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Copyright (c) 1999 The Law Review Association, Thomas Jefferson School of Law San Diego
 Thomas Jefferson Law Review

PERSPECTIVE: THOMAS JEFFERSON <AMP> SALLY HEMINGS

September, 1999

21 T. Jefferson L. Rev. 41

Author

Aaron Schwabach *

Excerpt




 
There is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his. - Helen Keller
 
It is unlikely that either Sally Hemings or Thomas Jefferson ever imagined that one day their great-great-great-great-grandson would go to work for Microsoft. 1 Actually, history has left us little information about what Sally Hemings imagined. The life and thoughts of Jefferson, on the other hand, are perhaps more fully documented than those of any of his contemporaries. Thomas Jefferson's great weakness was not his failure to imagine Windows NT or clicking "Start" in order to stop; it was that he failed to imagine a nation in which all persons would be born free and equal, with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I. SALLY HEMINGS
 
According to Sally's a son Madison Hemings, Sally Hemings' grandmother was a slave in the Williamsburg, Virginia household of John Wayles. 2 Wayles, a slave trader, later became Jefferson's father-in-law. Sally Hemings' grandfather was an English whaling captain named Hemings. 3 Captain Hemings attempted to purchase or obtain custody of his daughter, Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings, but John Wayles refused to sell her and thwarted Hemings' attempts to steal her. 4 Wayles was motivated not by a desire to keep mother and child together, but by curiosity - he wanted to see how the mixed-race child would turn out. 5

Elizabeth Hemings was raised in the Wayles household. She had six children with ...
 
 
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