Erik Bates | February 22, 2019
I do wonder, if it had been socially acceptable and, probably more importantly, legal, for Jefferson and Hemmings to marry, would they?

If the answer is "yes" then I would say also that yes, she should be considered a First Lady. (Consensual) intent should, in this case, outweigh the reality and legal hurdles of the time.

At the same time, I think that even if there were no consensual intent to the relationship, it doesn't make her the First Lady, but it does make him (even more of) an asshole.

Scott Hardie | February 23, 2019
We like simple stories, with clear right and wrong. The very idea that there should be nuance in our reactions to #MeToo revelations is offensive to some people, who equate, say, Aziz Ansari's misdeeds with Harvey Weinstein's.

The relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings does not fit into neat moral boxes. In some ways, it's even harder for people to process now than it was then. There is no simple easy way to react to it. And so it continues to be ignored.

Before we can even begin to debate whether Hemings deserves to be considered a first lady, we must agree to regard Jefferson with nuance. And we're not ready to do that.

I wish that we had room for nuance. Life is complicated. Jefferson was complicated. He contained multitudes and contradictions. We should let him. It's ok. It's not just ok, it's true.

Erik Bates | February 23, 2019
I may have been hasty with my "asshole" comment. Despite my best intentions, I sometimes get caught up in the divisiveness of identity politics.

I try to recognize grey when I can, but we are ever creeping more and more toward black or white being the only acceptable choices.

Scott Hardie | February 24, 2019
For what it's worth, I didn't have a problem with you saying that. He deserves scorn for owning slaves and for raping them. But he also deserves some degree of reverence for his contributions to modern democracy. How he relates to our concept of freedom might be his most complicated relationship of all.


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