Monday, June 23, 2014

John Adams on Sally Hemings Debate

I’ve never paid that much attention to the Jefferson-Hemings debate.  I’m perfectly okay believing either side of the coin, honestly leaning more towards, yes, he did father those kids. The ins and outs of the relationship also haven’t greatly interested me either, as Jefferson was always clearly a slave owner and this is a typical issue of slave owners, one of the many reasons why slavery was a terrible institution.   

I’m currently reading Passionate Sage by Joseph Ellis (incidentally the article I referenced above was written by Ellis as well….although I didn’t do that on purpose!), which I think I mentioned before, but I had gotten distracted from it and only recently returned to it.  Anyway, I just got the section about the rekindling of the Jefferson-Adams friendship and interestingly enough Adams didn’t believe the stories that were circulating then about Jefferson and Hemings.  Ellis writes:
Adams claimed to give no credence to the scandalous stories about Jefferson’s alleged relationship with Sally Hemings, his mulatto slave.  As a fellow victim of similarly venomous vendettas, Adams empathized.  But he went on to speculate that the allegation was "a natural and almost inevitable consequence of the foul Contagion in the human Character, Negro Slavery.”  Jefferson was seriously contaminated by that contagion and could not escape the prevalent suspicion that “there was not a planter in Virginia who could not reckon among his slaves a number of his children.” Even though the Sally Hemings story was probably not true, Adams surmised with obviously satisfaction that it would remain “a blot on his Character” because it symbolized the inherently immoral condition in which all slaveowners, Jefferson included, lived.

I never thought about Adams having an opinion on this matter, although it makes sense given when the story first broke, so I found this interesting enough to share!  I couldn’t find a full copy of this letter online (MHS let me down….), so sorry about that.

No comments: