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Thomas Jefferson: America’s most esteemed child predator

By Robin Vander Wall . . . July 4th. A sex offender died today.

Well, not precisely. But, on this day 192 years ago, a sex offender passed away.

This was no common sex offender. In fact, he was more remarkable than most men who’ve ever lived. Governor of Virginia. Minister to France. First Secretary of State. Second Vice President. Third President of the United States. And, perhaps most importantly of all, the person responsible for writing the Declaration of Independence.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson was a sex offender. Or at least he would be.

Here are the relevant facts: Two years after the death of his wife, Martha, from complications with the birth of their sixth child—an event that profoundly affected the remainder of Jefferson’s life—Congress sent Jefferson to Paris to replace Benjamin Franklin as minister to France.

Jefferson took his oldest daughter Patsy with him. It was 1784, eight years after the fledgling nation declared independence from Great Britain and five years before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Late in 1787, Jefferson received word about the passing of his youngest daughter, Lucy, and immediately sent for his other daughter, Mary, who had remained at Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia. Sally Hemings, one of Jefferson’s slaves, was sent along with Mary to accompany her. Mary was 9. Sally was 14.

In the parlance of the time, Sally Hemings was a mulatto. Her mother was a slave. Her father, John Wayles, was a white owner of slaves. Sally became the property of Thomas Jefferson when Mr. Wayles died and his daughter, Martha, Jefferson’s wife, inherited the property.

Let me unpack that for you. Sally Hemings and Martha Jefferson were half sisters because they shared the same father.

By all accounts, Sally was a light-skinned woman whose features were exceptional. And in Martha’s passing, it is likely that Jefferson grew closer to Sally as a means to fill the void created by the tragic and untimely death of his young wife. We now know that Sally’s living quarters were adjacent to Jefferson’s bedroom.

Back to 1787: What history demonstrates as a matter of record is that Jefferson, then 44, called for his then youngest daughter to travel to France. Sally, then 14, came along with her. When Jefferson, his daughters, and Sally returned to Virginia in 1789, Sally was pregnant and gave birth to a son in early 1790. The son soon died.

Almost from the start there were rumors and innuendo about the unexplained pregnancy of Sally Hemings. But out of respect for Jefferson, and due to his ability to keep private things private in his own household (to whom Sally belonged as a thing of chattel), there was little attention paid to the matter from outside the vicinity of Monticello.

That changed in a dramatic way after the bitter presidential election of 1800. James Calendar, a political pamphleteer, had assisted in Jefferson’s effort to secure the White House (which was more commonly known as the “Pink Palace” in those days) by penning scurrilous attacks on Jefferson’s main rival, and the incumbent president, John Adams.

When the campaign ended and Jefferson finally secured victory (after the Republican House of Representatives voted to decide the tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr), Mr. Calendar wanted a pay off. He wanted Jefferson to give him a job as a Postmaster. Jefferson refused. So Calendar went looking for dirt on Jefferson. Turns out, he didn’t have much digging to do. He just went to Monticello and starting asking questions.

For more than 150 years, the Jefferson family successfully maintained a narrative that freed Thomas Jefferson from having to own any paternal responsibility for Sally Hemings’ seven children. And even when the story was recycled, the main emphasis was always that Jefferson had fathered mixed-race children and was therefore miscegenous. Never once was he alleged to have sexually abused a teenager who was entrusted to his care as a substitute father.

At this point, today, the Jefferson family’s narrative is in tatters. Few historians continue to hold on to the myth that someone other than Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings’ children. And recent DNA evidence (see here, here, and here) has put the proverbial nail in the coffin. The chance that it could have been anyone other than Jefferson who fathered Sally’s children is a statistical improbability.

And yet, even still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the charge of “pedophile” or “child abuser” or “child rapist” leveled directly at Thomas Jefferson. And while I respect the man’s contributions to our nation’s independence and founding generation (truly, Jefferson is a giant among giants), there is something discomfiting about the way his life and legacy escapes the obsessive, sex offender lunacy of our present generation.

Let us consider, for example, what happens to a 45-year-old man today who is discovered to have fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl, especially a girl to whom he is responsible for providing sustenance and care. Can there be any doubt that Thomas Jefferson would be charged with a sexual crime, and most likely several?

And what of his life, his talents, and his contributions to American history? Erase Thomas Jefferson’s importance to the celebrations of this day and imagine how different things might actually be. Who could understand an American history without the word inalienable? Without the phrase All men are created equal? Without the Louisiana Purchase? Without Lewis and Clark?

The significance of each of them is wrapped eternally into the significance of a single person who intersected time and space for what many have regarded as a divine task. We might even say that God ordained it.

While no one who acknowledges the existence of God believes that he condones, let alone ordains, sexual immorality, maybe the story of Thomas Jefferson is teaching us another lesson, one that we so desperately need. Maybe what we see in Jefferson is the capacity of great sinners to coexist with great saints, and often in the exact same body.

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Robin Vander Wall

As vice chair of NARSOL, Robin is the managing editor of the Digest, chair of the marketing committee, and provides assistance to the webmaster in keeping our websites running smoothly. He also serves as president of Vivante Espero, NARSOL's foundation and legal fund.

This topic contains 43 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by Robin Vander Wall Robin Vander Wall 3 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #43011 Reply

    freedomwriter

    “Bills of attainder, ex-post facto laws and laws impairing the obligation of contracts are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation.” James Madison

    “The sentiment that ex post facto laws are against natural right is so strong in the United States that few, if any, of the State constitutions have failed to proscribe them. The Federal Constitution indeed interdicts them in criminal cases only; but they are equally unjust in civil as in criminal cases, and the omission of a caution which would have been right, does not justify the doing what is wrong. Every man should be protected in his lawful acts, and be certain that no ex post facto law shall punish or endamage him for them.”–Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson, 1813

    • #43037 Reply

      Michael H. – Indiana Voices

      Interesting look at history through a modern lens. Jefferson was a great man. But as with all of us, there is a secret space that we wish we could avoid dealing with… Do any of us want to be judged by our darkest moments… I doubt it. I’ve heard it said that the only real measure of a man is the good or evil that is within him/her. Was Jefferson really trying o be evil? I am sure he knew that word of his relationship with Sally would not be taken positively in that day and age. And he could surely never have married her at that time in history. And it was not unusual for an older man to take a younger wife in those days. In fact, if you weren’t married by the time you were in your early 20’s you were considered an old maid.

      While not justifying immoral behavior we must recognize that sometimes what we consider truth is only based on our societal morays of the day. Sometimes we “protect” our children to their own detriment by considering them incapable of functioning until they are mid 20’s or older.

      When we go to judge Jefferson or any other person we should first look deep inside in ourselves and see if somewhere lurking deep within our innermost, most secret thoughts is one that given the right circumstances might not put us in the position of acting just like the person we have chosen to shun or abhor.

      Let us rather accept the fact that we each are human, help one another to heal and create as Jefferson did a country in which that is possible.

      May God Bless America and the People in it as they righteously choose how they exercise the freedoms he so richly gave.

      Happy 4th, good work Robin.

  • #43012 Reply

    Jah

    In this generation we are groomed to be appalled and astounded at every moral measure of turpitude. The sin and carnal proclivity of every man, gladly shunned and shifted to the next, as if the previous come pure and untarnished of similar sins. We have normalized one segment sexuality and demonized the sister halve as to disdain the deeds of men who cause themselves to be attracted to pubescent puplils creating an instant scheme that innocence belong not to the brethern. What will do we have as men to regulate our own moral compass and yet to mend our minds of temptation. What is deemed as wrong now was not seen as sinful ironically centuries ago. The societal ill is not the act , inappropriateness or gestures, but the causation of how this nation was built and bartered for that of men who own the lives and repurposed servitude of others. The sickeness is more or so the history and heirachial methodologies that were practiced.and even present until this day. The pardorning of Jack Johnson would be a mockery of men for something still doesn’t sit right with many or how the registry ruins lives.

  • #43013 Reply

    SW

    Very well written! We certainly do live in an era of ‘wilful ignorance’ and hypocrisy. People have said to me, “oh, it’ll get better”. Really? When?

  • #43017 Reply

    Brenda Bright-Cantu

    I do think this should be public knowledge considering how the Registrants are treated as less than human in these times. Talk about separation of families, Most of the families of these people are victims of this and no one seems to care about the trauma they go through. Every case should be handled separately. Not put in the same box.

  • #43019 Reply

    Craig n

    Great article and excellent points- none of them new of course, but worth reiterating. There is great frustration in attempting to reconcile the full and nuanced truth with an easier, lazier and more comfortable narrative that seems to suit the general public. People are complex. People make mistakes. The lazy among us find it convenient to see black or white, good or evil, worthy or despised. Asking most people to consider a more complex tone, or to consider that good (and great) people can do horrible things and still retain all of their positive qualities is too much work. To ask people to question the dogma, to consider actual statistics/data, to reject the incorrect conflation of “seriousness of offense” with risk of recidivism – well it’s asking them/us to do hard work – work that will only serve to undermine our assumptions, and make us less comfortable with the world (and our neighborhoods) as we choose to see it. We choose to remain unenlightened out of laziness and our comfortable state of schadenfreude. The “at least I’m not a sex offender” outlet.
    Again, great piece. One minor note…Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Unalienable, not unalienable… I know this only because I’ve been corrected for the same mistake!

    • #43021 Reply
      Sandy Rozek
      Sandy Rozek
      Admin

      As far as meaning, they are the same. Look up one and it gives the other as part of the definition. This is from Mr. Google: “The unalienable rights that are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence could just as well have been inalienable, which means the same thing. Inalienable or unalienable refers to that which cannot be given away or taken away.”

      You are right; the final document contains unalienable. However, the first drafts used inalienable, and historians report that was Jefferson’s preference.

      And I totally agree with you in regard to the piece — beautifully written! Thank you, Robin.

  • #43022 Reply

    Janet Marriott

    I think the pertinent question is: did she ( a 15-year-old slave) have any right to say “yes’ Or “No” to her Master who was 30 years older and using her for sexual purposes (at the very minimum today, it’s called the right to give informed consent) Much of the concern about very young girls getting pregnant has to do with the girls physical readiness to carry and bear a child. In this case, the baby was delivered but died soon afterward. And if as you point out, the girl was a half-sister to Jefferson’s deceased wife / related to his own 9-year-old daughter the situation seems fairly murky, whether she was slave or free. What he did was clearly not socially acceptable even in slave times but because he was a powerful man he took advantage with impunity, He simply had sex and more children by her which he and generations of his family denied until DNA proved their denials were lies. Were these slave children freed in Jeffersons will or were they simply sold off? (no Jefferson wasn’t charged, convicted and sent to prison but the US was so against this sort of thing that we fought the civil war.)

    • #43026 Reply

      Maestro

      “Much of the concern about very young girls getting pregnant has to do with the girls physical readiness to carry and bear a child.”

      Janet Marriott,

      If you believe in evolution, then it is irrelevant how old the female is as long as she is post pubescent. Females have egg cells and can be impregnated even before she reaches her teens. That’s just nature. And males develop sperm around the tween – to 13 age bracket. You see, nature is not an entity and therefore it could never have imagined that we would go from grunting and growling and throwing spears at our potential dinner to being the modern version of mankind that we have become.

      Now then, if you believe in a god and the scriptures in the bible, the same irrelevance applies because according to die-hard bible scholars, “Mary” was between 13-15 yrs of age when she was impregnated with “Jesus”. If you’re going to say that a teenager’s age is what caused the unhealthy birth and eventual death of a baby, then you need to debunk the bible (if you are a believer).

      • #43106 Reply

        patricia winchild

        The bibles’ been used forever to justify men’s abuse of women, parent’s abuse of their children and all kinds of bad behavior.

        Thank you Sandy Rozak for your very good points. Thanks to Judith Levine for your excellent reminders. Tyrus, what you say is too true but unfortunately, too many Americans are black and white thinkers, esp. about sex, it appears. They don’t care about grey. And thank you Robin very much for a valuable and timely history lesson. I hope it gets picked up and reprinted for more of our citizens to contemplate.

        To those who ask when will the madness end, I say don’t waste your time envisioning it will happen under this horror of a “‘president”. It’s incredible to me that anyone ever thought this guy ever cared about the laws (except how they could be twisted to use for his personal crimes). The Republican Party that had any integrity has been destroyed. We have the most backward criminal, self-centered character in history running our country. “Happy” July 4th.

  • #43024 Reply

    Maestro

    “While no one who acknowledges the existence of God believes that he condones, let alone ordains, sexual immorality, ”

    Actually, Robin, this is true. In that no one dares to acknowledge that “god” did in fact condone it.
    Numbers 31:17-18

    People who believe in the writings that are now what we refer to as “the bible” are simply in denial and they make sure to either ignore or justify what you will read in Numbers chpt 31 verses 17-18.

    • #43027 Reply
      Robin Vander Wall
      Robin Vander Wall
      Admin

      I vexed over how to end the piece and actually had to reach out for some help. I cannot speak for God. But I am not entirely sure God (presuming his existence here, of course) sees sexual sin the same way our generation does. I am confident that the Church has never regarded sexual sins on the same level as say the sins of pride or avarice–which are inevitably much more damaging to the soul (presuming the existence of souls, of course). It’s interesting that the Church has, of late, had to ignore much of what it has taught about sexual sin for thousands of years. And I am fascinated by the ascension of “victimhood” as a prized possession since, in my estimation, it’s sort of the equivalent of pride, but on acid.

      • #43110 Reply

        patricia winchild

        Often the way things change produces excess. That appears to be true more in the U.S. because it looks like too many Americans can’t hold more than two ideas in their brain at the same time. So, it’s either this or that, either true or false. This produces all manner of social and legal disasters.

        Robin, it sounds like you are unhappy about the MeToo-ers women (mostly) and the use and abuse of the idea of “victim”. I believe that whites have long been confused and in denial about what black people in this country have gone through. Not knowing has been a very popular and widespread habit here. Developing empathy for people different from ourselves, even in the most superficial ways, i.e. gender, race, sexual identity, economic status, appears to be something too many Americans are slow to care about, slow to grasp. Some have been able to acknowledge at least an understanding of why some members of a particular group have gone to excess (in their opinion) in order to secure change. The black liberation movement was led by men (in spite of the fact that women probably did most of the work behind the scenes). You never heard that movement trivialized as “Black Lib” the way women who fought for change have been, mostly by reactionary, closed-minded Americans.

        I’m not fond of the expression “if you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs” but I still think it’s true. There have been excesses in the the women’s movement and one of it’s progenies “MeToo” . (Al Franken looks like a casualty to me). Ronan Farrow has been a rational voice in a time that needs more. Social change movements, imperfect as they may be, all helped make our country better than it was. And, all met with resistance, at least initially and some are more popular than others.

        Traditionally, groups with greater power tend to be less open-minded about those with less, with those who are fighting for change, so those more empowered folks often go on the defensive with an arrogant and angry attitude. People don’t want (or choose) to be victims, including those in our group.As far as I’m concerned, many, if not most of us, have been and are victims of extremely unfair mass social ignorance and abuse of the law. Sex is undoubtedly, one of the less simplistic but most emotional ideas/behaviors. Sex (& how it’s practiced) has always been used as an entitlement of those with power. That power can be money, religion or both. This has been challenged. Expect indignity and defensiveness. Expect rage, especially from those who abuse power and care less about what is fair.

        It helps to recognize that Jefferson was no saint. But it also is good to accept that those with a weaker voice who finally speak out are not wrong to do so. Narsol and those who care about justice are part of this war to make America FAIR again.

  • #43028 Reply

    James Coghill

    Thomas Jefferson was a walking contradiction. Hated slavery yet owned slaves. Hated debt yet swam in it. Monticello was a total failure for him. I think the biggest difference that creates the effect you have identified is population. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there were about 2.5 million people living in the United States’ original 13 States in 1776. In todays world you are nothing more than a name with a body attached to it. You have been stripped of being a person to being a liability to your government. Suppose you go to trial tomorrow. Is the population so small that somebody you know might be on the jury? Back then it was. That’s what jury of your peers really means. Even the religious zealots of that time considered 13 to be the age of consent because that came straight out of the old testament. No one would think that now and you have to ask yourself why not? How and in what way have we changed from back then? Invariably you will hear that we are a modern industrial society as the reason. Since when did industry trump biology?

    You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence. (Charles Austin Beard)

    If we were still true to the values this country was founded on repeating our founding fathers would be like preaching to the choir and wouldn’t get anyone a reputation as a dangerous citizen. What went wrong with us? Could it be that many of us have adopted values contrary to those this country was founded on?

    • #43076 Reply

      Maestro

      “Even the religious zealots of that time considered 13 to be the age of consent because that came straight out of the old testament. No one would think that now and you have to ask yourself why not? How and in what way have we changed from back then?”

      “We” haven’t changed, the laws made by our governments have and then those laws get into people’s heads and the people just agree.
      From what I’ve read in my research about age of consent, back when it was 13, I guess that somehow allowed the young girls of that time period to be sex workers in bordellos. This is what caused the age of consent to change. However, even when you have a consenting 16 yr old in a state where 16 is legal, that 16 yr old cannot be a stripper or work at the Bunny Ranch.
      So raising the age of consent due to bordello work was kind of backasswards.

      “Invariably you will hear that we are a modern industrial society as the reason. Since when did industry trump biology?”

      It doesn’t. But this is people’s “go to” excuse. I believe children were more “child like” back then as opposed to now. I see what 13+ yr olds are doing NOW and I assure you they’re NOT playing with Barbie dolls and being all “innocent”. They are all over social media trying to look as sexy as possible and gain attention and “instagram fame”. They give 0 shits about Barbie dolls other than tying to LOOK like Barbie.

      • #43493 Reply

        David Kennerly

        “I believe children were more “child like” back then as opposed to now. I see what 13+ yr olds are doing NOW and I assure you they’re NOT playing with Barbie dolls and being all “innocent”. ”

        Well, I think that is precisely backward. Children in centuries past were more ADULT-like than they are today. They were held to responsibilities much closer to those of adults and accorded levels of independence vastly greater than the infantilized adolescents of today which is extending further-and-further outward in age. Adolescence was once much different from childhood which, itself, was much different from childhood today.

  • #43029 Reply

    skipbo

    It’s articles like this that give people the idea that this organization is trying to somehow normalize the abuse of children. “Thomas Jefferson did it, so what’s the big deal?” “People didn’t get all upset about it back then, so why do we get upset now?” Well, it’s because over the past 200 years we are smarter, more intelligent and are a more humane and civil society, that’s why. I get the point that great people do bad things and should be forgiven, etc. etc. but jesus this is bad P.R.

    • #43033 Reply
      Robin Vander Wall
      Robin Vander Wall
      Admin

      I think you misapprehend the point of my post. NARSOL certainly does not support the normalization of sexually abusing children. Nor do I. How you can read the post and posit that I’m hoping the take away is “everyone should be able to abuse” children is exactly the sort of response I am hoping to defray. The point is not that abuse is okay or that it should go unpunished. The point is that destroying a person’s life on account of that fact that he has caused the pain and suffering of another as a consequence of sexual abuse is NOT the appropriate answer. As far as I can tell (and I believe there are a great many people who agree), the sex offender registries (which is what NARSOL opposes) constitute a more-or-less eternal perpetuation of punishment for criminal sexual conduct. And Americans need to confront the fact that there are people like Jefferson (and he is certainly not alone…Elvis Presley comes to mind) who they hold in great esteem who, if treated in the same fashion as modern “sex offenders” are treated, would be entirely erased from the cultural milieu. If you think that’s “progressive”, so be it. I find it rather regressive and counter intuitive. I don’t think it’s a rational argument that we are either “smarter” or “more intelligent” merely because we live in a different period of time (every generation of people makes this same argument, which renders the argument benign since every generation gets to define and justify its own values to itself), nor do I find any evidence that modern culture, taken as a whole, is more humane or civil. Indeed, it is such confident thinking that has historically provided the bedrock for the most atrocious acts of incivility by humans upon other humans. Have you forgotten the rather recent practice of eugenics to rid society of undesirables? I believe that the sex offender registry is, itself, an example of the fruits of such thinking.

    • #43043 Reply
      Sandy Rozek
      Sandy Rozek
      Admin

      In spite of Robin having done a suburb job of defending his thesis, I feel compelled to respond also.

      Skipbo, do you agree with this? The world sees those who have committed sexual offenses as one dimensional, totally bad, and believe that is all that counts once they are on the registry. If you do, then the purpose of this piece is essential. The public doesn’t care if the registry is a lifetime of punishment because people who are totally bad, as those on the registry are, deserve that. People like Jefferson remind us that is not so, that we all have both good and bad qualities, and that committing a crime doesn’t erase all the good one has done or will ever do.

    • #43077 Reply

      Maestro

      “It’s articles like this that give people the idea that this organization is trying to somehow normalize the abuse of children. “Thomas Jefferson did it, so what’s the big deal?” “People didn’t get all upset about it back then, so why do we get upset now?””

      Skipbo,

      You’re missing the point of the article. What I got from this was not to say “it was ok for Jefferson to do it so why can’t we”, I got that it’s saying “We continue to prop these historic figures like Jefferson and Elvis on a pedestal but people today who have done similar things with post pubescent teenagers are seen as monsters”.

      If we’re going to look upon modern day mankind as “monstrous” for his NATURAL attraction to youthful females of our species, then we also need to abandon these historic figures and treat them as the pariahs we are treated as.

      Otherwise, the population needs to just shut up.

  • #43034 Reply

    erich w raulfestone

    Just remember that in those days it was COMMON for one to marry one at such a young age depending where you looked. Yes Jefferson was of “higher station” then Sally, but obviously Sally consented. So whats the beef??

  • #43040 Reply

    Barry

    Considering Jeffersons time period in history I see very little relevance to an older man and girl conceiving unless it was forbidden by law. As contradictory or famous his life the article does not raise the question of his act being lawless but rather a comparison to today’s standards and laws.

    Go back a couple thousand years and we see the virgin Mary, a child in her own right being conceived by God. Does this make God a sex offender? Or a child giving birth an acceptable standard in the society of that day?

  • #43042 Reply

    Judith Levine

    The rape of Black girls and women was central to the slave economy, of which Jefferson was part. The role of the female African slave, along with farm and domestic labor, was to produce more slaves. The slave woman or girl could not say no; every act of sex with the person who enslaved her was non-consensual.

    Because they were Black, neither Sally Hemmens nor her children were ever considered “children.” They were not protected as sexual innocents because the notion of sexual innocence was the province of white women and girls only; Black women and girls were figured sexually promiscuous — therefore “unrapeable.” This legacy persists. Research shows that white people see Black girls as older, more sexually experienced, and more responsible for their own victimization than white girls the same age. But at the turn of the 19th century, legally and culturally any 14-year-old girl of any race — particularly if she was poor or working class — might be considered an adult.

    Jefferson’s sin was America’s sin: slavery. Whether or not he was a child “predator” (a word NARSOL should strike from its site) is hardly the point.

    • #43049 Reply
      Sandy Rozek
      Sandy Rozek
      Admin

      Thank you, Ms. Levine; the historical and sociological nuances are very valuable.

      NARSOL also despises the word “predator” as well as the term “sex offender.” We are, however, hopeful of attracting as wide a reading audience as possible to our website and our original articles, and those who are experts in the area have identified certain words and phrases that will attract greater attention and optimize a headline’s position in regard to search engines.

      Ironic, isn’t it, that we find ourselves using terms we find despicable in order to attract readers to articles about why those terms are despicable and shouldn’t be used?

  • #43054 Reply

    Thomas Darby

    I love that last line particularly, because I had often questioned how I can call myself Christian yet have had inappropriate desires toward or contact with children.
    Quote:
    “Maybe what we see in Jefferson is the capacity of great sinners to coexist with great saints, and often in the exact same body.”

    This of course does not excuse the behavior, but it points out to me that sometimes, maybe, we need to be more forgiving, and not continually hold the sinner’s feet to the fire, so to speak. And it points out that there are no true Saints among humankind: We all have walked dark paths, some more than others.

    But about Thomas Jefferson himself, I would say the greater scandal at that time was that Sally Hemings was not “white.” Slave owners often engaged in sex with, and impregnated, their female charges. But Jefferson was a highly respected man, educated, and became President while still engaging in this behavior. I say the “greater scandal” was the color difference, because until the late 1800’s, it was very common for girls as young as 12 or 13 to be married and have children as soon as they were capable. My own great-grandmother gave birth to my grandmother at the age of 14. In many parts of society, if a girl wasn’t married by 16 folks looked at her as a future “spinster,” a derogatory term for an un-marriageable woman. Then, too, they had many children early on, because life was short– 45 was positively old. What history doesn’t record is whether Sally Hemings loved Mr. Jefferson, and willingly went to his bed, or whether she did so out of her duties as a slave.

    So no, I don’t think Thomas Jefferson was a child predator. That Sally was 14 was, at that time and age, irrelevant; and he has no record of “preferences for children,” or assaults upon his own daughters, or seeking strangers as “victims,” all the hallmarks of a predator. Certainly no evidence of pedophilia. I think he was a profoundly lonely man after the death of his wife, and fell in love with Sally; and were it not for the racist scandal that would erupt, he would have married her.

    • #43062 Reply
      Robin Vander Wall
      Robin Vander Wall
      Admin

      Thank you for your insights, Thomas. I think you’re right about the context. In his time, Thomas would not have been considered a child predator. Neither would have John Marshall (who has a similar story, only his future wife was 12 when he met her). But Jefferson (as well as Marshall) would certainly be charged with a sexual crime against a minor today. I don’t think there’s any possible way of disputing that.

      We live in a time where the names of streets, buildings, and parks are being changed because they honor men or women who once championed the segregation of races. We’ve witnessed countless men’s (and a few women’s) professional lives destroyed even more recently because they are being held to standards of sexual harassment that did not exist just 20 years ago. So, I think the founding generation is fair game. I’m still waiting for someone to suggest that we change the name of Washington, D.C. because it honors a slave owner (who was the great-grandfather-in-law of Robert E. Lee)

  • #43056 Reply

    JT

    How twisted that American politicians are obsessed with the sex lives of Americans while they, in turn, are often discovered to be the greatest, morally-depraved sexual offenders of all.

    Let’s not forget how Congress protected sexual predator, Mark Foley, who is still walking around free while receiving a pension that Americans pay for. Let’s not forget Bill Clinton’s documented visit to registered sex offender, Jeffery Epstein’s, island where underage girls were raped and sexually assaulted. Let’s not forget Dennis Hastert. And the list goes on and on.

  • #43060 Reply

    kerry

    I think the article is well written and while we are currently trying to change the history of America it seems (destroying statues, etc.) it is relevant to a discussion today. We are judging people from the Civil war era by today’s standards, so i believe Jefferson is fair game. This would serve as great ammunition for a debate about the registry. You could say i know a person that did such and such with a young girl of 14 years old, do you believe a person like this deserves a second chance? The answer from the pro registry person would undoubtedly be an emphatic no. The debater could then reply the person i am referencing is Thomas Jefferson. They are not playing fair, using shock and awe tactics, we should apply the same.

  • #43059 Reply

    totally against public registry

    Just because we have advanced in technology in the past couple of hundred years, does not mean that our minds have caught up with it all! Human mind is very complex as we can see how it has evolved in millions of years. You can’t just fast-forward millions of years of natural instinct and behavior, overnight! Hundreds of years is overnight in the scheme of time……….
    We can’t punish human behavior by creating harsh laws but we can start teaching human kindness and compassion and understanding so the future generations have a chance at helping each other instead of persecuting each other!

  • #43083 Reply

    TS

    Well written, Robin, and quite the set of comments here to add to the discussion. Very interesting to consider all of the points authored and added by commenters.

    As Robin and I previously dialogued long ago in a comment section here, it would be very interesting to see, as best as possible, those in positions, such as former President Jefferson was, that had similar relations with the younger aged people of the day and how long that actually carried on. It would be of great historical value and perspective.

  • #43082 Reply

    Jo

    Great Article! Can we send this to prosecutors and Judges?

  • #43068 Reply

    Saddles

    Doesn’t the American public just love govermental cover-ups, and a part of that is making sure “We” keep a handle on what information ” we” release to the general public. Well according to the general public Virginia has since taken some off the registry in a Band-Aid attempt to combat the scams so many can’t get smeared into with this sex offender infomation posting. I guess its like a get rich scheme for some. The information doesn’t tell one that its was an undercover operation or whatever. Talk about the spy who loved me. Where are common values today, on some computer for the geek squads or sin squads or those officers protecting and serving in the wrong way. (don’t get offended by that remark)

    While I’m not sure of juvenile custody I just wonder who was posing as a juvenle in this whole encounter that some go thru by these ordained servants to protect the public. The computer is a seperate entity from the public. While the interent is a good source of information today it is a bit damaging when police officers present opportunities such as this. I just wonder who is leaning on their own understanding in all this hype. Abuse is abuse in any form and law’s are there for public awareness. Caught in the act or not we all should have our day in a court of law

    Robin’s article brought up slaves, we could go back and talk about concubines if thats the case or kings falling. And maestro there”s a reason for all season’s look that up on your yahoo. Since you were in Numbers I hope you read the one about the donkey. I thought you and Sandy said we couldn’t use religon or does our own understanding “Trump” us up. I would say ask for true understanding but that would be going a bit to far on here, and yes I still believe in due process that needs to be given to everyone.. this plea bargain is watered down justice or is the “We” in the declaration watered down today for government justification means. Talk about power corrupting.

    Boundaries sure we all have them but than again its all about principals that make the difference. We ‘ve all have heard stories about Thomas Jefferson and this Sally Hemings slave down thru the ages. My dad told me once if you can’t say anything good about anyone don’t say it, but in certain circles we all should not judge. i’m sure all presidents have something in their conscience to hide. Robin brings up something to remind us about this fourth of July and also about one’s Independence or dependence.

  • #43065 Reply

    Tyrus Young

    The article is well written and makes several good points. Going a step further, terminology is being misapplied to the majority of those who made a mistake in judgement. Recidivism rates bear out my point.

    I made a mistake and am on the registry. My victim was past the age of consent (but less than 18). I was convicted a sexual offense. However, when one refers to me as a sexual offender, it implies an on-going status. My mistake was 20 years ago and there have been no repeats since then. 20 years ago I did some part time security guard work, but haven’t done so since… wouldn’t it be inaccurate to state I am a security guard?

    If someone was arrested for drunk driving and thereafter quit drinking totally. Twenty years later do we label them a drunk driver? No, we say he had a DUI offense 20 years ago.

    If we can’t be labelled properly it will forever be difficult to change our treatment.

  • #43093 Reply
    Fred
    Fred
    Admin

    I have visited Monticello three times. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Virginia enacted a law, like some other states have done, that bans registrants from visiting places Monticello?

  • #43116 Reply

    WearethePeople

    Good point Robin, Thomas Jefferson was a great man, and so are so many other men on this list. This is a really good example that we have taken the laws in the wrong direction. Sexual encounters is not always abuse. Yes in some cases it is, but what our laws do now is makes them all abuse. What I mean by this is the laws make it sound like abuse, of a female by an older male. All because of the age difference that someone said is not normal. Thomas Jefferson was a good man, he took in this young girl and gave her an exceptional home. I have seen it! Yes he fathered her children, but this was also common for white man to have sex with their slaves. What was not common was for a colored man to have sex with a white women. That was were these Statutory rape laws were used on the black man at any age. It is to bad we don’t know more about this situation because of how long ago it happened. That was a different time period. The thing is we don’t know if it was love making or abuse. This is the problem today, so many of the cases are not abuse. It is just sexually active teenagers and adults doing what we all did for centuries. The problem is the action is viewed as a crime due to age factor and not what has really occurred.

  • #43128 Reply

    Kurt

    So one of the Founding Fathers did something bad 250 years ago, and people who do the same kind of things today suffer much stronger negative consequences than the celebrated patriot of old ever did.

    Okay, but keep in mind that the legal system, and the cultural morals of the community in which one lives, REALLY DO MATTER when evaluating the wrongness of one’s behavior and the appropriate level of punishment.

    If slave owners could legally have sex with their teenage slave girls, and if that behavior was merely gossip-worthy in that day and age rather than being a hideous shocking scandal of epic proportions, then we have to keep that in mind when evaluating Jefferson’s conduct with Sally Hemmings. Did society ever tell men of Jefferson’s generation that fornication was a major crime (although it was probably a misdemeanor offense in some jurisdictions)? Did society’s laws say “no using slaves to satisfy your lusts” back then? If not, then Jefferson’s actions were deserving of less condemnation and government-imposed sanction than they would be today, when both the law AND public sentiment are crystal-clear that 15 year olds are not fair game for sexual conquest by much older men.

    If somebody produced cocaine and sold it as a recreational drug 150 years ago, is that the same kind of offense against society and our society’s morals as doing the same actions in this day and age?
    I think not.
    When a person is strongly warned by his society that a certain course of action is absolutely intolerable and will be strongly punished, that’s when a strong punishment is fitting. If society thinks the offense is no big deal, then it’s OK if the offender escapes any significant punishment.

    Bottom line: Any mature man who sticks their private part into a 15 year old girl today CANNOT claim that he’s only doing the “same thing Thomas Jefferson did.” The time and circumstances are VERY different.

    • #43168 Reply
      Robin Vander Wall
      Robin Vander Wall
      Admin

      Kurt, I sort of see where you are coming from, but it is still a little chilling to think that our individual consciences can be swallowed up into whatever a majority of people think is okay (swallowed by the Borg, so to speak). Correct me if I’m mistaken, but wasn’t that what made it possible for the German people to allow the extermination of an entire race? I’m not sure it is EVER okay to presume society has a moral question right. That’s dangerous. But, it does appear to be the way this present system operates. We coddle “kids” who have sex at 14 as poor, little innocents. We prosecute the hell out of 14-year-old murderers. Society says that’s okay. Well, society is full of sh*t, in my estimation.

      • #44030 Reply

        Glen

        Excellent point. The government argues the age of consent is without waiver, yet they (and only they) permit themselves to waive that notion, at their will, and try minors as an adults – simply when they deem the punishment should be more harsh.

      • #44689 Reply

        Glen

        Robin,

        Agreed. Interestingly, I ran across this recent story this morning regarding Paul Walker – of Fast and Furious fame. Another American icon….

        https://jalopnik.com/when-are-we-going-to-address-how-paul-walker-had-relati-1828227580

  • #43329 Reply

    Ann

    My conviction is 23 years old. Am I the same person I was 23 years ago? No I’m not, and neither is anyone else. To be treated the same as someone who reoffends over and over isn’t fair to me. I’m not them, and their crimes are their own. I got pregnant at 15 with my oldest child. Her father was 26. I knew exactly what I was doing, and what I was asking of him. Did he deserve to go to jail for his actions? NO!! That’s why I kept my mouth shut about who it was that got me pregnant. I’m part of the group here in Michigan who is waiting for the courts to say that the 2006 and 2011 registry law changes are unconstitutional for us as well. In the meantime I’m harassed by CPS and other closeminded people in this town. It’s too hard for people to take the time to get to know a person, and decide for themselves if that person is good or bad. Instead, the communities would rather allow a list on the internet to do their thinking for them.

  • #43492 Reply

    David Kennerly

    I tell you, there are some real advantages to not “acknowledging the existence of God.” I highly recommend it as it cleans the slate as a means to examine everything with fresh eyes.

  • #44031 Reply

    Glen

    Hold on…wait…I thought SORNA applied retroactively was deemed constitutional. So, why doesn’t Jefferson’s (and others) name appear on the registry?

    Seriously though, I do have a question on the other hand. When a registered sex offender passes away, are they then removed from the registry?

  • #44034 Reply

    Glen

    I did a little research via Google…”What happens to the registry when a sex offender passes away?”

    Answer: interestingly, not much…

    “When asked about Justin’s name remaining on the registry seven years after his suicide, state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said that names are not removed from the registry unless a family member sends the registry enforcement unit a death certificate.”

    https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2016/aug/25/family-dead-registered-sex-offender-still-receiving-registry-letters/

    So, again…another clear example of how the registry does not work. 7 years going, this deceased person has remained on the registry. Protecting the public from the dead I suppose….

  • #44029 Reply

    Glen

    Well written article, and something I had not frankly thought about. And, no doubt today, our present society would have found Jefferson’s actions immoral and criminal. Your article caused me to consider other examples that would have, in present day, landed some otherwise well respected American patriots and celebrities on the registry. For example, just to name a few, today the registry very well might include Pres. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Pres Andrew Johnson, Pres Martin Van Burren…Edgar Allen Poe, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marvin Gaye….etc…

    I’m certain, with more research, many many more examples could be found. Today these men might very well appear on the registry. Still, they were able to contribute positively to our nation in different ways. The point is we are still human, and in spite of our acknowledged mistakes, it shouldn’t define the rest of our lives, our loved ones, or what we can positively contribute to society.

Reply To: Thomas Jefferson: America’s most esteemed child predator
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