Medium Writer Calls his Opinions about Jefferson “Facts”
- Author indicts Founding Father with superficial history of the American Founding
- Sal, Medium Freelancer, looks to revise our opinion about a well-loved Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson
- Sal conducts the normal leftist criticism of hypocrisy to the American Founders
- However, his “facts” lack context and a balanced approach to understanding the imperfect lives of men
OUR RATING: Trash Journalism, aka the Daily Beast.
The political left hates Thomas Jefferson and will say whatever it takes to tear him down. America’s founding fathers are guilty until proven innocent, and so we all collectively ready ourselves for the peculiar left-wing pastime of modern morality passion plays as they relate to American icons.
The author gives the reader “14 Disgusting Facts About President Thomas Jefferson’s Private Life” that are anything but factual. The worst is that Sal misrepresents Jefferson’s character by omitting historical context and purposely assuming bad faith on the part of the privileged, straight, white male. Sal indicts Jefferson on the basis of unsubstantiated claims and bad faith representations of American history.
- Opinion as Fact
- Superficial Investigation
- Missing Context
To fact check all 14 claims would test the patience of any reader, so I will focus on facts 2-4 concerning Jefferson’s supposed affair with his slave Sally Hemings, and facts 7 and 8, concerning Jefferson’s dedication to ending slavery.
Here’s what Sal says about Thomas and Sally having a relationship:
- An Affair with a Teen Slave — Sally Hemings
After Jefferson’s wife’s demise, he started having a sexually active relationship with a fourteen-year-old slave that he possessed. Sally Hemings initially was a maid at Jefferson’s place in Paris, but she traded her free life and came with Jefferson back to the United States as a slave with an agreement with him to free her children. It is quite unsettling that Jefferson keenly agreed to this demand of a fourteen-year-old and proceeded to have six children with her.
3. Owned his own family?
It is plausible and widely speculated that Sally Hemings herself was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife. For a person who championed liberty and freedom, he seemed not to provide that for his own family.
4. No Freedom for Sally
Sally Hemings gave herself up for Jefferson’s promise of freeing her children in the future, yet her own fate was planned very differently by him. Jefferson never formally acknowledged her as his wife, and despite Sally bearing multiple children, Jefferson made sure that Sally was never a free woman, even at his deathbed.
Sal’s “facts” concerning Sally Hemings and Jefferson misrepresent the nature of Jefferson’s long-rumored affair with his slave. At best, Sal superficially investigated the issue. At worst, Sal presents his settled opinion as settled fact, when in reality the scholarly evidence is inconclusive.     Sal’s source is a brief account from the Jefferson Monticello website.  From this website, Sal concludes that Jefferson “started having a sexually active relationship with a fourteen-year-old slave” Sally Hemings.
However, if one actually bothers to read the brief account, one will find this useful piece of information: a “committee commissioned by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, after reviewing essentially the same material, reached different conclusions, namely that Sally Hemings was only a minor figure in Thomas Jefferson’s life and that it is very unlikely he fathered any of her children.” The commission, after reviewing DNA, original documents, written and oral historical accounts, and statistical data “suggested in its report, issued in April 2001 and revised in 2011, that Jefferson’s younger brother Randolph (1755-1815) was more likely the father of at least some of Sally Hemings’s children.”  According to John H. Works, Jr, a former president of Monticello and Jefferson descendant several facts make it difficult to pin the affair on Thomas Jefferson, and not his descendants:
- DNA tests can only provide a link between any one of 8 Jeffersons who could have been the father of Eston. There was nothing specific to indicate it was Thomas.
- The same Y chromosome existed in Mr. Jefferson’s brother Randolph, who lived 20 miles from Monticello, and in 5 of Randolph’s sons, who were in their teens or 20s when Sally Hemings was having children. 
This is anything but damning. It seems that Sal has chosen one side of the account to believe, and yet proclaims it as indubitable evidence. The paternity of Eston is used to retroactively assume that the same father is the father for all of Hemings’ children. One can surely doubt the definiteness of this fact by doing just a summary search on the topic. The scholarly evidence is conflicting and the issue is anything but balanced.
It is also notable that Sally Hemings gave birth to Eston Hemings in 1808 when Sally was 35, Thomas was 65, and Randolph was 53. There is an argument that Thomas may not have been able to biologically perform the conception of Hemings’ children. Randolph rewrote his will a week after Eston was born, and was fathering children 7 years after Eston was born in 1815, at the age of 59, the year he died. Other than the alleged children with Hemings, Thomas’ last known child, a daughter Lucy who died as a toddler, was born when he was aged 39 in 1782.
The final fact concerning Sally is that Jefferson never freed her, though he freed her children. Since Hemings left no written accounts of her life, to attribute injustice to Jefferson is assuming bad faith. Many slaves at the time, even if they were freed, had almost no prospects at finding a better life. For a woman slave getting older, being freed may have been her death sentence and not her salvation. Though this is a harsh reality, it may be a plausible explanation for why Jefferson never freed her. But this is just added context that Sal fails to include.
However, the most egregious and clearly unfactual are ‘facts’ 7 and 8:
- Hypocrisy at its finest
Jefferson’s efforts to end slavery were mere performative acts done to gain social and political clout so he could gain traction within the minorities and tap into another part of the voter base, gaining their sympathy. His halfhearted attempts at ending slavery by calling it ‘political warfare’ coupled with his clear ownership of multiple hundred slaves meant that he never wanted a better, free future for the African American slaves. Still, he was a part of this horrible warfare himself.
8. The Declaration of Independence (read: Slavery)
In 1776, Jefferson proposed multiple racist legislation, which meant that states could bar slaves that were free from leaving a particular vicinity or even leaving it. This form of gatekeeping meant that even free slaves were never free, and they had to be subject to anyone that was not black. In some of his legislation, he tried to prevent the increase in the population of black individuals in the United States at all costs. Jefferson also was extremely harsh towards recaptured slaves who wanted to run away and allowed punishments such as flogging to slaves that tried to run for their lives under draconian masters.
The first fact “Hypocrisy at its finest” claims that “Jefferson’s efforts to end slavery were mere performative acts done to gain social and political clout so he could gain traction within the minorities and tap into another part of the voter base.” Let’s forget for a moment that slaves and minorities couldn’t vote, so gaining traction with minorities wouldn’t make any sense.
Let’s also forget that Sal doesn’t specifically cite a source with examples of this behavior. What would make sense, if we were being generous, is that Jefferson was doing this to attract Northern votes. However, if this fact is referring to Jefferson’s bid for governor in Virginia, this clearly doesn’t make any sense. If Sal is referring to Jefferson’s bid for the presidency, the election concerned the Federalists versus Anti-Federalists, which had almost nothing to do with slavery.
In fact, Jefferson’s primary base were farmers, who supported local and state sovereignty over a strong federal government, not Northerners. Thus, Jefferson’s acts being “performative” to gin up sympathy defies reason.
Second, Sal writes that Jefferson’s “ clear ownership of multiple hundred slaves meant that he never wanted a better, free future for the African American slaves.” We seemed destined to hear this kind of tripe forever thanks to the Communists who run our colleges. Sal is incapable of separating principle from practice. Simply freeing all slaves could not be done with the passing of a single law or the presidency of one, even brilliant, statesman.
Thomas Sowell in one of his books, illustrated this dilemma well: “Deciding that slavery was wrong was much easier than deciding what to do with millions of people from another continent, of another race, and without any historical preparation for living as free citizens in a society like that of the United States, where they were 20 percent of the population.” 
This transitions us nicely into Sal’s second factual claim called: “The Declaration of Independence (Read: slavery).” We hear the same kind of argument we did in the last fact. The factual claim made here is that the Declaration of Independence “meant that states could bar slaves that were free from leaving a particular vicinity or even leaving it.” To lay all the faults of the American revolutionary moment at Jefferson’s feet is wholly unfair and unbalanced. Most importantly, Sal excludes the context that makes this action reasonable despite Jefferson’s principled opposition to slavery.
The context is this: to preserve the Union and provide liberty to at least the majority of the population from British despotism, certain concessions had to be made to Southern states who were firmly in support of slavery. Jefferson and other American statesmen, prudent as they were, knew that perfection should not be the enemy of the good. However, the main principle in the Declaration “all men are created equal” was something American society would constantly be striving for, though human imperfection would mean they would always fall short. As the slavery crisis began to accelerate, Jefferson knew better than anyone that American slavery would eventually take its toll on American unity for their inconstancy to the principles of the Founding: “we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.”  None of this can be found in Sal’s interpretation of Jefferson and his work.
Finally, the most egregious and perhaps deceptive line is that “In some of his legislation, [Jefferson] tried to prevent the increase in the population of black individuals in the United States at all costs.” This is absolutely ridiculous and almost an outright lie. The only thing Sal could be referring to is Jefferson’s idea in 1778 to introduce a Virginia law prohibiting the importation of enslaved Africans.  Obviously, Jefferson would try to prevent the introduction of more blacks because they would become slaves. Finally, Sal mentions cruelties inflicted on some of Jefferson’s slaves as Jefferson allowed his men to flog runaway slaves. This, unlike his other claims, is a moral wrong by Jefferson and worthy of criticism.
Sal, thinking the leftist criticisms of old, straight white males will always ring true, makes serious journalistic errors that revise history to excoriate the dead for their sins. This article reflects superficial investigation at best, or a clearly organized hit job on a character who cannot redeem himself, at worst.
It’s also dishonest for modern writers to hold past participants to an unrealistic and unreachable standard. Perhaps it is correct that all of these great figures could have done more, but it’s also important to recognize what they got right and the leadership they demonstrated in doing what they accomplished.
The modern left loves to ride its modern moralism by pointing out the failures of men in the past who accomplished so much more than any modern writer. Jefferson’s words on liberty and freedom will be read 200 years from now, as they have for the past 200 years, and all Sal can do is to present his opinions as fact in order to carp and critique Jefferson. It’s a cheap position and historically ignorant. It’s also unseemly in a way as well, as it permits only this narrow band of elite-accepted historical heroes to appreciate and emulate.
OUR RATING: Trash Journalism, aka the Daily Beast.
To read a more balanced and critical view of the Jefferson-Hemings controversy:
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