third president from charges of miscegenation.")

Of course, it is not impossible that the skeptics are deluded (far from it), but do you recognize a common theme here? It's the age-old racer movement in operation again, demonizing, as racists or worse, anybody who does not agree with their self-serving platitudes or who is even the tiniest bit skeptical of their claims ("warts and all" or otherwise). Even to the point of using a "deliberately loaded term" — "Deniers" — likened (à la Al Gore) in at least one instance to "Holocaust deniers". (Plus ça change…)

According to David Murray's contribution to the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society's The Jefferson-Hemings Myth (Anatomy of a Media Run-Away), the whole affair sounds uncomfortably like the JournOlist all over again, a decade before the JournOlist:
Much of the coverage [when the story surfaced in 1998] demonstrated a remarkable flight from careful and skeptical reporting. All too often, the news stories, commentary, and analysis transformed an intriguing but admittedly indeterminate scientific finding into a dead certainty. Several journalists went on to turn the DNA results into some sort of referendum on the current state of race relations and presidential politics [Bill Clinton was in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal]…

What did the DNA match positively establish? The findings show a probability that the DNA of Eston [Hemings] shows a descent from some male in the Jefferson paternal line [but not necessarily, and conclusively, from Thomas Jefferson himself] …

It became apparent to anyone following the actual evidentiary trail that more was going on here than strict science; in some measure, Thomas Jefferson had become a national symbol on a a battlefield of the current culture war, his behavior being treated by media and by many scholars as an implicit referendum on race, gender, and Clintonian politics ["the story gave the everybody-does-it line both pedigree and prestige," Charles Krautahammer wrote a few days before 1998's mid-term elections]. Some news accounts made this moral narrative quite explicit [examples follow from Newsweek, Reuters, and the Washington Post, among others]…
The conclusion is given by John H. Works, Jr:
Historical revisionism is perfectly legitimate when it rests on a careful reassessment of the past. But what is presented as revision in this case is based on a misleading headline in the journal Nature, scientific evidence that was interpreted unscientifically, and conclusions in the media that have no basis in the actual scientific facts. [The above are linked to the] efforts by many historical revisionists to portray Thomas Jefferson as a hypocrite, a liar, and a fraud.

While the tests did show that one descendent of Sally Hemings had a Jefferson male line haplotype, … there are at least seven Jeffersons other than Thomas with that same haplotype who were frequent visitors to Monticello and may also have been the father

Without doubt, Thomas Jefferson is the foremost intellectual founder of our nation, and the chief spokesman for those principles of liberty and self-government that have become the guiding light to oppressed people around the globe. … The allegations concerning his behavior do not merely provide an interesting sidelight on an otherwise great man. They are, in fact, frontal assault on him and his principles, and have as a stated purpose by many proponents the aim to throw out those principles and replace them with something new but as yet poorly defined.