Polemics & Exchanges

On Jefferson’s Honor

As a long-time reader and supporter of Chronicles, I am a little puzzled by your persistent efforts to debunk the “myth” that Thomas Jefferson took his quadroon chambermaid Sally Hemings as a concubine.  While I agree with Samuel Francis, Egon Tausch, and now Matthew Rarey (Cultural Revolutions, September) that the legacy of Thomas Jefferson is one conservatives ought to preserve, I remain unconvinced that the alleged liaison would seriously undermine that legacy.  In fact, its acceptance might go far in repairing black-white racial relations.  As Mr. Rarey concedes, sexual relations between white masters and black slaves were not that uncommon in the antebellum South.  On its face, this would appear to be a major example of racial exploitation and oppression.  Yet we have the strange spectacle of blacks today eagerly clamoring for recognition as the descendants of these illegitimate pairings, while whites steadfastly deny their claims.  The assumption seems to be that the renewed interest in the “scandal” is intended to paint the Founding Fathers as a bunch of degenerates so that we moderns, who are the genuine article, might live with easier consciences.

Yet even if everything Fawn Brodie wrote in her biography of Jefferson is true, the third president’s philanderings were...

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