Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Reviewed by Fergus M. BordewichSunday, September 14, 2008, Washington Post
An American Family
By Annette Gordon-Reed
Norton. 798 pp. $35

Thomas Jefferson's contradictions have long baffled historians. His clarion assertion of human equality in the Declaration of Independence became the battle cry of the abolitionist movement. Yet he lived on the fruits of slave labor and never risked political capital (or his own comfort) to oppose the institution of slavery. He regarded blacks as odorous, intellectually inferior and incapable of creating art. Yet, as Annette Gordon-Reed convincingly argues in this monumental and original book, he cohabited for more than 30 years with an African American woman with whom he conceived seven children.
Liberating the woman known to Jefferson's smirking enemies as "dusky Sally" from the lumber room of scandal and legend, Gordon-Reed leads her into the daylight of a country where slaves and masters met on intimate terms. In so doing, Gordon-Reed also shines an uncompromisingly fresh but not unsympathetic light on the most elusive of the Founding Fathers.
In Sally Hemings's day, Gordon-Reed writes, she was "the most well-known enslaved person in America." Her connection to Jefferson was brutally exposed and mocked by his political opponents during his first presidency, while black churchmen in the early republic preached sermons on her "family situation." The publicity was sufficiently embarrassing that Jefferson's partisans and descendants crafted a sanitized and sexless version of life at Monticello that continued until our own day. Although controversy persists, recent DNA research has caused most historians to accept Jefferson's paternity of Hemings's children.
Gordon-Reed first probed the Jefferson-Hemings relationship in her 1997 book "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy." Now she deepens and widens her view to encompass the entire sprawling Hemings clan as actors on the stage of history. Members of the Hemings family came to Monticello as part of the inheritance of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles. They were the offspring of Martha's father and his enslaved concubine Elizabeth Hemings, and thus Martha's own siblings. (In a different society, they would never have been Jefferson's slaves at all and would instead have shared in the inheritance that Martha acquired from her father's estate; the same could later be said of Jefferson's own mixed-race children.) Gordon-Reed's exploration of the lives of other members of the Hemings family -- most notably Sally's mother, Elizabeth, and her brothers, Robert and James, who served as valets to Jefferson -- is also exhaustive and fascinating in its own right. But Sally is the most compelling if Martha Wayles Jefferson died in 1782. Thomas Jefferson would remain a nominal bachelor for the remainder of his long life. During his service as U.S. ambassador to France, which began in 1784, he summoned Hemings to Paris as an attendant for his youngest daughter, Polly. According to Gordon-Reed, the relationship became sexual in Paris, on the cusp of the French Revolution, when Hemings was 16 and Jefferson was 46. They remained together until Jefferson's death in 1826. Hemings left no written testimony, and Jefferson was careful to leave few traces of the true nature of their liaison.
"When it came to the care and deployment of his image, which if managed properly would leave him with the positive legacy of 'great man,' Jefferson was supremely disciplined and controlled," Gordon-Reed observes. Her deconstruction of this occluded relationship is a masterpiece of detective work. Although she employs a considerable amount of deductive reasoning, she resists facile speculation and relies on a very close reading of the surviving documentary record wedded to copious knowledge of slavery as it was practiced by members of Jefferson's social class at the time.
For instance, Gordon-Reed delves into the startlingly open relationship between Sally's oldest sister, Mary, and a prosperous Charlottesville merchant, Thomas Bell, to whom Jefferson had hired her out. A mutual attachment developed, and Mary eventually asked Jefferson to sell her to Bell; Jefferson agreed. "Within the extremely narrow constraints of what life offered her -- ownership by Thomas Jefferson or ownership by Thomas Bell -- Mary Hemings took an action that had enormous, lasting, and, in the end, quite favorable consequences for her, her two youngest children, and the Hemings family as a whole," writes Gordon-Reed. "She found in Bell a man willing to live openly with her, and to treat her and her children as if they were bound together as a legal family."
Gordon-Reed bravely attempts to untangle a particularly fraught question: Could genuine love exist between master and slave? With its acknowledgment that slavery's unequal balance of power "grossly distorted" the play of human emotions, her conclusion is necessarily subtle and may not satisfy those who require monochromatic answers. Had Hemings been merely a plaything, Gordon-Reed points out, Jefferson could have simply let her stay in France, where slavery had been abolished and a well-trained servant like her would have had little difficulty finding work. Instead, he wanted Hemings to return with him to Virginia so intensely that he was willing to bargain with her, by promising her personal privileges as well as eventual freedom for their offspring. Hemings, for her part, was "a smart, if overconfident, attractive teenage girl who understood very well how men saw her and was greatly impressed with her newly discovered power to move an infatuated middle-aged man."
Had sex been all that Jefferson wanted, he could have hidden her away at one of his several farms in Virginia. But he arranged his life at Monticello so that Hemings would be in it every day that he was there. She led a life as close to that of a wife as any enslaved woman could in antebellum Virginia. To Jefferson, Gordon-Reed plausibly argues, Hemings offered a "familiar presence, telling him what he needed to hear about what was happening on the farm, having sex, attending to his needs, being the person of his private world who listened to him complain or voice fears about matters that he might not want to reveal to others." She says of Hemings, "At the end of her life she would be able to say that she got the important things that she most wanted."
Defenders of slavery tirelessly promoted the canard that emancipation would lead to an epidemic of miscegenation that would ruin America's blood stock. The truth -- the great open secret of the antebellum South -- was that race-mixing was embedded, quite literally, in the culture of slaveholding, where masters' sexual exploitation of their female "property" was not a crime. Gordon-Reed writes, "The pervasive doctrine of white supremacy supposedly inoculated whites against the will to interracial mixing, but that doctrine proved to be unreliable when matched against the force of human sexuality." American slaves and their descendants, she says, "are the only victims of a historically recognized system of oppression who are made to carry the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that things endemic to their oppression actually happened to them." In this magisterial book, she has succeeded not only in recovering the lives of an entire enslaved family, but also in showing them as creative agents intelligently maneuvering to achieve maximum advantage for themselves within the orbit of institutionalized slavery.
Jefferson kept his promise to Sally Hemings. All their children eventually went free. Of the four children who reached adulthood, three lived as whites. The fourth, Madison Hemings, married a woman so fair-skinned that some of their children were also able to pass for white. The Hemingses were, of course, in a class by themselves, as Gordon-Reed frequently underscores. The rest of Jefferson's many slaves were sold off to pay his debts. "The only route to freedom . . . was the possession of Wayles, Jefferson, or Hemings blood," writes Gordon-Reed. "No one else had a chance."
Fergus M. Bordewich's most recent book is "Washington: The Making of the American Capital."

President Tom’s Cabin

Jefferson, Hemings, and a disclaimed lineage.
by Jill Lepore September 22, 2008 in the New Yorker

For Annette Gordon-Reed, the real scandal wasn’t what Jefferson did; it was what historians did, in scanting the evidence for it.

In 1852, when Harriet Beecher Stowe finished “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” she wrote to a congressman, Horace Mann, who happened to be Nathaniel Hawthorne’s brother-in-law, to beg a favor. Might he know how to get a copy of her book to Charles Dickens? “Were the subject any other I should think this impertinent & Egotistical,” Stowe wrote, making of demurral a poor cloak for presumption. But she had reason to expect Dickens’s sympathy. A decade earlier, upon completing an unhappy tour of the United States, Dickens judged the country “the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty.” Seeing slavery at first hand left him sick. “I really don’t think I could have borne it any longer,” he confessed, after riding a train whose passengers included a mother and her weeping children, sold away from their father by a fiend whom Dickens satirized as yet another American “champion of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
It would be going too far to say that Charles Dickens had it in for the original champion of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Still, he rarely missed an opportunity to throw a dagger in Thomas Jefferson’s general direction, slurring, in his American novel, “Martin Chuzzlewit” (1844), that “noble patriot . . . who dreamed of Freedom in a slave’s embrace.”
Discerning readers knew which patriot he meant. Dickens was quoting the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who visited the United States soon after a scurrilous Scots journalist named James Callender published, in the September, 1802, Richmond Recorder, long-standing rumors that Jefferson, who was President at the time, had fathered children by one of his slaves: “Her name is SALLY.” Moore, inspired, wrote a poem—The weary statesman for repose hath fled From halls of council to his negro’s shed, Where blest he woos some black Aspasia’s grace, And dreams of freedom in his slave’s embrace!
—onto which Dickens, appalled, tacked an epilogue: “and waking sold her offspring and his own in public markets.”
James Callender drowned himself in the James River in 1803, but even unstable scandalmongers sometimes get a story straight. Thomas Jefferson did own a woman named Sally, Sally Hemings, and her children looked just like him. Writing four decades after Callender, Dickens did no more than add a seedy detail—the sexually sated author of the Declaration of Independence pocketing a tidy sum by peddling his own progeny lends the story an Oliverian twist—but even this wasn’t entirely Dickens’s invention. In 1838 or 1839, the London Morning Chronicle, where Dickens worked as a reporter, picked up a story that had been reprinted in the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. An eyewitness claimed to have seen one of Jefferson’s children on the auction block at the most infamous slave market in America: “the DAUGHTER of THOMAS JEFFERSON SOLD in New Orleans, for ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS.”
Dickens probably believed this to be true. It was not. After Jefferson’s death, on July 4, 1826, his slaves were sold at auction. But that auction did not include Sally Hemings’s children, as Annette Gordon-Reed records in her commanding and important book, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” (Norton; $35). Jefferson freed two of Hemings’s three surviving sons, Madison and Eston, in his will; the other son, Beverly, had already left Monticello. Hemings had a daughter, too, Harriet, who left Monticello in 1822, when she was twenty-one. “Harriet. Sally’s run,” Jefferson wrote in his “Farm Book,” where he kept track of his human property, a population that needed minding, since Jefferson was one of the largest slaveholders in Virginia. Harriet didn’t exactly run. “She was nearly as white as anybody, and very beautiful,” recalled one of Jefferson’s overseers, who also said that Jefferson ordered him to give fifty dollars to the girl, and paid for her ride, by stage, to Philadelphia. A widely circulated rumor, reported by another literary English rambler, Frances Trollope (Anthony Trollope’s mother), in her 1832 “Domestic Manners of the Americans,” turns out to be well-founded: “When, as it sometimes happened, his children by Quadroon slaves were white enough to escape suspicion of their origin, he did not pursue them if they attempted to escape.”
But if the report that Jefferson’s daughter had been pawned off to the highest bidder wasn’t true, it still made a good story. At least, that’s what William Wells Brown thought when he wrote “Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter,” the first African-American novel, published in 1853, a year after “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” That year, Stowe toured England, where she met Dickens, and where Brown, who was living in London, rallying British sympathy for the American abolitionist movement, managed to get a glimpse of her. Brown knew a thing or two about what Stowe, in her Dickensian subtitle, called “Life Among the Lowly.” Stowe’s novel opens in Kentucky; Brown was born there. He worked for a Mississippi River slave trader, dyeing the hair of gray-haired slaves black, so that they might fetch a better price. His sister was sold away. In 1833, he and his mother tried to run; they were caught. His mother was sold down the river. The following year, Brown finally escaped, alone. In 1847, two years after the celebrated abolitionist Frederick Douglass published the story of his life, Brown told his own not entirely unvarnished tale, “Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself.” After Stowe’s novel made publishing history (it sold ten thousand copies in its first week), Brown decided to try his hand at fiction. What better plot than the shocking story that had animated the pen of Dickens himself?
Brown’s characters are different from Uncle Tom, Eliza, and Topsy, but they’re no less didactic, and his novel, like Stowe’s, follows their desperate fates, trial heaped upon tribulation, like so many ice floes crashing into the banks of the Mississippi. Clotel makes her escape by disguising herself as a swarthy gentleman. Captured, she is imprisoned in a “negro pen” in Washington, D.C. She flees, but, crossing a bridge from Washington to Virginia—“within plain sight of the President’s house”—she is once again trapped. With a last look toward Heaven, she leaps into the Potomac. “Thus died Clotel, the daughter of Thomas Jefferson,” writes Brown, toward the end of a novel in which he included a chapter titled “Truth Stranger Than Fiction.”
It has taken a very long time for historians to regard this story seriously, or even to begin to bother to sort out fact from fiction. Just why was the subject of Gordon-Reed’s 1997 tour de force, “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” a book that was as much a painstaking investigation of the documentary record as a devastating brief on standards of evidence in historical research. For Gordon-Reed, a legal scholar, the real scandal wasn’t what happened between Jefferson and Hemings but how willing earlier generations of Jefferson biographers had been to ignore the implications of evidence right in front of them, even documents like Jefferson’s “Farm Book,” but, especially, testimony about things said and done by the Hemingses themselves. Behind the Jefferson-Hemings affair, Gordon-Reed wrote, lay yet another buried family tie: Sally Hemings was the half sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles. Taking a lawyer’s view of the case, Gordon-Reed pieced together the evidence and weighed it. She presented a strong case in support of the claim that Jefferson fathered Hemings’s children, and freed them, or let them go when they reached the age of twenty one, because Hemings had extracted from him, in 1789, at the beginning of their decades-long affair, a promise that he would do exactly that.
Gordon-Reed’s “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings” was published the same year as Joseph Ellis’s stirring and elegiac biography “American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson,” in which Ellis asserted—intuited, actually, since there is no evidence for this—that Jefferson, who had got his wife pregnant six times in ten years, had never slept with the very beautiful Sally Hemings (who reportedly resembled his wife, a woman Jefferson adored), because “for most of his adult life,” and, presumably, especially after his wife died (when Jefferson was thirty-nine), “he lacked the capacity for the direct and physical expression of his sexual energies.” The man was a statue. “American Sphinx” won the National Book Award.
A year later, Eugene Foster, a retired University of Virginia pathologist, published in Nature the results of DNA tests he had undertaken, working with scientists in Oxford, Leicester, and Leiden. Foster tested the blood of the descendants of Field Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s uncle; Eston Hemings, Sally’s youngest son; and Thomas Woodson, who some believe was Sally’s eldest child. (The Y chromosome passes down through males virtually unaltered, but Jefferson’s only son by his wife died in infancy, which is why Foster had to find his Jeffersonian Y elsewhere.) The tests cast doubt on one relationship and proved another. Thomas Woodson’s descendants don’t have the Jefferson Y. Eston Hemings’s do. This doesn’t prove that Eston, let alone Sally Hemings’s other children, were fathered by Thomas Jefferson. It proves only that Eston’s father was a Jefferson. Alas, there just wasn’t another Jefferson handy, there at Monticello, and with a Y in his pocket, each time Hemings conceived. Ellis, in later editions of his biography, graciously conceded the argument. “Prior to the DNA evidence,” he wrote, “one might have reasonably concluded that Jefferson was living a paradox. Now it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that he was living a lie.” Dissenters persist, citing the circumstantial nature of the evidence. But today most historians agree with the conclusion of a research committee convened by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, at Monticello: Jefferson “most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemings’s children.”
Lost in the DNA-driven consensus, however, was Gordon-Reed’s point. It ought never to have taken a lab test to bolster a claim deducible from the documentary record. For a conference at Monticello and the University of Virginia in 1999, Gordon-Reed revisited the case:It is true that we do not and will never have the details of what went on between Jefferson and Hemings and their children. This does not mean that we have nothing to go on. Perhaps the most persistent, and ultimately damaging, feature of the original debate over whether the relationship existed at all was the tight rein placed upon the historical imagination. One was simply not to let one’s mind wander too freely over the matter. Brainstorming, drawing reasonable inferences from actions, attempting to piece together a plausible view of the matter were shunted into the category of illegitimate speculation, as grave an offense as outright lying.
Deductions and inferences can be wrong. But they’re not illicit; they’re how history, at its best, makes sense of a senseless world.
In Gordon-Reed’s new book, “The Hemingses of Monticello,” her single most revealing source is the memoir of Madison Hemings, printed by a newspaperman named S. F. Wetmore in an obscure Ohio paper called the Pike County Republican in 1873. (Wetmore likely first heard about Hemings from a census-taker in a neighboring county who, in the 1870 census, noted next to Madison Hemings’s name, “This man is the son of Thomas Jefferson.” Four months after Wetmore published Hemings’s story, a Jefferson biographer named James Parton, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, summarily dismissed it: “Mr. Hemings has been misinformed.”
Parton believed that Hemings was either a fraud or a fool. He did not seek him out; he did not consider what he said. He disregarded him. Gordon-Reed attributes such dismissals to a number of stereotypes: historians saw Hemings as an angry ex-slave with delusions of grandeur, a feebleminded, childlike pawn. Parton probably did see Hemings this way. But it is also true that Madison Hemings’s credibility had already been damaged, long before James Parton came along, by every nineteenth-century writer, black and white, who made use of the Jefferson-Hemings legend. Callender poked a hole. Dickens left a dent. William Wells Brown dealt a blow. Abolitionists wanted, urgently, desperately, to end slavery. Their aim was to arouse sympathy. They told very many stories. Picturing white men preying on black women was their stock-in-trade. Stowe went further: she turned black men into feckless, sexless children. (That’s one reason, but just one, that James Baldwin eviscerated “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in “Notes of a Native Son”; another was Stowe’s failure to address “the only important question” about slavery: “What it was, after all, that moved her people to such deeds.”) Purveying hackneyed stories at the expense of black men’s humanity came at another cost: who would believe Madison Hemings? (It didn’t help that Wetmore, in a shout-out to Stowe, titled the column in which he printed Hemings’s memoir “Life Among the Lowly.”) Answering slavery with sentimentality carried a price, too: who could imagine Jefferson’s daughter doing anything but dying?
For decades, on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, the gavelling off of Thomas Jefferson’s children was a story that was either too awful to be true or too useful to be proved false. Sally Hemings lived in Charlottesville until her death, in about 1835. Eston Hemings, a violinist who later in life went by the name “Eston Hemings Jefferson,” died in Wisconsin in 1856. Madison Hemings, a carpenter, farmer, and father of nine, lived until 1877. An enterprising investigator might have looked any of them up, long before 1873, except . . . what if their stories weren’t as poignant as what he wanted to print?
Charles Dickens didn’t have much use for the supplicating author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” It galled him when her work was compared to his. But what he really found infuriating was when she pried into the private lives of public men. “Wish Mrs. Stowe was in the pillory,” he cursed, when Stowe reported, in The Atlantic, on Byron’s romance with his half sister. (Dickens, who conducted an adulterous affair for thirteen years, tried mightily to keep it secret.) For all his contempt for that “noble patriot . . . who dreamed of Freedom in a slave’s embrace,” he seems never to have smeared Jefferson by name. Parton apparently shared his gentlemanly reticence. To dismiss Madison Hemings, Parton marshaled no more than a mysterious allusion to a letter that he had in his possession, written by yet another biographer, Henry Randall, in 1868. In an interview, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Jefferson’s grandson, told Randall that Sally Hemings “had children which resembled Mr. Jefferson so closely that it was plain that they had his blood in their veins,” but this, Randolph implied, was because they were the children of Peter Carr, Jefferson’s nephew. (Randolph’s sister, Ellen Coolidge, alleged that Jefferson’s other nephew, Samuel Carr, was the father.) “The father of those children was a near relation of the Jeffersons,” Parton wrote, “who need not be named.”
Privacy is very much worth respecting, but not when one man’s desire for it destroys another man’s credibility. This isn’t just about Jefferson and Hemings. It’s about Parton’s assumption that Randolph, a white man, must have been telling the truth while Hemings—listed on that census as “mulatto”—was, at best, “misinformed.” Gordon-Reed, in her first book, began by establishing the authenticity of Madison Hemings’s memoir. Then, instead of taking Parton’s witnesses at their word, she cross-examined them. If Randolph didn’t have something more scandalous still to hide, why admit that he was related to the Hemingses? Jefferson was away from Monticello about two-thirds of the time; the Carr brothers were nearly always close at hand. The births of Hemings’s children always followed Jefferson’s visits by nine months. “Why could not Peter Carr or Samuel Carr get Sally Hemings pregnant when Thomas Jefferson was not at Monticello, not once in fifteen years?” Gordon-Reed asked. (The DNA results vindicated her. Foster tested the Carr Y, too. It didn’t match the Hemings blood.)
Gordon-Reed rested her case. Then she set about writing history. In “The Hemingses of Monticello,” she uses Madison Hemings’s memoir as the foundation for an elaborate reconstruction of an American epic, a century-long saga of the Hemings family, in slavery and freedom. She reasons from analogy. She speculates. She asks her reader to trust her knowledge of human nature. There’s no denying that a brick, here and there, could do with more mortar. Arguments from human nature can be persuasive, but when the wind blows they tend to totter. For one thing, “human nature” has a history; Enlightenment meditations on the subject, like David Hume’s 1739-40 “A Treatise of Human Nature,” surely influenced Jefferson’s views on race. (Hume wondered if blacks were less than fully human—“There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or speculation”—because they could not make deductions.) For another, arguments from human nature are only as subtle and perceptive as the people who make them. Most of us are easily duped. “Error, Sir,” Laurence Sterne wrote in “Tristram Shandy” (one of Jefferson’s favorite books), “creeps in thro’ the minute holes, and small crevices, which human nature leaves unguarded.”
One measure of the boldness of Gordon-Reed’s reading of the evidence is Kevin J. Hayes’s “The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson” (Oxford; $34.95), a wide ranging and thoughtful biography of the sage of Monticello, by way of the books he bought and read. Hayes’s study, like Gordon-Reed’s, is the product of exhausting and illuminating research. But Hayes appears to have decided, early on, that Sally Hemings and her children had no role in, or influence on, the life and mind of Thomas Jefferson. In almost seven hundred pages, during which Hayes frequently comments on Jefferson’s private life—his Paris flirtation with Maria Cosway, for instance—the essence of what he has to say about Sally Hemings has to do with Callender’s 1802 report in the Richmond Recorder: “The story he published remains a part of the historical discourse and continues to fascinate the popular imagination.”
This kind of thing is discouraging. I guess I always figured that a man who carries on a secret, decades-long affair is not unaffected by the experience, whether or not there’s a memorial to him on the Washington Mall. It doesn’t define him. It doesn’t mean we should disinherit him. But it might have kept him up nights. If Gordon-Reed’s challenge is met, Thomas Jefferson is a man in need of a new biography. But first it’s the Hemingses’ turn.
“The Hemingses of Monticello” tells a family story, across the generations. Harriet Hemings had seven white great-grandparents; she was, in the idiom of the time, an “octoroon.” She was also, because of a precedent-defying seventeenth-century Virginia statute, Thomas Jefferson’s property. In 1655, a woman with an African mother and an English father successfully sued for her freedom by relying on English precedent, in which children inherit status from their father. Not long after, the House of Burgesses, eager to avoid another legal challenge, turned English law upside down, answering doubts about “whether children got by an Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free” by reaching back to an archaic Roman rule, partus sequitur ventrem (you are what your mother was).
Generations passed. There was much begetting. In about 1735, Gordon-Reed recounts, an Englishman named Captain Hemings had sex with an enslaved “full-blooded African” whose name has not survived. She gave birth to a daughter. Hemings tried to buy the child, but her owner refused to sell, curious to see how the girl would turn out. Hemings hoped to steal her; he failed. In 1746, the girl, Elizabeth Hemings, was transferred to the plantation of an Englishman named John Wayles, when he married Martha Epps. (Hemings, who was about eleven years old, was part of the marriage settlement.) Wayles married three times; his first wife bore him a daughter, Martha, in 1748. After the death of his third wife, Wayles did not marry again. But, as Gordon-Reed relates, he did start having sex with Elizabeth Hemings, by whom he had six children, including a daughter, Sally, born in 1773. In 1772, Martha Wayles married Thomas Jefferson. After John Wayles’s death, the following year, Elizabeth Hemings and all of her children went to live at Monticello. In 1782, when Sally Hemings was still a child, Martha Jefferson died. Mrs. Jefferson, on her deathbed, extracted from her altogether bereft and nearly unmoored husband a promise that he would never remarry. In 1789, when sixteen-year-old Sally Hemings was living with forty-six-year-old Jefferson in Paris, she became pregnant. Madison Hemings said that the child “lived but a short time.” Woodson’s descendants claim that the boy grew up to be Thomas.
Gordon-Reed argues that Hemings made a deal with Jefferson. She knew that she could stay in Paris, where she would be free; slavery was illegal in France. She decided to return to Virginia because she missed her family. And Jefferson promised her that he would free all of her children when they reached the age of twenty-one. Maybe Hemings loved Jefferson; maybe he loved her, too. (In 1974, Fawn Brodie wrote a history supposing this to be the case, and more than one romance novel assumes the same.) Gordon-Reed knows that this question is important, since Jefferson and Hemings are more than people—they’re symbols, too. But symbols get you only so far. “The romance is not saying that they may have loved one another,” Gordon-Reed writes. “The romance is in thinking that it makes any difference if they did.”
Jefferson, the architect of our freedom, could not reckon slavery’s toll. “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other,” he wrote in the early seventeen-eighties. “The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances.” Neither could Jefferson imagine his life, or the Union, freed of slavery, without bloodshed. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Moral impotence is a muffled, crippled agony. American sphinx? American Achilles.
Sally Hemings bore her last child in 1808, when she was about thirty-five. In 1815, the aging former President (who never admitted, publicly, anyway, that he was the father of Hemings’s children) wrote a letter in which he wrestled with a matter—a “mathematical problem”—that had long vexed him. Just how many “crossings” had to happen before a child with a full-blooded African ancestor could be called “white”?Let us express the pure blood of the white in the capital letters of the printed alphabet . . . and any given mixture of either, by way of abridgment in MS. letters. Let the first crossing be of a, a pure negro, with A, a pure white. The unit of blood of the issue being composed of the half of that of each parent, will be a/2 + A/2. Call it, for abbreviation, h (half blood).
The letter goes on for a while. Suffice it to say: b is the second crossing, q is a “quarteroon,” c is the third crossing. Let the third crossing be of q and C, their offspring will be q/2 + C/2 = a/8 + A/8 + B/4 + C/2, call this e (eighth), who having less than ¼ of a, or of pure negro blood, to wit 1/8 only, is no longer a mulatto, so that a third cross clears the blood.
To Thomas Jefferson, Harriet Hemings and her brothers were e. What more they meant to him probably does depend as much on your view of human nature as on the documentary record. After Harriet Hemings took a stagecoach to Philadelphia in 1822, she travelled on to the nation’s capital, where her brother Beverly lived as a white man. “She thought it to her interest, on going to Washington, to assume the role of a white woman,” said Madison Hemings, the only one of Sally Hemings’s children to remain part of the African-American community. She thought it to her interest. He seems never to have forgiven her. “I am not aware that her identity as Harriet Hemings of Monticello has ever been discovered,” Madison said. Finding her now would be difficult. “Harriet married a white man in good standing in Washington City, whose name I could give but will not.”
Truth isn’t always stranger than nineteenth-century fiction, but usually it’s less melodramatic. Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, if she was his daughter, didn’t leap to a watery grave. As late as the eighteen-sixties, years after “Clotel” was published, she was still alive, pursuing whatever liberty, and happiness, she could find, within plain sight of the White House, after all.

Book Review

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
by Annette Gordon-Reed
Norton, 798 pp., $35.00

Monticello in its present incarnation is an American showplace, the visible projection of its creator, Thomas Jefferson, architect, naturalist, diplomat, and president of the United States. Apart from Abraham Lincoln, who himself quoted Jefferson in the Gettysburg Address, no American ever wrote or said anything as eloquent as the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Like Monticello, which was erected, redesigned on an ever grander scale, and rebuilt by fits and starts, the Jeffersonian ideal had no easy birth. It came into a world that midwived it with difficulty and was ill disposed to bless its growth or trust in its possibilities.
The Hemingses of Monticello is a brilliant book. It marks the author as one of the most astute, insightful, and forthright historians of this generation. Not least of Annette Gordon-Reed’s achievements is her ability to bring fresh perspectives to the life of a man whose personality and character have been scrutinized, explained, and justified by a host of historians and biographers. They have struggled to illuminate, and sometimes to gloss over, the dark places in his life. Like many upright public figures who know they are pure and their enemies vile, he was capable of deviousness and treachery. He instigated the savage attacks by the anti-Federalist National Gazette editor Philip Freneau on John Adams, once his fast friend, and was flummoxed rather than ashamed at being caught out paying Freneau to be his mouthpiece. Such actions gave rise in Jefferson biographies to characterizations like “enigma” and “sphinx.”
Jefferson’s private life, particularly the life he built at Monticello with the enslaved children and grandchildren of Elizabeth Hemings (1735–1807), was the focus of obsessive, often scurrilous, speculation. Jefferson observed a strict silence on this subject, an embargo that extended to his private papers, which were, moreover, culled by his white descendants to protect his secrets and to preserve his honor.
The target of these rumors and innuendos was Sally Hemings, lampooned by Jefferson’s enemies as “Black Sal.” The beautiful daughter of Elizabeth Hemings, she was sixteen when she became pregnant with Jefferson’s child while a member of his Paris household. She came back to Monticello in 1789 and lived with him until his death in 1826 in a monogamous spousal relationship. While the relationship was private, it can hardly be called furtive or clandestine. It could be called a closely held secret only in the special sense of the word prevailing within Virginia planter society. This was a realm of easy grace, punctilious courtesy, and grand display, where a couple of dozen “first” families, conscious of their mutual dependency and explicit about their dynastic ambitions, built a way of life whose business practices, legal developments, and political culture combined to maintain chattel slavery.
Being enslaved meant, with few exceptions, not only the lifetime of a particular slave but also the life spans of every child born into that bondage. The tortuous pathways by which American slavery arrived at that point by 1776 are in themselves a large branch of American history. Gordon-Reed sums up that history by observing that the first white Virginians harbored no “aspiration loftier than that of making a killing” in the advance of their fortunes. In the desperate conditions of seventeenth-century Virginia, making a pile depended on controlling a biddable labor force. And the further workings of that economic structure produced a caste system among Virginians based exclusively on race, “a form of chattel slavery unknown in their home country.”
What is important to the Hemings family’s story is the harsh and nearly inescapable nature of the “peculiar institution” in the time of Thomas Jefferson. Racial identification was its sine qua non, and specifically race as legislated by slave masters, whose primary goal was “the maximum protection of property rights—with little or no intervention by the state or other third parties.” The law of slavery meant that every facet of the Hemingses’ lives that might come to public notice was controlled by a legal system that was “a racket designed for the protection of whites.” “How,” Gordon-Reed asks, “does one begin to get at what was ‘real’ or ‘true’ in such a context?”
It was not slaves only who were caught in the web of this law. Every Virginian who lived in slavery or lived off of slavery had to soft-foot his or her way through a thicket of social fictions. The fictions were many, but the most romantic and far-fetched were the purity of white Southern womanhood and the inviolable sanctity of marriage and the family.
Consider how Sally Hemings came to be at Monticello in the first place. Her mother Elizabeth, the matriarch of a numerous and talented slave family, was the daughter of an English sea captain named Hemings, who had a liaison with an African slave belonging to Francis Eppes, a planter of good family. Elizabeth, born probably in 1735, was kept as a slave despite her father’s efforts to buy her, and eventually became the property of Eppes’s daughter Martha. John Wayles, who made his pile by brokering slave trades, was not as respectable as Eppes but good enough to marry Martha, in 1746. As often happened, Wayles managed to outlive her and two more wives. He then took Elizabeth Hemings to his bed, fathering six children with her, of whom the youngest was Sally. As also often happened, on Wayles’s death in 1773 a substantial part of his estate was his wealth in slaves, his children included, who duly passed to his widowed daughter, Martha Wayles Skelton. In 1772 she married a rising young member of the Virginia elite, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was already comfortably provided with money and lands, but marrying Martha, whose property became his to manage, significantly increased his wealth.
No one believes that dynastic succession was of huge importance to Jefferson. He married for love. But that marriage enmeshed him in a tangle of family relations that were difficult in his lifetime and have been controversial since. Of Martha Jefferson we can say little, for she “remains something of a cipher,” known chiefly by the encomia lavished on her by her husband and their descendants. Something we do know is that Martha Jefferson treated as family “her father’s slave mistress and the children they had together.” She seems to have acted out of love and loyalty, for there was ample pretext for female heads of planter households, as she became on her father’s death, to send away slaves whose presence was distressing. At least six of Elizabeth Hemings’s children were Martha’s half-siblings.
To modern eyes this was a strange household, one that exhibited a mosaic of bizarre relationships. The word is Gordon-Reed’s. After combing through more than a thousand sources to uncover the patterns of that mosaic, she concludes:
Slavery simply provided families in the South with many more ways to be bizarre than in regions where it never took hold or was abandoned early on. Fathers owning sons, brothers giving away brothers as wedding gifts, sisters selling their aunts, husbands having children with their wives and then their wives, enslaved half sisters, enslaved black children and their free little white cousins, living and playing together on the same plantation—things that by every measure violate basic notions of what modern-day people think family is supposed to be about.
All these things, including the cold business transactions, happened to the Hemingses. Even to call them a family requires an adjustment of our fundamental social assumptions. That they were, and remained, a cohesive family unit is one of Gordon-Reed’s major arguments. That cohesion, unrecognized in Virginia law, might be seen as the result of the fidelity and benevolence of Martha and Thomas Jefferson.
On the other hand, slavery was not only a social institution but an economic one. When one’s disposable wealth consisted largely of human chattels, it was these chattels who became commodities to be transferred to distant properties or sent to auction when economic necessity or “incorrigible” behavior threatened to upset the rich planter’s way of life. Jefferson was never comfortable selling slaves away from his plantations, but he did when he felt that he must, for example, to provide for his daughters, Polly and Patsy. “Between 1784 and 1794, he had either sold or given away as part of marriage settlements to his daughters and sister over one hundred people.”
In Richard Hildreth’s antislavery novel Archie Moore, the White Slave (1836), one of the yokels crowding around an auction block dismisses the aristocratic pretensions of “those first Virginia families,” because “they only live by eating their niggers.” Thomas Jefferson would have been horrified by such a coarse criticism. He was, seemingly, the opposite of the heartless and indolent slave owner held up to scorn by slavery’s opponents. Jefferson inveighed against the unfeeling, tyrannical attitudes of slaveholders in Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), his earliest and perhaps most baffling statement on perpetual servitude and race. He was known to detest brutality and harsh treatment of “the people,” as the workforce was called. Whatever went on under the overseers and drivers of the outlying “quarter farms,” at Monticello the rule was beneficence, especially toward the Hemingses.
Much has been made of the master’s distaste for scenes, of his shrinking from conflict. But Gordon-Reed, like biographers before her, points out how possessive and controlling Jefferson was. As in his white family, “Jefferson’s pattern of dealing with the enslaved people closest to him” was to work on “their emotions as a way of extracting the behavior he wanted, doing things to make them feel bound and grateful to him, rather than being directly coercive.” It was as natural as breathing for Jefferson to prefer wheedling to whipping. Sentimentality about their condition shored up his craving for personal loyalty, and he was apt to muffle indications of resentment.
Nonetheless, coercion, however wrapped up it was, underlay the slave system. In private relations, such patriarchal power is not easy to distinguish from despotism. Ivy Compton-Burnett made a literary career of dissecting those relations, particularly the domestic life of those with inherited wealth occupying country houses staffed with servants whose cohabitation with their masters produced perverse alliances. Her icy colloquies laid bare the underpinnings of authority: “You are in a beautiful place.... It must be wonderful to have power, and use it with moderation and cruelty. We can so seldom be admired and self-indulgent at the same time.”
Jefferson kept the cruelty of slavery out of sight, down the hill, but he was nothing if not self-indulgent. His self-indulgence contributed greatly to a way of life that was much admired and talked about. Even when he was castigating himself for profligate spending, he was compiling long shopping lists of articles de luxe. If he was uncomfortable selling slaves at all, he did not like to part with Hemingses in particular, for they were themselves an indulgence, people he exempted from cruder tasks in order to keep him company and to make Monticello a showcase of his version of slavery and its benevolence. He disposed of their time and labor according to the needs of himself or his white children and their husbands. The chronic debtor has many needs.
Benevolence required him to identify the Hemingses’ special talents, give those talents full scope, and set them up in appropriate trades. Goodwill aside, in Gordon-Reed’s interpretation it was Jefferson’s needs and preconceptions that governed. “Once he took ownership of them, the process of shaping all the Hemingses to suit his aims only intensified.” John Hemings was selected to be a maker of furniture in the joinery that was such a point of pride to his master.[*] Robert Hemings was trained as a barber. James Hemings, and then his brother Peter, became chefs of a high order. The famously irascible Martin Hemings—he saw Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s troopers off the premises when they came to plunder Monticello during the Revolution—and headstrong Robert served, variously, as valets, coach drivers, and butlers.
As to their sisters, Jefferson “constructed the Hemings women along more traditional European feminine lines” by refusing to let them do fieldwork, by dressing them in finer stuffs than the field hands, and by “marrying” them to slaves of equal stature or condoning their relationships to “high-status white males or white workers at the plantation.” It was his nature to be openhanded, and he needed to be surrounded by affable folk happy in their work and conscious of their good fortune. Surrounded is the key word here, for Jefferson was accustomed from infancy to being cosseted by black people who stood in for his closest white relatives. Inhabiting “a cocoon...spun out of family relations,” Jefferson was exceptionally good at constructing social relations that fulfilled his ideals of fidelity and felicity.
Fidelity and felicity were the themes of the married life of Thomas and Martha Jefferson. When she died, he was utterly undone. It is said, and there is no reason to doubt it, that the happy intimacy of this marriage was so nearly complete that he promised Martha to take no wife in her place. And to that he held.
Keeping this promise by no means condemned Jefferson to a solitary or sexless existence. The relationship he had with Sally Hemings was not, as might be imagined, a common-law marriage. It was no marriage at all. It was, as Gordon-Reed explains, concubinage, a widely practiced surrogate for marriage that provided the comforts and conveniences of wedded life while withholding some of its most important protections. Like so many other features of slavery, concubinage was a way of having something that white men desired, without undermining the controls that made society work. The development of legal doctrines that ran counter to those of Western Europe and England afforded slaveholders in America protections unavailable to their counterparts elsewhere.
The children of such liaisons had no legal means of escape unless they were set free. In the time of Sally Hemings, formal emancipation had become more difficult. That it was not impossible is shown by the example of Robert Carter, a Virginian who set all his slaves free, nearly five hundred of them, beginning in 1791. Some slaves managed to slip the bonds of slavery by surreptitiously entering the white world, with or without the connivance of their relatives and neighbors. Their success depended largely on the lightness of their skin and on their skill in avoiding questions about their status. Elizabeth Hemings’s children and grandchildren looked more white than not, and some of them left their black identities behind. The “white slave” (often described as a descendant of Jefferson) was a staple of antislavery literature and iconography.
As Jefferson’s lover, Sally Hemings was not without power when the liaison began during Jefferson’s residence in Paris. Living in a part of the city where black servants were numerous, Sally and her brother James learned French. It was common knowledge that slaves could sue for their freedom in the French admiralty courts. The only record that gives us direct insight into Sally’s relationship with her master comes from her son, Madison Hemings. It deserves careful study:
But during that time my mother became Mr. Jefferson’s concubine, and when he was called back home she was enceinte by him. He desired to bring my mother back to Virginia with him, but she demurred. She was just beginning to understand the French language well, and in France she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she would be re-enslaved. So she refused to return with him. To induce her to do so he promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her children should be freed at the age of twenty-one years. In consequence of his promise, on which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia.
Sally Hemings bore Jefferson six children. That is established as fact, though it has been the subject of hot dispute. She was seventeen when she gave birth to the first, at Monticello, to which she had returned trusting that her lover would keep his word concerning the baby and any other children who followed it into the world. It is easily seen that what Jefferson gave Sally was a bare promise, not enforceable at law. As for the “extraordinary privileges,” what did they amount to? We know, based on recent scholarship, that American slavery was not a frozen, totalitarian institution. Life within slavery was bounded and regulated, often with severity, but within those bounds slaves could negotiate certain conditions of work, travel, shelter, diet, and association with other slaves. It is entirely plausible that the Hemings most cherished by Jefferson, knowing she could refuse his proposition, exacted inducements. Not among them, apparently, was her own freedom. If freedom was ever within her grasp, did she bargain it away? If so, she didn’t explain why to her son Madison.
Many things about Sally Hemings’s life must remain unknown. One of the stranger things about her children is their naming. All bore the surname Hemings, but their other names (what used to be called the Christian and family names) reflected their father’s choices. For a man who did curious things, naming his illegitimate sons after Virginia notables is one of the oddest, especially when none were given the Christian-and-family combination of “Thomas Jefferson.” Perhaps the answer lies in the terms of the “solemn pledge.” Anticipating their emancipation, they were to be brought up to embody the best that men could be. And should be named accordingly? When we consider their father’s settled beliefs about mixed-race offspring born in slavery, would being styled after gentlemen actually matter?
Among the unknowns is the related question of why, even if Jefferson could not remarry and must settle for a concubine, it was so important to him to structure his arrangement with Sally as he did. It was not unheard of for slave owners in public life to acknowledge their mixed-race children. Richard M. Johnson, a war hero who became vice-president under Martin Van Buren, lived openly with Julia Chinn, a slave he inherited, and went on to present their daughters to white society in Kentucky. Any ambitions he harbored for higher office were wrecked by these breaches of convention. In this Johnson can be seen as more courageous than Jefferson, or more recklessly self-deluding. Like so many questions concerning the sage of Monticello, credible conjectures come up against contradictions of opinion and character.
If Jefferson’s wife was “a cipher,” known mainly through anecdotes and the domestic lore of those who loved her, is this equally true of Jefferson’s concubine? This is not a book whose primary aim is to recreate Sally Hemings through direct or indirect testimony. Gordon-Reed’s book is about both the family to which she belonged and the fabled place that they helped to build. Making that home was intensely satisfying to its owner, who wasn’t afraid of hard work. For the rest of its builders, it was labor on a scale that can only be called monumental.
No one who has seen the mansion of today, which combines the attributes of a historical shrine and a trophy house, can imagine what it was like for its architect and its builders (principally slaves) to live in a perpetual construction site on the brow of a mountain whose peak they had shoveled and hauled away in buckets and wheelbarrows. Far from being abashed at Monticello’s lack of amenities and exposure to the elements, its creator enjoyed tossing off lines like “Architecture is my delight, and putting up, and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements.” When Jefferson was not showing off the place to visitors, he liked to demonstrate the clever and thrifty operations of the estate’s agricultural and manufacturing operations. Notwithstanding Jefferson’s reverence for the doughty yeoman farmer, manufacturing offered him a way to fabricate things for present use and, moreover, things that would sell.
One of his most hopeful schemes was the Monticello nail factory. Before the invention of the metal screw few things were as necessary to building, especially building in wood, the universal material of a richly forested America, as the common nail. Nails had to be made by hand from rods of iron and as such were expensive commodities. This being Monticello, the nail factory had to be both industrial operation and character-building experiment. Any serious woodworker can tell you that the grinding, repetitious milling, and sizing of lumber is endured for the sake of creating something. Making nails six days a week was all grind and repetition, without any creative payoff.
One cannot doubt that Jefferson made himself master of the process and could turn out a goodly keg of nails as fast as anyone. But his part in the factory consisted of seeing that it was set up to run with efficiency and choosing the “dozen little negro boys 10. to 16. years of age” who would meet his production quotas while absorbing an ethic of industry and emulation guaranteed to shape their grownup lives. It was not race alone that consigned these boys to the nailery. White boys of the same age could expect to work twelve-hour days setting type, driving horses, making bricks, or splitting logs. In time of war they might serve as teamsters, officers’ servants, or drummers. The playful youngster looking on while his or her mother stirred the lye vat was not allowed to remain a spectator for long.
That many of the nail-makers were also blood relatives of Jefferson’s daughters is but one of the facts that underscores Gordon-Reed’s characterization of life under slavery as bizarre. Since they lived in what was a mainly hand-made world, their knowing how to make nails was a way of ensuring that they would always be in work. Visiting the factory and thinking up ways to make the work go quicker and better, with less waste, enabled Jefferson the manufacturer to keep an eye to profit, while doing good. If the nailery made little profit in the long run, it was not for want of trying.
Life at Monticello, then, went its way according to the dictates of a master who regarded himself as enlightened. While the majority of the mountain’s inhabitants were enslaved black people, the whites were expected to behave with the decency of the man at their head. The government and economy of Monticello was slavery, but it was conceived as an ameliorated form of slavery. It was a system intended to allow a degree of autonomy and self-respect, a freedom of movement and occupation, and other aspects of a nonenslaved existence. Was this liberty, or a sort of halfway house for the few slaves who could aspire eventually to live as free men? Thomas Huxley once observed that one does not liberate a slave by scraping the rust from his shackles. Jefferson would probably have dismissed the remark as an ignorant jest mouthed by a cynic. Not for all black slaves, but at least for a number of males with claims of kinship, he aimed to dignify their existence by removing the more obnoxious marks of servility.
Precisely because he was so civilized, Jefferson never exhibited feelings of personal guilt about owning human beings. He worried aloud about the despotic temperament slavery imparted to the children of slave owners but left no record of what he imagined it did to slave children. When he thought about ridding Virginia of slavery, he was more concerned about making Virginia white than about making it free. As a young lawyer he had undertaken to represent a slave suing for his freedom. As a young statesman he enunciated the core principles of the freedom that he held to be the birthright of all men. However, a bill he proposed to the Virginia legislature in the 1770s would have required emancipated slaves and mulatto children of a white woman to leave the state. The legislature rejected this measure, but in later years Jefferson expanded his vision of a white Virginia to a white United States. When the American Colonization Society was founded in 1817 with that objective, Jefferson was skeptical. Buying slaves off cooperative masters and talking those slaves into making a new life in Liberia was for him a nonstarter.
Still, two years before his death in 1826 he spelled out a proposal that he must have known to be fanciful. He wanted the national government to buy all slaves, in effect confiscating them, when they would be shipped out to form a free nation of their own in Africa. At a cost he calculated at $900 million, the United States would gain security by ridding itself of the black menace that flourished within it. In insisting that slaves and the freedmen who lived near the margins of slavery posed a grave threat of violent insurrection, Jefferson voiced the worst fears of slaveholders while declaring himself unable to see any way out, short of deporting more than a million people.
That Jefferson proposed this as the solution to a problem he believed to be insoluble is a measure of his profound uneasiness with the racial divide. The existence of that divide had driven the growth and form of slavery in America, an institution from which Jefferson derived most of the benefits that made his life worth living but which he persisted in describing as a monstrous growth engrafted onto free institutions.
We have seen Jefferson as a hardworking man who, moreover, valued labor in and of itself. In this he is best compared to Benjamin Franklin, for whom “jack of all trades” meant master of most. Both men were fascinated by how things work. With Jefferson, though, his drive to understand complex machines and to master difficult processes amounted to an obsession. Measuring, tinkering, contriving, imagining, and reimagining: these were the hallmarks of an engineering mind. But the engineering did not stop at labor-saving devices, revolving chairs, or triple-glazed windows. In a fashion that is both admirable and perplexing, Jefferson was a man who contrived an entire way of life, and to the extent possible, everything within it. Monticello was a separate sphere, the projection of an exceptional heart and mind. Only a man as driven and ingenious as Jefferson could have reworked slavery into the form it took at Monticello. But human beings are not drive gears, and human institutions are not steam engines. Slavery within Jefferson’s domains could be modified and freed of some of its constraints. It remained slavery. More, it remained racial slavery, and race was the tragic complexity that the mind and the will of a Jefferson could not construct to be something else.
This, in brief, is the story that Annette Gordon-Reed has drawn from thousands of documents and the vast scholarship of the historians who preceded her. While praising her grasp of the sources, her legal acuity, her erudition, and the stylishness of her nar- rative, it remains to be said that her great achievement lies in telling this story. Because it is one of the stories that really matter.