Was the alleged affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings much of a story at the time of his presidency? I feel like this documentary (The Presidents: The Lives and Legacies of the 43 Leaders of the United States) that I’m watching is spending an inordinate amount of time on it just because of it being a hot topic a few years ago.
James Callender floated the story in 1802 after Jefferson jilted him for a job. The Federalist press ran with it, but Jefferson never commented on it publicly and he and his family denied it privately. The story went away by the time Jefferson died and it was only revitalized in the late 19th century. I talk about this in my PIG to the Founding Fathers. I am in the camp that does not think it was Jefferson, but his brother, Randolph, that fathered Hemings children. William G. Hyland’s book on the topic, In Defense of Thomas Jefferson, is pretty good.
I am in the other camp from Dr. McClanahan. One reason to doubt that it was Randolph Jefferson is that no one said so until absolute proof that it was some male Jefferson who fathered at least some of her children came up a few years ago. A funny development, that.
On the other hand, I don’t see why people care so much. It seems a big ad hominem argument to me. Here’s my take on it: