In Defense of Mr. Thomas Jefferson

I recently finished watching the HBO mini-series John Adams. I think it is one of the best historical productions I have ever seen. Much more accurate than Mel Gibson’s over produced monstrosity¬†The Patriot. I haven’t read a lot about John Adams, but the film incorporated a lot of events and dialog I had read about in the biographies of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, therefore I was confident that the depiction of Adams was in deed accurate. The series also gave me a strong desire to read more about Mr. Adams, our second President. I encourage you to watch it if you get a chance. My only issue with the series, aside from a few¬†historical inaccuracies, was the depiction of Thomas Jefferson in the last episode “Peacefield.”

In the early episodes it showed Jefferson as a some-what timid man, this may or may not have been accurate, and while I felt it was a poor representation of the man I let it slide because it was a, after all, a series about John Adams, not Thomas Jefferson. The problem arrises in the final episode when Adams begins to correspond with Jefferson again after the death of his beloved wife Abigail. As they write letters back and forth we see them age and grow weaker; Adams in the fields walking, Jefferson at Monticello. Then towards the very end of the episode we see both Adams and Jefferson die. Adams is surrounded by family as he dies. Jefferson is surrounded by his slaves, one is an unnamed woman who is crying as Jefferson passes away.

The obvious insinuation is that the woman is Sally Hemings, the slave who accompanied Jefferson and his daughter to France when Jefferson took over as ambassador to France when Benjamin Franklin retired. She is also the woman who is presumed to have had a sexual relationship with Mr. Jefferson. The common held belief by most Americans is that Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson started a relationship in France that continued for the rest of his life at Monticello. It is also believed that Jefferson fathered several children with her.

Those who support this belief point out that the relationship began after Jefferson’s wife died, which him depressed and alone. This means that if the theory is true, Jefferson was never guilty of infidelity. There are several writings by Jefferson were he explains his love for his wife and the pain of her death. It is clear he loved his wife dearly, and it hard to say if his loneliness would lead him to enter into a relationship with someone else after her death, because of his deep devotion towards her.

The problem with all the Sally Hemings speculation is that it is just that… speculation. There is no hard evidence of any such relationship. And the problem with speculation is that it has a nasty way of turning into something worse; the “truth”. If you ask the average person on the street they will probably tell you that Jefferson had a relationship with one of his slaves. It is so deeply believed in America today that it isn’t even questioned.

I am not saying Jefferson, or any of the Founding Fathers, were perfect, but I am saying they deserve to be remembered and judged on things they actually did. Continue reading