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

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 Was Legislatively Racist

    Thomas Jefferson wasn’t just racist in his private life. In his public life, Jefferson used his career as a politician, including his stint as the third POTUS, to enact plenty of discriminatory legislation and fight attempted advancements in equal rights. As a governor during the Revolutionary War, he encouraged enlistment by giving slaves to those who signed up.

    He also attempted to restrict free Blacks from entering or exiting the States and tried to ban all children born of Black fathers from entering. Most hypocritically, he attempted to expel white women who had birthed children with Black men, despite his own fathering of children with Sally Hemings. 

  • He Wanted To End Slavery, But Send Free Blacks Back To Africa

    Thomas Jefferson was a major slave-owner, but he also campaigned in several ways to end slavery. Jefferson attempted to write a passage denouncing slavery in the Declaration of Independence, but was overruled by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. He would go on to make other attempts.

    However, the fact that Jefferson continued to own slaves makes some believe that he only made those attempts for political reasons. Even when he did support freeing the slaves, Jefferson still didn’t want to grant them citizenship and had a plan to ship everyone back to Africa, regardless of their actual origins. Some believe that this was an attempt to get rid of his Black descendants.

  • Jefferson Refused To Emancipate Sally Hemings

    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’s property right up until his death, after which his daughter quietly granted Ms. Hemings her freedom.

  • Sally Hemings Was A Teenager, His Slave, And Trapped Overseas With Him When Jefferson Began His Affair

    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.

  • He Split Up Slave Families As Punishment

    Thomas Jefferson may have sired an entire family with a slave, but that certainly didn’t leave him with any level of respect for slave families. Jefferson was known to punish unruly slaves by separating them from their friends and families, sometimes permanently through selling off individual family members.

    In one awful incident, Jefferson gave away a family of slaves who happened to be related to Sally Hemings (and thus Martha Jefferson) as part of a wedding gift. The new owner wanted to sell off the slaves and split them up, so Jefferson stepped in to re-purchase the family - that is, only the useful family members. Jefferson let the others be sold off to whoever wanted them, as he had no use for them. 

  • He Pioneered Smear Campaigns To Destroy Alexander Hamilton And John Adams

    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.