Friday, July 9, 2010

Two quotes from John Adams on human equality

Adams' thoughts on natural and legal equality don't get nearly enough attention, given that he wasn't simply one of the key American Founders but that he also served on the committee that was responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence.  While Jefferson did most of the heavy lifting when it came to that draft, it was considered to be the work of the entire committee, and eventually of the Continental Congress as well.  After the Revolution, Adams continued to think about the question of human equality and human difference, and the meaning of each for law and politics, particularly in light of the horrific consequences of the absolutist egalitarianism of the French Revolution:
That all men are born to equal rights is true.  Every being has a right to his own, as clear, as moral, as sacred, as any other being has.  This is an indubitable as a moral government in the universe.  But to teach that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life, is as gross a fraud, as glaring an imposition on the credulity of the people, as ever was practiced by monks, by Druids, by Brahmins, by priests of the immortal Lama, or by the self-styled philosophers of the French revolution.
And for some Aristotlean support for his contentions, Adams resorted to one of the classic concepts of Western philosophy, the idea of the chain of being:
Nature, which has established in the universe a chain of being and universal order, descending from archangels to microscopic animalcules, has ordained that no two objects shall be perfectly alike, and no two creatures perfectly equal.  Although, among men, all are subject by nature to equal laws of morality, and in society have a right to equal laws for their government, yet no two men are perfectly equal in person, property, understanding, activity, and virtue, or ever can be made so by any power less than that which created them.
On a side note, its nice to see that Adams believed in angels.

44 comments:

Jeffrey said...

There's a certain amount of tension between belief in the great chain of being and belief that "Every being has a right to his own, as clear, as moral, as sacred, as any other being has." Traditionally, the idea of the great chain was invoked to defend social privilege and the subordination of the lower to the higher, since it reflected on a social scale the the system which God, in His wisdom, had instituted in His creation. Historian Basil Willey coined the phrase "Cosmic Toryism" as a description of this tendency, and it's at least a little ironic to have a notorious revolutionary like Adams invoking a theory which had been used to support the proposition that "Whatever is, is right."

Mark in Spokane said...

Thomas Aquinas employed the chain of being argument while at the same time arguing quite strongly for concepts like limited government, the rule of law and the notion of human rights, so I don't think that the chain of being argument itself is necessarily Toryish. It certainly can be deployed in such a way as to support Toryism, but I don't think that it must necessarily lead to such an end.

And Adams, for all his revolutionary spirit, was neither a radical nor a Republican (in the early American sense). He was a Federalist, and the Federalist Party was a party that embraced both liberty and order, the notion of hierarchy in society and equality under the law. There is definitely a tension -- I would argue a healthy tension -- within Federalist theory in that regard, and all of the major Federalists (Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Ames, etc.) all evidence that tension in their writings and politics. Alas and alack, the early Republic was a politically messy place!

Tom Van Dyke said...

By nature all men are equal in liberty, but not in other endowments.---Aquinas

Not bad for 1250 CE!

Mark, there's a [post-presidential, mind you] exchange of letters between Adams and Jefferson where the Federalist Adams floats an idea proposed to him that something resembling the aristocracy should have a place in government. I took it as some sort of House of Lords.

Jefferson replies with a bigtime smackdown, Democrat-Republican that he was.

As I recall, Madison also argues in the Federalist Papers [51? 52?] that such an arrangement would not be consistent with the American "genius." It's where he's proposing a senate, drawing from Sparta, Carthage and Rome.

If this is a topic of interest to you and you can't find the trail from this, I'll be happy to help.

Basically, the Federalists were seen as snobs and fascists [Hamilton, the Alien and Sedition Acts] and that's why Jefferson [and Madison's] "Democrat-Republicans" were able to give the boot to the "Party of George Washington."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thomas Aquinas employed the chain of being argument while at the same time arguing quite strongly for concepts like limited government, the rule of law and the notion of human rights...

Very interested in this, Mark, if you can spare the time.

Jeffrey said...

I'm also curious about how Aquinas's argument went. I'd be surprised, though, to find out that it was ever brought out by any of the founders. (In 18th-century England, at least, "Scholastic" as an adjective was almost always used with a sneer of contempt. Was it any different in the colonies?)

Mark in Spokane said...

I'm not aware that any of the Founders relied directly on Aquinas -- given the largely anti-Catholic intellectual atmosphere of colonial America, I would be shocked if they did.

My point is that Aquinas' use of the chain of being demonstrates that the idea of the chain is not opposed to the idea of liberty under law and the notion of equal justice under the law.

Aquinas' views on this are set out most clearly in the Treatise on Law in the Summa Theologicae (available in English online for free!) and in his Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (that's a little harder to find). Thomas at one point in the Treatise on Law almost veers into libertarian territory when he discusses the kinds of things that the law should prohibit and the things it should tolerate. Well worth reading if one has the time...

As for the Jeffersonian view of the Federalists, the early Republicans thought the Federalists were trying to undo the Revolution -- that's why they hated them so much. The Federalists for their part (and after reading Connor Cruise O'Brien I am now staunchly in the Federalist camp on this issue) saw the Republicans as Jacobin fanatics who were in love with the French Revolution while at the same time defending to the death the idea of chattel slavery.

In the politics of the early Republic, the propaganda of the Republicans was that the Federalists were aristocratic. And the Federalists were. But the Federalists believed in an aristocracy of achievement, of fluid enough social boundaries to allow people to rise and fall. The Republicans, though, believed in their own aristocracy -- an aristocracy of slave-owners, plantation masters, landed gentry -- an aristocracy where privilege was hereditary and built on the misery of human beings were held in bondage to be exploited, raped and worked to death. The Republicans, covered in that moral filth, simply were too cowardly to admit the system that they sought to perpetuate.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Tell us what you really think, Mark!

Heheh. BTW, I read somewheres that Aquinas was taught at Harvard until the late 1690s, so his thoughts on this subject could easily have infiltrated the American consciousness.

King of Ireland said...

""Thomas at one point in the Treatise on Law almost veers into libertarian territory when he discusses the kinds of things that the law should prohibit and the things it should tolerate. Well worth reading if one has the time..."

I read this and it is almost Libertarian, at least the way I read it. It is often hard to follow because the format is foreign to modern understanding.

I was actually mulling over doing some posts on this the last 6 to 8 weeks. I am not sure what angle to take. But I think into goes into the "libertarian Christian" link that Jon Rowe provided in his last post at his new blog."

Jeffrey said...

Mark and KOI, are you referring to Question 96? This does say (my rough paraphrase) that since secular laws are written for the average man rather than for the saint, they properly refrain from punishing conduct which would be considered a vice from the saint's standpoint. So I can see how a Catholic libertarian would find that passage enlightening, but I don't see how the concept of the great chain of being is part of the argument.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In our system, leadership isn't the same a rule. Our gov't is not our ruler. One must keep that in mind in these things.

Here's the relevant portion of Aquinas' Summa, anyway:

http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FS/FS096.html#FSQ96A2THEP1

Jeffrey has a good point of order re clarity, tho.

Mark in Spokane said...

Aquinas' entire concept of law is built on the notion of the chain of being -- remember in the Treatise on Law he deals not simply with human law, but with eternal law, divine law, natural law, human social customs, etc. He works this way through those subjects topically according to the categories used in the chain of being (and echoed by Adams in the quotes I provided in the main post). This is one of the tricky things about reading Aquinas -- like with most of the medieval scholastics, it isn't just what he says that is important, it is how he structures his arguments and presentation that give you a tell about what he is trying to do. The medievals are often quite subtle that way, and Aquinas more than most.

As for my feelings for Jefferson, I have to admit that I've never cared for him either personally or as a politician/political thinker. The more I've read historians like Forest MacDonald, Pauline Meier and Connor Cruise O'Brien, the less and less I like him. O'Brien's overview of Jefferson in The Long Affair is absolutely devastating and reveals Jefferson for what he was: a liar, a hypocrite, a bloodthirsty radical, and an absolute fanatic when it came to support for slavery and white supremacy. O'Brien supports his thesis with copious long quotations from Jefferson's actual papers and from other Jefferson scholars who haven't drank the Jeffersonian kool-aid.

Jefferson was intellectually brilliant, but he was -- even by the standards of his day -- a bad, bad man when it came to almost every kind of personal virtue that counts: honesty, integrity, treating other people decently. And he was a rapist.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"And he was a rapist."

Gah. I don't know if I would go that far.

I know the argument is that a slave with whom he is in a sexual relationship (Sally Hemmings) really can't "consent." Perhaps that's true. But according to that reasoning GW was a pretty bad man as well. We could say that he had his slaves teeth pulled to make false teeth for himself (he did; but he paid them for it and it was a common practice of poor folks to have their teeth pulled and sell them to richer folks).

Mark in Spokane said...

Jon,

There are two questions here. First, were many of the Founders bad men by the standards of our day? Yes, including Washington, etc. In fact, virtually all of them -- even Adams -- for example, had attitudes and behaviors that modern folks would find completely unacceptable.

The second question is: were they bad men by the standards of their day? And here most of the Founders, with the exception of Jefferson, do much better. Washington, while he owned slaves and worked his slaves hard and exploited them, at least understood that what he was doing was wrong and felt trapped by economic necessity into doing what he did. When that trap was no longer operative, he made provision to free his slaves on the death of his wife. This is just an example, but it shows an inherent decency to the man -- not heroic decency but decency nonetheless.

By either standard, Jefferson fails. By modern standards he is repellent, a moral degenerate by every applicable standard, a human being so duplicitous as to verge on the sociopathic. By the standards of his own day, the same judgment holds. O'Brien documents this extensively and without flinching.

As for the rapist label, it fits. Sally Hemmings could not consent legally or morally to Jefferson's sexual advances. She was trapped not only in a system of chattel slavery that denied her the right to decide who to have sex with, she literally was trapped with Jefferson -- a man who by hereditary privilege and by the example of his own father-in-law (who was Sally Hemming's father, meaning that interestingly enough, Jefferson raped his wife's half-sister) believed he was entitled to sexual access at his whim to other human beings based on the barbaric ideology of white supremacy. That's how he lived his life.

If you want to know what Jefferson really believed, look at his life and what he said when he thought people weren't looking, not at what he wrote and said when he thought posterity was looking. That's what O'Brien does in The Long Affair. And that's why the book is so devastating when it comes to Jefferson's reputation.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jefferson knew, just like GW did, that slavery was wrong.

The difference between them (as far as I understand) is that Jefferson was so financially irresponsible that his estate couldn't afford to free his slaves (except for Ms. Hemmings of course).

Tom Van Dyke said...

O'Brien v. Jefferson.

I'm not sure he scores so heavily here [the Sally Hemings affair aside]. Jefferson couldn't see blacks and whites living together after blacks were freed, but that wasn't a rare sentiment---even Lincoln said it once [later withdrawing the remark as a "humbug"].

Interesting was O'Brien's [and apparently Franklin's] demotion of the Author of the Declaration of Independence to a mere "draughtsman," with some persuasive argument.

Franklin's story follows, and though it is amusing, it is not relevant here. What is relevant is the word "draughtsman," and it is evident that it was in that role, and not the more exalted role of "author," that Jefferson's colleagues envisaged him, in relation to the collective elaboration of the Declaration of Independence.

In ACROV [American civil religion, official version] as it evolves under the conditions of the coming century, the Declaration will increasingly be seen as a collective document. The Founding Fathers will have declined in importance in comparison with the sacred documents, but their collective authority will still be found to be vastly more acceptable than the idea of the personal authorship of Thomas Jefferson.

With the Declaration increasingly perceived as a collective document, Jefferson may increasingly be cast in the prosaic and subordinate role of draftsman. Jefferson's demotion from the sacred status of author of the Declaration of Independence would effectively put an end to the official cult of Jefferson within the American civil religion. Jefferson should be out of ACROV, I would guess, before the middle of the coming century.

Mark in Spokane said...

Jon,

Read O'Brien's book -- he demonstrates conclusively that any qualms Jefferson voiced about slavery were largely for public publicity reasons. Jefferson privately supported the extension of slavery into the territories -- and fought for such as president. O'Brien also demonstrates that Jefferson very clearly did not believe in the possible co-existence of the races; he only argued for gradual, eventual emancipation in a mythical future where all black Americans could be colonized back to Africa or to Latin America. He quietly but actively opposed the slave uprising in Haiti.

O'Brien documents all of this with huge verbatim chunks of primary source material from Jefferson himself on all of this. Jefferson was not opposed to slavery. He supported it, worked to extend it, fought against its abolition and did everything he could to perpetuate the institution. He only spoke against it for PR reasons -- and even then almost always quietly and with conditions that would have made the liberation of slaves impossible. Not just unpleasant or difficult but literally impossible.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

any system or structuring of an organization, which society is, is a hierarchy, as everyone cannot be leaders. The difference in our government's stucturing is the "consent of the governed". That means to me, that those in leadership must abide by the laws that protect equality, which means not taking unfair advantage of another.

Therefore, Jefferson recognized that slavery was "a necessary evil", just as the "unitarian creed" admitted....the necessary evil in our government must be a balancing of power and full disclosure regarding the risks involved in such endeavors, for the sake of the "whole" organization...etc....usually when another assume risks, then his salary is compensated...therefore, there is no "real slavery" in our "system"...

Mark in Spokane said...

May O'Brien's prediction come to pass sooner than he hoped!

Tom Van Dyke said...

O'Brien:

The crucial question is, Was Thomas Jefferson the author of the Declaration of Independence?

Many Americans will answer that question with an indignant "Of course he was!" Yet there is really no "of course" about it. The Declaration was certainly not the unaided work of Thomas Jefferson. The document did not spring fully formed from his head, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. The work of preparing the Declaration -- to justify the independence that the Second Continental Congress had actually proclaimed two days before -- was entrusted by Congress not to Jefferson alone but to a committee that included John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, figures of no less status in the America of 1776. Adams and Franklin would probably have had considerable input into discussions preceding the actual drafting of the document. Jefferson's draft was reviewed and corrected by the committee prior to being laid before the Congress, whose consensus it was designed to reflect. And the Congress made further changes in the draft. Carl Lotus Becker writes in The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas,

Congress discussed his draft for three successive days. What uncomplimentary remarks the members may have made is not known; but it is known that in the end certain paragraphs were greatly changed and others omitted altogether. These "depredations" -- so he speaks of them -- Jefferson did not enjoy: but we may easily console ourselves for his discomfiture since it moved the humane Franklin to tell him a story. Writing in 1818, Jefferson says: "I was sitting by Dr. Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations. I have made it a rule, said he, whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body."

Franklin's story follows, and though it is amusing, it is not relevant here. What is relevant is the word "draughtsman," and it is evident that it was in that role, and not the more exalted role of "author," that Jefferson's colleagues envisaged him, in relation to the collective elaboration of the Declaration of Independence.

jimmiraybob said...

I'd like to appeal to anyone here that's every written something for publication. When changes are suggested by an editor or resulting from a peer review process, once those changes are incorporated are you reduced to a mere lowly draughtsman? Or are you still considered the more esteemed author, principal author, or primary author?

I'm guessing that unless there's an ideological necessity to go another direction, the drafter remains the author, principal author, or primary author.

jimmiraybob said...

Rapist? No evidence presented? Excellent. That should raise the esteem of any aspiring history blog. Do you use a chalk board at home?

jimmiraybob said...

Matk in Spokane - O'Brien's overview of Jefferson in The Long Affair is absolutely devastating and reveals Jefferson for what he was: a liar, a hypocrite, a bloodthirsty radical, and an absolute fanatic when it came to support for slavery and white supremacy. O'Brien supports his thesis with copious long quotations from Jefferson's actual papers and from other Jefferson scholars who haven't drank the Jeffersonian kool-aid.

But the thesis still rests on how those passages are interpreted. For another view on O'Brien's work I'd read this which starts out something like this:

"O'Brien follows a simple course. He first dredges up a passage from Jefferson that he believes suitable for his intuitive powers. Disregarding what the text says, he enters Jefferson's mind. Not content with enjoying his mystic powers, O'Brien feels impelled to communicate his findings to those less psychically gifted than he." - David Gordon writing for the Mises Review

And ends something like this:

"Once again the mind of our mystic is at work. His account of Jefferson's thought is pure conjecture, and he presents not the slightest evidence in its support."

"I once asked my great teacher, Walter Starkie, what he thought of O'Brien. He replied: "I found him a rather self-opinionated young man when he was a pupil of mine." After a long career, O'Brien has wound up a self-opinionated old man. Such is progress."


There's actually some substance in between.

So, which one of the three historians* that you cite actually makes the air-tight, rock-solid, unalienable case for Jefferson being a rapist?

*O'Brien not being a trained/professional historian but and educated British politician, professional polemicist, lecturer, and university administrator.

jimmiraybob said...

Federalism helps explain as well why religion is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders recognized that it would be impossible to agree upon a single Christian denomination that could be established at a national level

Or, just maybe, they were relying on 1,500 years of western precedent that mixing Christianity with civil government does not produce security or tranquility or provide for the general welfare. Or, for that matter, provide for the security of property.

Or, maybe they just looked closer to home - religious division and bigotries abounded in their own day and certainly threatened the pending union.

To close:

I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men's souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.
The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.

Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.


-Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration

jimmiraybob said...

My last comment was intended for Mark David Halls post above where it's been re-posted.

bpabbott said...

@JRB

Re: "I'd like to appeal to anyone here that's every written something for publication. When changes are suggested by an editor or resulting from a peer review process, once those changes are incorporated are you reduced to a mere lowly draughtsman? Or are you still considered the more esteemed author, principal author, or primary author?"

I've done a bit of peer review publishing and often participate as a reviewer for the IEEE. Generally, the author(s) get the credit. If the work is sufficiently weak then the paper is rejected.

Tom Van Dyke said...

BTW, JRB, David Gordon's a pal of mine. Big Rothbard dude.

Mark in Spokane said...

First, as to the charge that Jefferson was a rapist. The overwhelming evidence is that he he fathered children by Sally Hemmings, a human being that Jefferson at that time legally owned -- she was his slave. As a slave, she could not give either legal or moral consent. Having sex with somebody who cannot legally give consent is one of the core components to rape. This is why it is illegal for an adult to have sex with children, for example.

Second, as for O'Brien's qualifications, while he did not possess a Ph.D. in history, he was trained as an undergraduate in history at Trinity College, Dublin (despite the name a non-sectarian university there) and he took a first honors degree in history there (no small accomplishment) after he finished his main degree. This is detailed in his obiturary published by the Guardian newspaper in the UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/dec/19/conor-cruise-brien.

O'Brien's historical work, btw, contains not only his own analysis but massive excerpts from primary source documents and from the works of other historians in support of O'Brien's conclusions. And by massive, I mean sometimes going on for pages at a time. We ain't talkin' citations in footnotes here. He actually shows you the source material he draws his analysis from. Not many historians do that.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Mark,
You make a distinction between the moral and legal aspects of rights. You also point out that one who had no rights legally cannot give their consent, which is the definition of rape.

Does the moral value of human life, transcend the legal, in this particular case?

In our country, do we make the distinction between the moral and the legal, since we are a country which is known by its "rule of law"....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Obviously, the Founders saw a higher principle to "moral government" than the rule of the British crown....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As Jefferson was only doing what was appropriately a "social norm", he was not immoral, since laws allowed for slavery.

The law states or forms the social norm for a certain society. And laws have changed over the years, as society evolves with re-defined social norms...

jimmiraybob said...

Mark in Spokane - The overwhelming evidence is that he he fathered children by Sally Hemmings...

There are many historians that would disagree. There are many laypersons that would disagree. There are many lay historians that would disagree. And to show that it's not just a single ideological position to not accept all of the apparent evidence, I'll cite - gather the adults, send the children out of the room, and ready the smelling salts - David Barton:

[...]

"The conclusion of all of this is very simple: neither the movies shown about Jefferson on CBS and in the theaters, nor the recent "scientific" charges of Jefferson's illicit paternity, nor the oral traditions of two centuries ago, nor the tabloid "journalism" of Jefferson's day or of today, in any manner demonstrates--much less proves--that Thomas Jefferson had any illicit relationship with Sally Hemings. If Thomas Jefferson is guilty of the charges against him, it will take much better evidence to prove his guilt than what has been presented to date."

That being done, put up the evidence and let it stand or fall.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - BTW, JRB, David Gordon's a pal of mine. Big Rothbard dude.

Not having read the book I had to rely on a review that seemed reasonable and done by someone that would be reasonably well informed, and as I said it certainly is another view.

Next time you talk to him give him my best. :)

It took a couple of days to even consider commenting on such a can of worms. But AC increasingly comes up in the top 5-10 results when I'm Googling for information, making it something of a leading public record. I just think that unfounded or questionable assertions and opinions belong on another blog.

If there is evidence to air then do it but is there any that hasn't already been aired to death, still leading to no convincing evidence-based conclusion.

If Mark in Spokane had said, "If Jefferson is guilty of an improper relationship based on...., then I think he's a repugnant poopyhead and in my book it is rape," I wouldn't have commented. As it was I couldn't tell if it was Mark's opinion based on the historians cited or if it was the historian's conclusion(s).

Mark in Spokane said...

Listen, even Joseph Ellis has given up the ghost when it comes to denying that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemmings' children.

Are there are bitter-clingers to the Jeffersonian myth that continue to deny the truth about the kind of person that Jefferson was? Yes. So what? The scholarly evidence is all moving in one direction, David Barton not withstanding.

For what it is worth, I would take Connor Cruise O'Brien, on his deathbed, having hallucinations, wacked on on opiates, as having a more informed and better balanced sense of historical judgment than David Barton on his best day.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Mark,
I asked about the moral and legal distinctions you made in the law and if these were the same in our American government's understanding of the law. Doesn't the law set the social norm?

Unfortunately, I was not privy to the "real issue" of whether Thomas Jefferson was a "man of character" and what kind of character that was. It seems that we do idealize our leaders, or those we admire. Therefore, it is easy to see how over time, Americans idealize the Founding Fathers. (I guess this is why in Catholicism, people are "sainted")....

Obviously, if there is a socially accepted norm, at a given time, it is highly unlikely that those within that context would not act in that manner. It was courageous of these men to confront power as they did, as well as courageous of the pioneers that came here in dire circumstances for personal and religious liberty.

bpabbott said...

Re: "Listen, even Joseph Ellis has given up the ghost when it comes to denying that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemmings' children."

Sounds a bit like an appeal to authority, or perhaps an appeal to ignorance?

Jefferson may or may not have been the father of Sally Hemming's children.

There is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest he was, but insufficient evidence to conclude he was.

Notice that like Ellis, I don't deny that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemmings' children.

Reading what has been documented leads me to expect Jefferson likely believed that he, or his brother, fathered (or may have fathered) at least some of Hemming's children.

jimmiraybob said...

Mark in Spokane - Listen, even Joseph Ellis has given up the ghost when it comes to denying that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemmings' children.

Are there are bitter-clingers to the Jeffersonian myth that continue to deny the truth about the kind of person that Jefferson was? Yes. So what? The scholarly evidence is all moving in one direction, David Barton not withstanding.

Well, that'll show me.

Maybe not. Regarding Ellis on the Heming issue:

Wikipedia on Ellis -
"On November 2, 1998, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer featured this topic and stated, "According to an article in an upcoming issue of the journal Nature, DNA analysis shows that Jefferson almost certainly fathered at least one of Sally Hemings' children, her last son, Eston."[4] Ellis, who was interviewed during this broadcast, stated that he had revised his opinion due to this new evidence:

"'It's not so much a change of heart, but this is really new evidence. And it—prior to this evidence, I think it was a very difficult case to know and circumstantial on both sides, and, in part, because I got it wrong, I think I want to step forward and say this new evidence constitutes, well, evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that Jefferson had a longstanding sexual relationship with Sally Hemings.[5]'"

Apparently Ellis was swayed by what he knew of the DNA evidence at the time – but it’s hard to say if he was fully aware of the evidence or knew how to critically evaluate the evidence.

[continued below]

jimmiraybob said...

As to the scholarly consensus go here and read the:

Report of the Monticello Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (January 2000)

And the minority report responses:

Minority Report of the Monticello Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
Response to the Minority Report of the Monticello Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Following the above reports is a study conducted by various scholars – "The Scholars Commission consisted solely of prominent scholars, historians, genealogists, lawyers, etc. The Scholars Commission included members with impressive professional credentials, and sat as a panel of highly qualified judges. All efforts were made to ensure that this committee was seen as, and actually was, a fair and impartial judge of the relevant issues."

"The Scholars Commission consisted solely of prominent scholars, historians, genealogists, lawyers, etc. The Scholars Commission included members with impressive professional credentials, and sat as a panel of highly qualified judges. All efforts were made to ensure that this committee was seen as, and actually was, a fair and impartial judge of the relevant issues."

The linked page contains a list of participants.

A final report was issued and dated April 12, 2001 and the executive summary is reproduced in part below.

Final Report of the Scholars Commission on The Jefferson-Hemings Matter

Summary (p. 3)

"The question of whether Thomas Jefferson fathered one or more children by his slave Sally Hemings is an issue about which honorable people can and do disagree. After a careful review of all the evidence, the commission agrees unanimously that the allegation is by no means prove[n]; and we find it regrettable that public confusion about the 1998 DNA testing and other evidence has misled many people (my bolding). With the exception of one member, whose views are set forth below and in more detailed appended dissent, our individual conclusions range from serious skepticism about the charge to a conviction that it is almost certainly false (this bolding in original)."

[…]

"Our dissenting member believes that there is not sufficient evidence to state conclusively one way or the other whether Thomas Jefferson fathered any children by Sally Hemings. Based on the totality of the evidence that does exist, he finds the argument for Jefferson’s paternity in the case of Eston Hemings somewhat more persuasive than the case against. He regards the question of Sally Heming’s other children as unsettled."

Now, if you have evidence that supports your position put it up. Otherwise your contention that “The scholarly evidence is all moving in one direction” is not only unsupported but wrong.

As to the Barton citation, that was fun and done with some irony.

jimmiraybob said...

JRB - Otherwise your contention that “The scholarly evidence is all moving in one direction” is not only unsupported but wrong.

Actually, given the evidence you may be right. Just not in the way you intended.

Mark in Spokane said...

Angie,

To reply to your point, during the Founding, plenty of people outside of the slave-owing class in the South thought that slave-owners having sex with their slaves was morally wrong. The allegations regarding Sally Hemmings aren't new -- they were part of the general allegations made against Jefferson's moral character back in the election of 1800. Now, from what I have read, there were a variety of reasons why people disapproved: some because they viewed the slaves as human beings trapped in unjust servile bondage, others because they disliked the idea of inter-racial sex, others because they disliked the idea of racially mixed children. Jefferson himself, in one of his usual bouts of hypocrisy, publicly condemned the "mixing of the races."

As for the connection between law and morality, your question would require a lot more discussion that what can be accomplished in the comments here.

Mark in Spokane said...

Jimmyraybob,

Even if, for sake of argument, I concede your point about the scholarly findings, how does that undermine the DNA evidence that does exist, as well as the oral history of Madison Hemmings regarding his parentage? If it makes you feel better, I am happy to concede that all historical conclusions are provisional, and it is possible (although highly unlikely) that Jefferson did not rape Sally Hemmings -- in spite of the DNA evidence, the contemporaneous allegations made at the time, and the statement of Madison Hemmings in the historical record.

jimmiraybob said...

Mark,

Please review the data/reports, it addresses the DNA issue and the oral history issue. It's not conclusive either way but does lean heavily toward acquitting Jefferson. I'm just saying that Jefferson deserves a fair hearing on this issue.

Ultimately, even if one or more children were produced by a union of Sally Hemings and Jefferson there's just no way to know their minds and hearts. I'm very sympathetic to what you say about the inappropriate nature on several levels but without being able to know the intimate details of the relationship I just can't bring myself to an accusation of rape even if they did have sexual relations. Life is complicated and the evil institution of slavery poisoned so much.

King of Ireland said...

"But AC increasingly comes up in the top 5-10 results when I'm Googling for information, making it something of a leading public record. I just think that unfounded or questionable assertions and opinions belong on another blog."

I am all for an open format but I think JRB may have a point here. I found it odd that this line of discussion came up and rape is a strong word.

Someone actually thought that Brad was a professor that is pretty cool. I also noticed that we come up high in most searches on the topics discussed here.


JRB,

I also am glad you have shown up here again. I thought you left mad. I love to have your informed and dissenting voice here. It keeps me on my toes for sure. I am sure others would say the same.

jimmiraybob said...

King,

Thanks for the kind words. When things got a little heated a while back I decided to channel my energy into actually working for a living. Having completed a major phase of project work I find myself with a little time to read a little and comment a little.

There's always a lot to learn here and even if I'm no delurking to comment I'm usually trying to keep up on posts.

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