We’re at work on our entry about Sally Hemings [see update below], and I’m pretty sure that no piece of writing in the encyclopedia has ever been so fussed over as this one. Although we received a wonderful entry from our contributor, it went through a rigorous editing process and now we’ve sent it to a number of other first-rate scholars for their review. Here’s an example of the sort of issues we’re still trying to sort out. The entry’s introduction reads:
After her return to Monticello, Hemings bore six children, whom her son Madison Hemings later claimed to have been fathered by Jefferson. Rumors to that effect had already circulated when, in 1802, a political enemy of Jefferson accused the president of keeping one of his slaves “as his concubine.”
That political enemy was James Thomson Callender. Once an ally of Jefferson, the journalist turned on the president when he (Callender) was not, by his lights, adequately rewarded for his services. The result was “The President, Again,” a story (the beginning of which you can see above) that appeared in Callender’s paper, the Richmond Recorder, on September 1, 1802. This is not where the rumors of Tom & Sally began, but it is certainly where they took flight.
Anyway, one of our reviewers highlighted this passage and wrote the following:
I find this misleading, i.e. use of “political enemy” and “accused.” It makes it sound like Newt Gingrich accused the president … on Fox News. Callender was a journalist in his newspaper, he stated that TJ was keeping SH as his concubine. It has a different ring to me.
This raises a number of questions: What does it mean that those sentences in the introduction didn’t mention that the information about “Sally” appeared in a newspaper? Is it more accurate to refer to Callender as a journalist or as a political enemy? And, perhaps most interestingly, is it reasonable to analogize between standards of journalism in 1802 and 2012? Was the Richmond Recorder more like the Washington Post or like Fox News?
The entry should be published by the end of the year. Stay tuned for our answers then.
UPDATE: Here’s our entry on Sally Hemings.