Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Postmodernism and the Jefferson-Hemings Myth

Postmodernism and the Jefferson-Hemings Myth - A commentary on how postmodernism has corrupted the study of history, and in particular, the Jefferson-Hemings relationship.

From the site:

I concur in the conclusion of the Scholars Commission: the allegation that Thomas Jefferson fathered one or more children by his slave Sally Hemings is "by no means proven." In fact, my own view is that the allegation is not at all plausible. But I am writing my own separate report principally to put the Jefferson-Hemings controversy in a broader context. As I see it, belief in the paternity allegation—which is, to me, quite literally a myth—is a symptom of a recent, disturbing trend in the history profession.

I freely admit that I am an admirer of Thomas Jefferson, but my admiration is focused on his ideas, principally his ideas about government, not on Jefferson the man. For more than twenty-five years—since I first began my formal studies of Jefferson's political and constitutional thought—I have been fascinated with Jefferson's philosophy, and especially his ideas about limits on governmental power. Although I necessarily learned a great deal about the life and times of Thomas Jefferson while doing research on his thought, I have always found the substance of Jefferson's ideas far more interesting than the circumstances of his life. Most important, I believe that Jefferson's place in American history properly derives from these ideas. Genealogy is irrelevant: the true "children" of Jefferson today are those who understand his ideas and work to keep them alive. His true legacy is the body of ideas he has given us, ideas still quite relevant to the perennial problems of protecting individual rights and limiting the powers of government. The attributes of Jefferson the man—his character and the circumstances of his life—are essentially irrelevant to that legacy.

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