Letter: Jefferson-Hemmings issue not iron-clad

A recent letter to the editor tackled the issue of moral failings of public servants. The author of the letter discussed the difference between personal moral failures and the failures that occur in the performance, or lack thereof, in official duties. It was an interesting letter and addressed a topic that always excites debate.

There is one statement made in the letter though, I think, bears some dispute.

The author stated unequivocally as fact that Thomas Jefferson had indeed taken a slave girl, Sally Hemmings, as his mistress and had fathered several children by her. The accusation of pedophilia is a serious charge and whoever used Hemmings as mistress is indeed guilty of such a crime. And while there is proof that most of Hemmings’ children were fathered by someone in the Jefferson line, there is no ironclad proof that the father was Thomas Jefferson.

For those interested in this subject, I suggest that they consult the “Scholars Commission on the Jefferson-Hemmings Issue,” authorized by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society. This panel consisted of historians, biochemists and others expert in the field of research in general, and of history and genetics in particular. Results of their 10-year investigation is available on the C-Span Network and may be viewed online.

The directive issued by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, in the creation of this commission, and the promise of independence from the society, in the commission’s charge, is also available online.

Just as there are those who want to view particular people and events through the prism of blind unquestioning devotion, there are those who seek to diminish accomplishment by promoting story lines that, because of the passage of time, often cannot be disproven. We owe it to history to be as accurate as possible and are thus obliged to view evidence as it is discovered and not in a way we wish it to be. It is only by doing this can we make fair and accurate judgements accordingly.

Lisette Carmichael


Baton Rouge