In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal

William G. Hyland, Jr., Author
William G. Hyland, Jr., Author St. Martin’s/ Dunne $26.95 (292p) ISBN 978-0-312-56100-0
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This provocative, ill-organized defense brief tries to exculpate Thomas Jefferson from growing evidence that he fathered at least one child with his slave Sally Hemings. An attorney, Hyland (also a member of the board of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society) marshals all the available evidence, weak as well as strong, to argue that others were more likely than the squire of Monticello to have fathered Hemings’s children. Biographers, he charges, have “mangled professional standards in seizing upon the emotionally charged DNA results” that indicate a genetic link between Jefferson and Hemings’s descendants. The trouble is that a legal brief is not a historical argument. Hyland has done his own research and interviewed other researchers, but he fails to see the historical context of the evidence or to provide a balanced assessment of the known facts. In this respect, he’s ill-equipped to take on great contemporary experts of the matter, especially award-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed, whose work he terms a “concocted myth.” Surely not the last word on the matter, regrettably it’s not dependable word either. (June)

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