Essay William Wells Brown and the Jefferson and Hemings Scandal

1773 Words 8 Pages
William Wells Brown and the Jefferson and Hemings Scandal


William Wells Brown wrote Clotel or The President's Daughter, a (fiction) novel based on the rumors surrounding Thomas Jefferson's affair with Sally Hemings, his slave. Brown learned of the scandal while working in several antislavery activities following his escape from slavery in 1834. Brown wanted not only to improve the social status of blacks and to support abolition through his writing, but also to encourage his readers to "develop a skeptical relationship to glorified stories of the national past" (Levine 15). He chose to write a novel that not only questioned slavery, but also questioned the validity of the principles that this nation was founded on.

Rumors
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The party was struggling at the time and appreciated Callender's efforts to "diminish the public stature" (Rothman 90) of their opponents. Jefferson paid
Callender to continue writing political pamphlets to help the party. But eventually Callender became irritated with the Republicans, feeling that they used him just to suit their purposes.

When Jefferson won the election of 1800, Callender felt he had played an important role in getting Jefferson elected. He wanted to be compensated with some much needed money and a job. When he didn't hear from Jefferson quickly enough, however, he became impatient and made threats to reveal some of Jefferson's secrets. In September of 1802 Callender fulfilled his threats by outing President Jefferson and his mistress in an article printed in the Richmond Recorder. This was the first article in the press to discuss the scandal, and it primed the way for many other articles, verses, and eventually the novel, Clotel.

It's clear from his writings that Callender hated African Americans and found the notion of interracial sex to be both disturbing and disgusting. He accused Sally of being a slut who had at least "fifteen or thirty [different lovers] of all colours" (Rothman 95). He was hoping that exposing Jefferson's affair with Ms. Hemings would ruin the President's reputation by causing the same disgust in his political supporters. Callender clearly had no idea that Jefferson's supporters would be so accepting of his interracial…