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Monday, July 11, 2016

UN-REVISING HISTORY: THE HYPOCRISY OF THOMAS JEFFERSON


Feeling Rebloggy

Some writers, grotesquely, have romanticized the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. As our Monticello guide pointed out, a relationship between a master and slave cannot be consensual, let alone romantic. The relationship might have begun as early as 1787, when Jefferson took Hemings to Paris for two years. He was 43, she 14. She gave birth to the first of their six children in 1795. Jefferson never freed Hemings. After his death in 1826, Jefferson’s daughter Martha allowed Hemings to leave Monticello and live out her days in nearby Charlottesville.





*The Monticello website notes that “in the few scattered references to Sally Hemings in Thomas Jefferson’s records and correspondence, there is nothing to distinguish her from other members of her family.”


While I have heard that Jefferson was attracted to 14 year old Hemings because she looked so very much like his late wife (as they shared the same father) Jefferson still may have viewed Sally Hemings merely as valuable livestock, or “capital.”


It is also possible that Jefferson simply thought of black people, and black women in particular, as too simple minded to look after themselves without a white master. Much has been written on the subject of Jefferson's well-meaning, benevolent paternalism by white historians without going into too much detail about Jefferson's inability to set his slaves free because they would be needed to pay off debts incurred by living such a lavish lifestyle.


However, he wrote this about female slaves in 1820: “I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm… What she produces is an addition to the capital, while his labors disappear in mere consumption."  





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Even judged by his era’s standards, the actions of the slave-owning founding father fell too far short of his professed ideals.

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