On the occasion of a state dinner at the White House honoring the Nobel laureates of the Americas, President John F. Kennedy saluted his guest, in announcing that they were – in his words:
“The most extraordinary collection of talents that has ever been gathered together in the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
That magnificent tribute to the author of the Declaration of Independence was made by one of his presidential successors nearly one half century ago. It was made by a president who was undoubtedly aware of the unconscionable smear of his predecessor in 1801 by a scandal-mongering and totally unscrupulous journalist named James Callender – which calumny JFK, to his great credit, ignored.
Consider, by striking contrast, what happened at the daily White House news briefing Wednesday, Sept. 16, when I asked President Barack Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, about the new book published in July by St. Martin’s Press written by attorney William Hyland.
I noted that this book:
“Quotes the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as claiming ‘Jefferson had intelligence, but he also had babies by a 15-year-old slave girl. I think judges call that pedophilia.’ And my question: President Obama does not believe that his presidential predecessor was a pedophile, does he?”
Instead of answering this very serious question as to whether Barack Obama believes Thomas Jefferson was a child molester, press secretary Gibbs began with a word game:
GIBBS: When you say his presidential predecessor, do you mean one of the previous presidents?
(Webster defines “predecessor” as “a person who precedes or preceded another, as in office” – which President Jefferson surely did with President Obama, although he was not his immediate predecessor.)
GIBBS: You know, I have not seen the book, Lester. I don’t – I’m not afforded the opportunity, given I’ve got to read –
Q: Would you look into it and –
GIBBS: No I won’t.
Q: You won’t. All right.
Apparently, the Thomas-Jefferson-was-a-child-molester smear, while able to evoke some laughter in the White House press room, notably was unable to evoke any denial from Obama’s press secretary. His refusal inevitably suggests that Obama either believes this libeling of his predecessor, or that he is unable to defend President Jefferson’s name from a calumny which President John F. Kennedy, to his great credit, refused to accept. Therefore, let it be carefully noted and remembered that Obama press secretary Gibbs, when asked about this libeling of President Jefferson, refused to deny that Obama believes that Jefferson was a pedophile.
What a way to treat a presidential predecessor who was so hailed by JFK!
Moreover, this chief spokesman for President Obama refuses even to read this superb historic study, author and attorney William Hyland’s “In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: the Sally Hemmings Sex Scandal.”
He writes the following, among other things:
- “The Sally (Hemmings) story is pure fiction, possibly politics, but certainly not historic fact or science.”
- “Thomas Jefferson is either the most prolific, hypocritical liar in American history or the victim of the most profane, 200-year-old defamation of character allegation in legal annals.”
- “The virulent rumor was first started by the unscrupulous, scandal-mongering journalist James Callender, who burned for political revenge against Jefferson. Callender was described as ‘an alcoholic thug with a foul mind, obsessed with race and sex,’ who intended to defame Jefferson’s public career. Historian James Truslow Adams wrote: ‘Almost every scandalous story about Jefferson which is still whispered or believed may be traced to the scurrilous writings of Callender.'”
- “The allegation of Jefferson’s guilt was a huge [modern day] story prompting tabloid headlines. Media accounts contained strong language, such as ‘proves conclusively,’ ‘demonstrated,’ or ‘resolved,’ and included the following incredible headline: ‘Adulterer on Mount Rushmore’ claimed the Des Moines Register, which included a charge of ‘statutory rape.’ Two authors wrote churlish books calling for a dismantling of the Jefferson Memorial.
- “There was little notice of a subsequent 13-member blue-ribbon panel of prominent historians and scientists (white, black, male and female) named to reconfirm the DNA conclusions (the ‘scholars commission’). After a year of investigating history’s most famous paternity case, the independent historians tamped down the simmering allegation: ‘Our conclusions range from serious skepticism about the charge to a conviction that is is almost certainly false.'”
- “After Callender’s smear of Jefferson in the Richmond Recorder on Sept. 1, 1802, Thomas Jefferson won re-election in 1804 – in a landslide. He won all but two of the 17 states and 92 percent of the electoral vote. Callender, by contrast, also libeled Dr. Samuel Johnson, President John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, among others.
- “The fevered debate about Sally and Jefferson changed radically in 1998. Scientists exploded a historic bombshell, confirming that a male carrying Jefferson DNA had fathered Sally Hemmings’ last child, Eston. The British science journal Nature’s distortion of that news led to a worldwide misrepresentation that DNA had specifically proven that Thomas Jefferson was the father. In fact, at least two dozen male Jefferson could have been.”
- “Following the release of the DNA study in the fall of 1998, Daniel P. Jordan, the president of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, or TJMF, appointed a nine-person in-house research committee. The TJMF consisted entirely of embedded Monticello researchers, two of whom, Lucia Cinder Stanton and Dianne Swann-Wright, had believed Jefferson’s guilt at least three years before the DNA study.
“The Monticello committee essentially took the ‘family myths’ of Madison Hemmings’ descendants and accepted them as a sound-bite history. The committee was chaired by slave historian Swann-Wright, the African-American director of special programs at Monticello.
“One of the committee, Dr. White McKenzie Wallenborn, charged that the Monticello committee, and particularly its chair, Dianne Swann-Wright, and co-chair Lucia Cinder Stanton, had ‘already reached their conclusions’ at the start of the deliberations. The committee ignored or dismissed as problematic ‘most of the evidence that would exonerate Mr. Jefferson.’ … The second paragraph in the official Monticello guidebook states that ‘Monticello was the home not only to Jefferson and his large family but also to as many as 135 slaves who worked the plantation’s four farms. …’ The guidebook declares to the world: ‘Because of genetic testing in 1998 and an ensuing review of other kinds of evidence, most historians today accept the truth of Madison Hemmings’ statement and believe that he and his siblings were Thomas Jefferson’s children.'”
- “The Monticello Board of Trustees now has as one of its more prominent members Julian Bond, the NAACP chairman. … Professor Peter Onuf is a history professor at the University of Virginia and enthusiastic Hemmings-paternity proponent. In his office he has a magnificent Houden bust of Thomas Jefferson dressed in a reverse baseball cap and sunglasses and a sign around its neck: MY MEAL TICKET. … According to Dr. Wallenborn, when he pointed out to Onuf that you could not use evidence, if it was not reliable evidence, to accuse Jefferson of paternity, Onuf retorted: ‘We are historians. We do not need proof. We write history the way we want to.'”
- “During a meeting at the Kenwood International Center for Jefferson Studies in Charlottesville, Wallenborn recalled Onuf saying in his presence: ‘Sometimes I hate Thomas Jefferson’ and ‘We are going to have to knock Jefferson off his pedestal.'”