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Video transcript

I'm Walter Isaacson of the Aspen and i'm here with bestselling author Cokie Roberts and we've been talking about the role of women in early America one of the men who had very complicated relations with women was Thomas Jefferson explained he was not married right when he came into office well he was married before you know earlier and his wife was the first lady of Virginia when he was governor of Virginia but she died as a result of childbirth and he then went to France as the ambassador and insisted that one of his daughters who hadn't come with him come over and she came over with a slave woman named Sally Hemings and they stayed in France all together and Jefferson then came back to be Secretary of State and he did not have a wife and he wrote constantly that women should just not be involved in politics now he wrote to women about politics and he wrote to his daughter Martha about politics all the time but he kept insisting that women not be involved in politics and he when he became president was just totally baffled about how to handle this question of women and the women of Washington tiny little town but it was expected to be entertained at the White House and at one point they all went and had a sit-in in the White House and said you know you have to be entertaining us and he came in and just some charmed them and sent them away but when he did have to have big events he would call on cabinet wives particularly Dolly Madison the wife of the Secretary of State and her sisters to help him entertain at the White House but the complicated relationship was with Sally Hemings with Sally Hemings who was a slave when they were in Paris she wanted to stay behind and he promised her that if she came back to America with him that he would free her children and I think he was probably in love with her but and he has children by me as far as we know he had children by her children who looked a great deal like him explained how in history we have to figure that out well in history there were there were people who always claimed that they were Jefferson's children but Jefferson's legal children insisted that that was not the case and so it was an argument for many but eventually the DNA evidence helps in the last 10 to 15 years the DNA has been tested on some Jefferson men and it has been determined that certainly a Jefferson was the father of the Hemings children and there are records showing that Thomas Jefferson was always there at Monticello about nine months before these babies were born but this 19th century conversation about it all the time and in fact Jefferson's grandson writes that there was one of the Hemings children who was waiting on the table who looks so much like Jefferson that people would do a double take and then just sort of proceed on it's particularly complex because we're dealing with the role of a slave and the role of a woman it's very complex and we have course no idea what she thought and maybe she did love him who knows but certainly it was not anything like an equal relationship in terms of power and Jefferson did not have equal relationships with women Jefferson's closest confidants were his daughters and a father-daughter relationship as loving as it can be is not an equal relationship you know we were there sometimes Thomas Jefferson as a person who wrote you know all men are created equal and yet that phrase doesn't really mean all people are created equal in his mind he kept slaves he treated women differently how what are we to make of that I mean does that diminish Jefferson in my mind it does in history well everybody's complicated Walter as you know and so what I feel about these men and it's one of the reasons i right about the women is that these men are not bronze and marble deities these are men and the women make that clearer than anything else the women's relationships with them make it make their humanity so much more real and I think that makes them more extraordinary it's easy for a bronze deity to do something remarkable it's much harder for a flesh-and-blood human being to do it and they did it and so they are complicated and the things we admire greatly about them and things that we wish did not happen in their lives but they were men and they were men who did something quite extraordinary and the women in their lives to make that clearer than anybody Thank You cookie