Weird History

14 Painful Reminders That Thomas Jefferson Was Kind Of An Awful Person 

Stephan Roget
Updated July 18, 2020 69.9k views 14 items

If being American were a sport, Thomas Jefferson would be in the running for all-time MVP. Jefferson was one of the best Founding Fathers, the primary author of the Declaration, a celebrated President, and the most popular character in Hamilton. America was founded on Jefferson-stated principals, especially those regarding “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” along with all men being “created equal.”

Unfortunately, Jefferson himself really failed to live up to those lofty values. The great things that Jefferson did are eclipsed by the awful things he did. Jefferson’s hypocrisy is fairly well-known amongst Americans, but his status as a member of the Mount Rushmore Club has resulted in some of his outright terribleness being edited out of history.

Thomas Jefferson had many admirable qualities and contributed greatly to the creation of the United States of America. He deserves his status as a good President, unlike certain other individuals such as Andrew Jackson. However, as you examine the stories of his life below, you'll be surprised to find how Jefferson lacks honor and is a bit of a nasty person. 

He Pioneered Smear Campaigns To Destroy Alexander Hamilton And John Adams
He Pioneered Smear Campa... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 14 Painful Reminders That Thomas Jefferson Was Kind Of An Awful Person
Photo:  Howard Chandler Christy/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Modern politicians are no strangers to smear campaigns and dirty politics, but these weren’t always a part of the American scene. Thomas Jefferson deserves much of the credit for introducing smear campaigns to the American system, thanks to the slanderous campaigns he secretly ran against Alexander Hamilton and John Adams.

Jefferson hired James Callender as a “pamphleteer,” but in practice Callender was a minister of propaganda, helping to spread scandal and rumor about Jefferson’s opponents. Callender helped the story of Hamilton’s amorous affair get out and launched countless attacks against Adams’s presidency. Ironically, Callender later turned on Jefferson and began spreading tales of his dalliances with Sally Hemings.

Sally Hemings Was A Teenager, His Slave, And Trapped Overseas With Him When Jefferson Began His Affair
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Photo:  Sally Hemings: An American Scandal/Lionsgate

Thomas Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemings after his wife’s death is well-known. This relationship is sometimes portrayed as a forbidden romance between slave and master, but the truth is far more disturbing. When Thomas and Sally first started sleeping with one another, Sally was Jefferson’s property and stuck overseas in France with him, meaning she didn't really have a choice. In addition to this, Sally may have been as young as 14 when the affair began.

It would not be long after their return to American soil that Jefferson would impregnate her for the first time.

Sally Hemings Was Martha Jefferson’s Half-Sister
Sally Hemings Was Martha... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 14 Painful Reminders That Thomas Jefferson Was Kind Of An Awful Person
Photo:  Thomas Sully/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Many sources believe that Sally was actually the half-sister of Thomas’ wife ,Martha Jefferson, as a result of her father’s own dalliances with a slave woman. This makes Thomas’ decision to start sleeping with Sally after Martha’s death all the more troubling. In addition, there's the weird fact that he was okay with owning people who were technically family. 

Jefferson Refused To Emancipate Sally Hemings
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Photo:  Mather Brown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Over a few decades, Sally Hemings bore Thomas Jefferson seven children, four of whom reached adulthood. Some believe that Hemings maintained her relationship with Jefferson due to a promise that he would eventually grant her children their freedom, a promise that Jefferson later upheld. This sounds mildly commendable, although it should be noted that Jefferson dragged his heels on freeing them for fear of public appearances.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Sally herself. Despite their romance, Sally remained Thomas’ property right up until his death, after which his daughter quietly granted Ms. Hemings her freedom.