Annette Gordon-Reed: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the Burden of Slavery

Thomas Jefferson and the Burden of Slavery with Annette Gordon-Reed - Conversations with History

Annette Gordon-Reed, Professor of Law and History, Harvard University.


Conversations host Harry Kreisler welcomes Harvard Professor Annette Gordon-Reed for a discussion of her work as a lawyer/historian focusing on the contradictions of the life of Thomas Jefferson.  Recalling her intellectual odyssey. Professor Gordon-Reed elucidates her contribution to Jeffersonian scholarship including her most recent book “The Most Blessed of Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of Imagination(written with Peter S. Onuf). Topics covered in the conversation include how her training as a lawyer empowered her to overturn the conventional historical view of the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Professor Gordon-Reed highlights the structural intellectual racism at the heart of Jeffersonian historiography  which ignored the factual evidence which pointed to Jefferson as the father of Sally Heming’s children.  In examining the evolution of Jefferson’s ideas on slavery, Professor Gordon-Reed emphasizes how Jefferson’s theory of slavery evolved as he adapted to the reality of American social and political life. She concludes with an the implications of her work for understanding the present turmoil over black/ white relations in the U.S. today.

KEYWORDS: Founding Fathers.

Annette Gordon-Reed
Publication date: 
September 28, 2016
Publication type: 
Conversations with History