Thomas “the Masher” Jefferson

A brilliant but flawed figure in American History

Photo by Alicia Razuri on Unsplash

I just finished reading two exhaustive biographies about Thomas Jefferson, both of which peeled back the layers on a brilliant, complicated and yes, flawed man.

The history buffs among us are well aware that while TJ espoused “all men are created equal,” he himself owned 200 slaves…and sired 4 out-of-wedlock children with one of them. It’s easy to talk the talk. But as a southern aristocrat who lived way beyond his means, Jefferson wasn’t ready to free his slaves at the cost of his lofty lifestyle. More talking than walking in that realm!

But here’s some little-known backstory on Jefferson, the seeker of feminine companionship: Thomas was blinded by feminine beauty to the extent that he was not above pursuing women who were married — even if she was his best friend’s wife!

In early adulthood, Jefferson’s bestie asked Thomas to look after his wife while he traveled to the frontier to negotiate a treaty with a band of native Americans. So what did TJ do? The obvious!

Asked about the indiscretion years later, he commented “it was the incorrect thing to do.” Ya think? Just goes to show that all these saints who are held up as paragons of virtue aren’t always all that virtuous.

For the life of him, Jefferson’s traveling friend couldn’t understand why his wife was so cold with Thomas forevermore once he’d returned from his trip. It was only years later when a political opponent outed Jefferson for his indiscretion that the man came to discover what Jefferson had been up to when he was away.

While Thomas was the United States’ ambassador to France, he embarked on a romantic pursuit of a married woman. In an odd moment, he tried to jump a fence to impress her with his virility, only to stumble and break his wrist! Smooth, brother! It turned out she was but a dalliance to him and the relationship sputtered shortly thereafter. What can I say? We’d all like to be ladies’ men. Just some are — and some aren’t! Jefferson apparently fell in the latter group.

But all was not lost! While in France, Jefferson arranged for his daughter to be sent from America to France in the company of one of his favorite servants. When she became pregnant, a substitute was sent in her place.

At first, Jefferson was not happy with Sally Hemmings, the15 year-old replacement who was at once his slave and his deceased wife’s half sister! (Back then, slave owners more or less routinely sired children with their hot female slaves.)

But quickly, Thomas found Ms. Hemmings appealing, and despite her tender age, began having sexual relations with his slave and nanny. History is not certain on whether Sally was 15 or 16 when the relationship began. But he was 46!

Had we both lived in today’s society, I might have scored him as a bunky at MCC instead of Paul Manafort! (Yes. I served one year at a federal prison and had Paul Manafort as my celly.) And here’s a bizarre coincidence not related to TJ’s libido — but fascinating nonetheless:

Both Thoms Jeffereson and John Adams died on July 4th 1826…the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. John Qunicy Adams offered the double passing as proof of The Divine! Just as likely both men were on their deathbeds and held out till the golden anniversary whereupon they succumbed once the momentous date had arrived.

And finally, another fact most people don’t know about Jefferson: He at least, understood the hypocrisy of writing “all men are created equal” while at once being a slave owner. In his initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson included a paragraph condemning the British for bringing Africans to the New World to be used as slaves.

In fact, he felt the slavery issue was too difficult for the new country to address — and that only years would eradicate the ugly social institution. Rather than free the country’s chattel, Jefferson actually attempted to forge an agreement with Sierra Leone wherein the US would send all its slaves back to Africa. He did not foresee blacks and whites living together in harmony and advocated relocation as the only viable option to right the wrong.

Our fearless leaders are rarely as righteous as superpatriots would have us believe. After all, they were just human — and subject to all the frailties of the human condition. And if you’re interested in who these people really were, you have to dig deep to find out. And what you discover is often fascinating. Which is why history is one of my favorite subjects.

More fun stories about American History:

I’m just an old lump of coal. But I’m gonna be a diamond someday!

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