When Annette Gordon-Reed's groundbreaking study was first
published, rumors of Thomas Jefferson's sexual involvement with his
slave Sally Hemings had circulated for two centuries. Among all
aspects of Jefferson's renowned life, it was perhaps the most hotly
contested topic. The publication of "Thomas Jefferson and Sally
Hemings" intensified this debate by identifying glaring
inconsistencies in many noted scholars' evaluations of the existing
evidence. In this study, Gordon-Reed assembles a fascinating and
convincing argument: not that the alleged thirty-eight-year liaison
necessarily took place but rather that the evidence for its taking
place has been denied a fair hearing.
Friends of Jefferson sought to debunk the Hemings story as early
as 1800, and most subsequent historians and biographers followed
suit, finding the affair unthinkable based upon their view of
Jefferson's life, character, and beliefs. Gordon-Reed responds to
these critics by pointing out numerous errors and prejudices in
their writings, ranging from inaccurate citations, to impossible
time lines, to virtual exclusions of evidence--especially evidence
concerning the Hemings family. She demonstrates how these scholars
may have been misguided by their own biases and may even have
tailored evidence to serve and preserve their opinions of
Jefferson. This updated edition of the book also includes an
afterword in which the author comments on the DNA study that
provided further evidence of a Jefferson and Hemings liaison.
Possessing both a layperson's unfettered curiosity and a
lawyer's logical mind, Annette Gordon-Reed writes with a style and
compassion that are irresistible. Each chapter revolves around a
key figure in the Hemings drama, and the resulting portraits are
engrossing and very personal. Gordon-Reed also brings a keen
intuitive sense of the psychological complexities of human
relationships--relationships that, in the real world, often develop
regardless of status or race. The most compelling element of all,
however, is her extensive and careful research, which often allows
the evidence to speak for itself. Thomas Jefferson and Sally
Hemings: An American Controversy is the definitive look at a
centuries-old question that should fascinate general readers and
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