Define Character Assassination


Don’t Tread on Me

James T. Callender started the Sally Hemings… rumors in 1802 to sully the reputation of the third President.  Jefferson had denied Callender a partisan appointment as Postmaster of Richmond.  Callender was a scandal-monger for hire who had been imprisoned in 1800 under the Sedition Act.  Despite a Presidential pardon (from Jefferson) in 1801, Callender still published the libelous story that has cleaved to Jefferson throughout the decades.  Serious scholars dismissed Callender and his antics for what they were, political pamphleteering designed to rankle moderates with salacious rumors rather than policy discussion.  Revisionists working to change our remembrance of Jefferson have embraced Callender, often citing him as a legitimate primary source.  The coordinated effort to assassinate the character of Thomas Jefferson can be seen here:

Thomas Jefferson; An Intimate History by Fawn M. Brodie–  Introducing the highly suspect field of psychobiography to the study of Jefferson, Brodie’s book stands in stark contrast to the actual scholarship of Dumas Malone (their books were published a  year apart.)  Brodie found it revealing that Jefferson used the word ‘mulatto’ to describe brown rocks-obviously this meant he had taken Sally Hemings as his concubine.  The book sold well and was a discussion piece in the Summer of 1974;  Callender would have been proud.  True scholars rightfully rejected Brodie’s fraudulent conclusions.

The Inspiration

Jefferson’s Secrets by Andrew Burstein– More psychobiography from a Jefferson scholar, Burstein symbolizes the trend of reasonable scholars who have been bullied into revisionism.  Jefferson owned books by an Enlightenment era physician who proposed that sex was healthy.  For Burstein, this constitutes primary documentation.  Burstein has written excellent studies of Jefferson’s beliefs, but he has fallen victim to the politically correct expectations placed upon Jefferson scholars.

Jefferson was 64 in 1809

Slavery and the Founders; Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson by Paul Finkelman– Jefferson owned slaves and did not free them all when he died.  To Finkelman, this should eliminate Jefferson as one of our truly great founders.  Finkelman falls into a dangerous trap for historians,  judging historical figures by our standards.  All of Jefferson’s documented arguments are merely lip service in this analysis, for Jefferson really loved slavery.  The contradiction of Jefferson’s slave-owning has been discussed in far more significant studies; Finkelman’s  angry rant doesn’t measure up.


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