Jefferson's Slave

Before becoming governor of Virginia and the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed the inalienable right of men to liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. This enthusiastic proclamation of principles, however, did not prevent the optimistic Jefferson from being an owner of more than a hundred slaves. The father of American independence, nonetheless, did not like slavery even though he believed that blacks were inferior in body and soul to whites. And he advised that they be returned to Africa in order to avoid a mixing of races that he considered to be baleful.

But Jefferson was also a pioneer in vindicating the not less inalienable right to contradiction. Because, although he hated racial mixing, this did not cause him to abstain from having eight children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, a mulatto whom he owned, thirty years younger than he was, with whom he maintained a stable relationship throughout his life. The historian Annette Gordon-Reed studied this secret page of the life of the hero of American freedom in her book “The Hemings of Monticello” in which she posed many questions that are very difficult to answer: Was the relationship that existed between the illustrious politician and his slave a relationship of love? Wasn’t their link perhaps unavoidably tainted by the inescapable condition of servant and master? Is such a dependency compatible with love? Was it a blatant sexual exploitation?

Jefferson gave freedom to the children born of the slave, who decided to try to pass as a white since their pale skin permitted it. This in turn raises another question: Do the descendants of the slave Sally Hemings think that the master Jefferson was one of the fathers of liberty? And this allows us to present this story as a parable of the tormented political relations that whites and blacks have lived through in the United States. The roots of Obama are not founded in very movable lands. But what revenge for the descendants of Sally if he were elected president! Not even Cecil B. de Mille came to dream of a similar idea.

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