Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy
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Paperback, University Press of Virginia, 1998, ISBN # 0813918332
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Presents first-hand accounts, memoirs, letters, and recent DNA evidence that points to Thomas Jefferson's thirty-eight-year affair with his slave Sally Hemings, and refutes claims to the contrary. Publishers Weekly,Gordon-Reed takes on the historians who would deny that Thomas Jefferson had a 38-year relationship with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves, and she does so both by presenting historical evidence of that relationship and by critiquing their denials. While her account is reasoned and logical, Gordon-Reed is a law professor (at New York Law School) who writes like a lawyer. She justifies this legalistic tone in her preface by pointing out that historians often use legal phrases when debating the controversy, but that doesn't make this dry presentation of the facts any more readable. Primary sources (Madison Hemings's recounting of his mother's relationship with Jefferson, in which he claims Jefferson as his father; the memoirs of Israel Jefferson, a former slave of Jefferson's who corroborated Hemings's story; and a pair of letters discussing the Jefferson-Hemings relationship) are the most lively reading, but they have been banished to an appendix. Gordon-Reed approaches the various players in this drama chapter by chapter and dissects the collective denial of traditional historians with regard to each. She not only handily refutes theories such as the idea that one of Jefferson's nephews, either Samuel Carr or Peter Carr, fathered Hemings's children, but points out the racism inherent in insisting, for example, that Madison Hemings's story of his life cannot be correct because the language is too sophisticated. Her contention that "Thomas Jefferson's racism was not extraordinary" is believable and intriguing, but too much that is of interest here becomes obfuscated by legal devices, including a chapter titled "Summary of the Evidence." History Book Club dual main. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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