By: Gary J Verdes
I recently became of aware of an article going around on far left wing feminist web sites called Thomas Jefferson: The Face of a Rapist. This article states that Jefferson raped his slave Sally Hemings with no facts to back it up, the author Renee Martin, a black woman who lives in Canada, and works for the trash news service from Britain “the guardian” wrote this piece of trash and it has now traveled the Internet via the far left wing feminist web site circuit. A reading of The Hemingses of Monticello, also written by a black woman Annette Gordon-Reid will give a scholarly take on the Hemings-Jefferson relationship and by far the most in-depth and, insightful exploration of the Hemings story, it will considerably complicate the facile nature of Martin’s claims. It is certainly possible that Thomas Jefferson was simply a rapist as so many slave owners were. The surviving evidence of the Jefferson/Sally Hemings relationship mitigates against such an idea, and to gloss over that does both parties a disservice. Gordon-Reid does conclude that, for a variety of complex reasons, Jefferson & Hemings probably had feelings for one another. Martin also states that the only slaves that Jefferson freed were the children of Hemings, another false statement. It is not correct that “The only slaves that Jefferson freed were the children of [Sally] Hemings.” That is a widely repeated error. He freed Sally’s sons Eston and Madison Hemings in his will, but his will also freed Burwell Colbert (butler and artisan), Joseph Fossett (blacksmith), and John Hemmings (joiner/carpenter; he spelled his surname with the double mm). All of these men were part of the extended Hemings family. John was Sally’s half-brother. Scholars have suggested that Jefferson’s long-standing favoritism toward the offspring of Betty Hemings, Sally’s mother, might have been the motivating factor.
With respect to slaves, Jefferson actually did more during his life against slavery than most other men of his time — and deserves the credit for the principles in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” — which in the hands of Lincoln and Divine Providence, eventually freed the slaves — at a great price of human blood in the Civil War.
Jefferson’s anti-slavery efforts include:
1. Introduction of a bill in 1769 the Virginia legislature to abolish the importation of slaves into that state.
2. Inclusion of an anti-slavery provision in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
3. Initiated the Congressional ban on slavery in all federal lands in 1784 (his effort to extend the act to the 13 states lost by only one vote).
4. In 1808, as President, he signed into law a bill banning the slave trade with Africa.
While Jefferson did not free all of his slaves on his death (as did Washington), a law passed in Virginia in 1806 required that the legislature pass a special bill that would attest to the exemplary behavior of each slave to be freed. If freed, the slave had to leave the state without his or her family. Jefferson was not in favor of this law. Further, Jefferson trained his slaves in skills that would be useful when they were free. He believed that to free them first would be irresponsible — since they would be homeless and without family.
To those who are willing to read and search for themselves and discern the honest from the dishonest, and the man of moral principle from one who is not, I believe the truth becomes clearer as to the greatness and stature of Thomas Jefferson.