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Taking Back Thomas Jefferson

Monday, January 9, 2017 2:42
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 Jefferson peale

“There is not a truth existing which I fear, or would wish unknown to the whole world.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1826, days before death

It is now accepted as a fact that one of the preeminent Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson – the Apostle of Liberty and Reason – engaged in an illicit sexual relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, by whom he bore up to six children. Thus, it is considered a fact that Jefferson was either a hypocrite who esteemed virtue and family while having an affair, a tyrant who abused a young woman in his power, or some brew of both. The transformation of official opinion is captured in the two editions of historian Joseph J. Ellis’ American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson.

In the first edition, Ellis argues that “we can never know” whether there was an affair, though he believes the possibility is “remote” and based upon “flimsy and wholly circumstantial evidence.” In the second edition, however, Ellis repudiates his previous position. “The likelihood of a long-standing sexual relationship between Jefferson and Sally can never be proven absolutely,” claims Ellis, “but it is now proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” In fact, nothing of the sort has been proven. If anything has been proven, it is that Jefferson’s detractors are – and always have been – unscrupulous and shameless.

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