I seldom actually “read” Brian Greenspun’s column in the Las Vegas Sun section of the Sunday newspaper. I’m not into masochism. I usually “scan” it to see if anything jumps out.
Today’s screed seems to suggest that leaders who have extramarital affairs should not resign. I think. It is not always easy to tell what his point is.
In the process he mentions a number of serial philanderers, including his old pal and frequent houseguest Bill Clinton, whom he refers to only as WJC, and implies the nation would be worse off if they had resigned in the face of allegations — and the occasional DNA-based proof-positive — of an illicit affair or two or more.
“We can start with Thomas Jefferson. Remember him? He was a really big deal when it came to writing the Declaration of Independence. Oh yes, he was the third president of the United States, made the Louisiana Purchase, founded the University of Virginia, started the Lewis and Clark expedition (and we all know what happened with that little excursion) and did so much more at a time when our country needed leadership like his.
“Did I mention his relationship with the slave, Sally Hemings, and the children he was supposed to have fathered with her? How do you think that would have played 200 years ago if they had an Internet? He would have been forced to resign, and where would we be now?”
Internet? What the putative editor of the Sun insert seems to be oblivious to is that the fledging nation had hundreds of newspapers — who do you think published the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers? — and a populace that was far more literate than today’s.
Newspaper writer James Callender — whom I decline to describe as a journalist, any more than I would Greenspun — wrote extensively about the rumors that whispered that Jefferson had an affair with Sally Hemings.
Callender, who was imprisoned under the Sedition Act during John Adams’ term as president, admitted writing lies about Adams to get Jefferson elected. In fact he shouted as much in front of the White House when he demanded that Jefferson grant him the job of postmaster of Richmond, Va.
Ignored by Jefferson, Callender turned his allegations of philandering onto the third president. (OK, he was correct when he accused Alexander Hamilton of having an affair with Marie Reynolds. Hamilton admitted as much and that may have cost him a shot at the presidency.)
According to Eric Burns’ book “Infamous Scribblers,” Callender wrote of Jefferson in 1802 in the Richmond Recorder, a Federalist paper:
“It is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps, and for many years past has kept, as his concubine, one of his slaves. Her name is SALLY. The name of her eldest son is TOM. His features are said to bear a striking resemblance to those of the president himself. The boy is ten or twelve years of age. His mother went to France in the same vessel with Mr. Jefferson and his two daughters. The delicacy of his arrangement must strike every person of common sensibility. What a sublime pattern for an American ambassador to place before the eyes of two young ladies! …
“The allegation is of a nature too black to be suffered to remain in suspense. We should be glad to hear of its refutation. We give it to the world under the firmest belief that such a refutation never can be made. The AFRICAN VENUS is said to officiate as housekeeper at Monticello. When Mr. Jefferson has read this article, he will find leisure to estimate how much has been lost or gained by so unprovoked attacks upon J.T. Callender.”
He admits the revenge motive in the article. Besides, the Tom he refers to was later proven to not be a son of Jefferson.
It was widely reported that 1998 DNA tests of descendants of Hemings’ youngest son, Eston, “proved” Jefferson was Eston’s father.
But, according to a July article in The Wall Street Journal by Robert Turner, based on the findings reported in the book “The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission,” the DNA tests merely showed that one of more than two dozen Jefferson males was probably Eston’s father.
Turner writes that at least seven Jefferson men — including the president — were at Monticello the summer of 1807 when Hemings conceived that son.
The author points out:
“A more plausible candidate is Thomas Jefferson’s younger brother, known at Monticello as ‘Uncle Randolph.’ An 1847 oral history titled ‘Memoirs of a Monticello Slave’ noted that when Randolph visited Monticello, he would ‘come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night.’ Surviving letters establish that Randolph was invited to visit Monticello less than two weeks before the start of Eston’s likely conception window. Randolph had five sons in their teens and 20s who also carried Jefferson DNA.”
According to Burns’ book, the National Intelligencer refused to publish Callender’s allegations. Instead its editor reported that he had “determined not to disgrace the columns of a Paper that entertains a respect for decency and truth, by republishing the infamous calumnies and vulgarities of a man who has forfeited every pretension to character.”
There is no proof Thomas Jefferson had a son by one of his slaves. In fact, the evidence points elsewhere. Even at the time, Jefferson’s Federalist enemies Adams and Hamilton rejected Callender’s libel because they knew the characters of both men.
I call on Greenspun to retract the infamous calumnies and vulgarities he has printed about an honorable president, ambassador and author of so many founding principles.