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


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.
“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.