The inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln will so fully explain it’s own object, that I need say nothing in that way. I communicate it to particular friends because I wish to stand with them on the ground of truth, neither better nor worse than that makes me. you will percieve that I plead guilty to one of their charges, that when young & single I offered love to a handsome lady. I acknolege it’s incorrectness; it is the only one, founded in truth among all their allegations against me.
To Robert Smith, July 1, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders do well to come clean.
Jefferson had been reelected to his second term as President. The opposition Federalist Party was beaten back even more in 1804. Federalist fury might have prompted the publishing of an unsigned attack on Jefferson in a Boston newspaper. It accused Jefferson on many fronts, including allegations raised by journalist James Callendar several years before. Those charges claimed the President had a sexual relationship with a slave, Sally Hemings, and children from that union.
Jefferson made no public response to the accusations, as was his custom. He did address them in private correspondence to trusted friends, as was also his custom. In this revelatory letter to his Navy Secretary, Jefferson dismissed all other charges of inappropriate personal behavior by admitting to the one area where he was guilty. In 1768, when he was 25 and single, he made an improper advance to Mrs. John Walker, the wife of a friend and neighbor. She rebuffed him. The matter remained private for nearly 30 years, when the Walkers released a highly exaggerated account.
Jefferson never addressed the Sally Hemings allegations directly. Indirectly, and privately, he denied them on several occasions. This is the best known example. He admitted he was wrong in his behavior toward Mrs. Walker and said that was ” the only one, founded in truth among all their allegations against me.”
The “inclosed copy of a letter to mr lincoln,” which Jefferson referenced, might have brought more clarity. That letter has never been found.