The Scholars Commission on the Jefferson-Hemings Issue
INDEPENDENCE OF THE SCHOLARS COMMISSION
Letter dated May 26, 2000 from the President of The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society to the Chairman of The Scholars Commission confirming that "you have our assurance that the work of The Scholars Commission will be completely independent of efforts to influence your methodology or conclusions by The Heritage Society or its members."
The specific mission of The Scholars Commission on the Jefferson-Hemings Issue (The Scholars Commission) was to make their best informed judgment on the evidence that is currently available on whether Thomas Jefferson fathered any of Sally Hemings' children. Their mission was not to prove the possible paternity of Sally Hemings' children by Thomas Jefferson, but rather to render a judgment on its likelihood after carefully examining all of the available evidence in accordance with customary standards and weight of evidence. The Scholars Commission was encouraged to pursue truth wherever it leads. The Scholars Commission was officially formed in June 2000 and publicly released an independent, thorough, logical, and compelling report on 13 April 2001.
Relationship with The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society.
Among other things, The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society (The Heritage Society) was formed by a group of concerned businessmen and women, historians, genealogists, scientists, and patriots to perform and sponsor research in matters pertaining to the private and public life of Thomas Jefferson. The Heritage Society is a permanent organization with its own officers and directors. It sponsored The Scholars Commission as an important part of its overall mission. It is expected that after The Scholars Commission completes its work, it will go out of existence. The Heritage Society interfaced with The Scholars Commission through Dr. Michael Moffitt.
Independence from other Groups & Organizations.
The Scholars Commission is an independent professional committee. It worked under the auspices of The Heritage Society, with its sponsorship, support, and encouragement, but it was free to choose its own procedures for fulfilling its mission. The purpose of The Scholars Commission was not to manipulate the outcome, nor to produce appearances directed by a hidden agenda, but to carefully review the evidence and to issue their findings in a responsible manner.
Gathering of Information & Evidence.
The Scholars Commission was encouraged to gather and assess all available evidence. It did, at its own discretion, hear from persons and reviewed written and/or oral arguments and evidence from such persons as it choose. The Scholars Commission was encouraged to have consultation with persons on both sides of the issue related to their mission, including persons from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, the Hemings family, and other known proponents of an affair.
The Scholars Commission consisted solely of prominent scholars, historians, genealogists, lawyers, etc. The Scholars Commission included members with impressive professional credentials, and sat as a panel of highly qualified judges. All efforts were made to ensure that this committee was seen as, and actually was, a fair and impartial judge of the relevant issues.
Members of The Scholars Commission.
Dr. Lance Banning
Professor of History, University of Kentucky. Professor Banning formerly held the John Adams Chair in American History at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and in the fall of 2001 served as Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh. Two of his award-winning books (The Jeffersonian Persuasion and Jefferson and Madison) were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in History. Professor Banning died in 2006.
Dr. James Ceaser
Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia. Professor Ceaser is the author of Reconstructing America and has taught at Harvard, the University of Montesquieu, the University of Basel, and Marquette.
Dr. Robert H. Ferrell
Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus Indiana University. Professor Ferrell was educated and has also taught at Yale University. He is the author or editor of more than forty books, and was described as "the dean of American presidential historians" by the Chicago Sun-Times).
Dr. Charles R. Kesler
Professor of Government, Claremont McKenna College. Professor Kesler is Director of the Henry Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College and former chairman of its Department of Government. He has written extensively on the American founding and American political thought, and is co-editor of a widely-used edition of The Federalist Papers. He is the editor of The Claremont Review of Books.
Dr. Alf J. Mapp, Jr.
Eminent Scholar, Emeritus, and Louis I. Jaffe Professor of History, Emeritus, Old Dominion University. Professor Mapp is the author of Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity (a Book-of-the-Month Club featured selection); Thomas Jefferson: Passionate Pilgrim, and has authored or edited more than another dozen books. A reference source for Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book, his numerous awards include Commonwealth of Virginia Cultural Laureate and a medal from the Republic of France's Comité Français du Bicentenaire de l'Indépendance des États-Unis. Professor Mapp died in 2011.
Dr. Harvey C. Mansfield
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government, Harvard University. Professor Mansfield has taught at Harvard for nearly four decades, chaired the Department of Government for several years, and is the author or editor of a dozen books, several of which address the era of the Founding Fathers. A former Guggenheim Fellow and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, he served as President of the New England Political Science Association and on the Council of the American Political Science Association.
Dr. David N. Mayer
Professor of Law and History, Capital University. Professor Mayer holds both a law degree and a Ph.D. in History, and is the author of The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson and numerous book chapters and articles concerning Thomas Jefferson.
Dr. Forrest McDonald
Distinguished Research Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Alabama. Professor McDonald has also taught at Brown and was the James Pinckney Harrison Professor of History at the College of William and Mary. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he is the author of The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson and numerous other books, and his many awards and prizes include Thomas Jefferson Lecturer with the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Dr. Paul Rahe
Jay P. Walker Professor of History, University of Tulsa. Professor Rahe was educated at Yale and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He served as Chair of the Tulsa Department of History for several years, has also taught at Yale and Cornell, and is the author of the highly-acclaimed, three-volume set, Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution. He has received numerous academic prizes and held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Center for the History of Freedom, and the Institute of Current World Affairs.
Dr. Thomas Traut
Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina. Professor Traut is Director of Graduate Studies and a former Ford Foundation and National Institute of Health Fellow. He is the author or coauthor of more than seventy publications, and shares his interest in Jefferson with his playwright wife, Karyn, who researched the Jefferson-Hemings relationship for seven years in preparation for her play, Saturday's Children.
Dr. Robert F. Turner (Chairman)
Professor, University of Virginia School of Law. Professor Turner holds both professional and academic doctorates from the University of Virginia School of Law, and is a former Charles H. Stockton Professor of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College and a Distinguished Lecturer at West Point. He has taught both in Virginia's Department of Government and Foreign Affairs and the Law School, and is the author or editor of more than a dozen books. A former president of the congressionally-established U.S. Institute of Peace, he has had a strong professional interest in Jefferson for three decades.
Dr. Walter E. Williams
Professor of Economics, George Mason University. Professor Williams is Chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University and the author of half-a-dozen books. He is a nationally syndicated columnist.
Dr. Jean Yarbrough
Professor of Political Science, Bowdoin College. Professor Yarbrough is former Chair of the Department of Government and Legal Studies at Bowdoin and a National Endowment for the Humanities Bicentennial Fellow. She has lectured at the International Center for Jefferson Studies, is a consultant to the Jefferson Papers project, and serves on the editorial board of both the Review of Politics and Polity. Her numerous publications include: American Virtues: Thomas Jefferson on the Character of a Free People, and "Race and the Moral Foundation of the American Republic: Another Look at the Declaration and the Notes on Virginia," in the Journal of Politics.
Each of the scholars participated in this inquiry in his or her individual capacity, and obviously their views should not be attributed to their institutions.
The 2001 Executive Summary that was originally provided in this space has been deleted. Now available to the visitors to this website is the Summary from the 2011 book The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy from Carolina Academic Press. The Summary is about 40 pages of this 400 page book which contains over 1400 footnotes.
The National Association of Scholars
A careful, year-long analysis of claims that Thomas Jefferson fathered one or more children of his slave, Sally Hemings, has yielded stunning conclusions. In a stark challenge to earlier reports, all but one of the 13 scholars expressed considerable skepticism about the charge, and some went so far as to express a conviction that it is almost certainly not true.
The Scholars Commission report pointed out that the original DNA report indicated only that a Jefferson male had fathered one of Sally Hemings' children--the available DNA could not specify Thomas Jefferson as the father.
May 21, 2001, The Fable of Tom and Sally
By James P. Lucier
According to Insight Magazine, the claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings has been shown to be baseless by a learned group of the nation's most distinguished scholars.