David Barton: Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings Affair Was Liberal Plot

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

Texas pseudo-historian David Barton, as we’ve reported previously, is something of a legend among Christian conservatives. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) invited him to testify before the Minnesota Senate and to lecture her Republican colleagues in Congress; Gov. Rick Perry courted his support earlier this month at a Hill Country retreat; Newt Gingrich has nothing but praise for him; Mike Huckabee says Barton’s tracts about the Founding Fathers should be required reading for everyone in America. The New York Times calls him “a guiding spirit of the religious right.” Barton’s work has been pretty soundly repudiated by respected historians, but he tells conservatives what they want to hear—and makes a lot of money doing it.

But even we’re a little surprised by his latest bombshell: Speaking at the ultra-conservative Liberty University last week, Barton explained that the now-historically and scientifically accepted narrative that Thomas Jefferson had children with his slave Sally Hemings was actually a liberal plot to distract the public from the horrors of the Clinton impeachment scandal. As he explained it, prominent liberal historians concocted the theory in order to put Clinton’s improprieties in a more favorable light. Watch:

It’s worth noting that this argument is, of course, total baloney. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which has a real vested interested in not repeating baseless Thomas Jefferson smears, acknowledges the affair on its website. And as Brian Tashman notes, Barton’s narrative about the DNA testing is sort of the opposite of what happened. Joseph Ellis was not involved in the DNA testing, but he did eventually come around to the fact that Jefferson and Hemings had conceived children. So did uber-historian Annette Gordon-Reed, who literally wrote the book on the subject. The DNA tests Barton cites as discredited said that there was a 99-percent chance that Hemings had birthed children by either Jefferson or a very close male relative (of which Jefferson is really the only plausible option). Another problem: The Jefferson-Hemings thesis predated any rumblings of the Lewinsky affair.

h/t Right Wing Watch.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate