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How Did The Founding Fathers Feel About Slavery?

I’m doing a 100 hour project all about American Democracy and all the different aspects of it. I’ve been researching how the Founding Fathers felt about slavery. But I keep finding that one place will say one thing and the other will say something different. I’m confused and I just want to know how the Founding Father REALLY felt about the issue of slavery.

All comments are held until links can be removed.

  • staisil says:

    Benjamin Franklin explained that this separation from Britain was necessary since every attempt among the Colonies to end slavery had been thwarted or reversed by the British Crown. In fact, in the years following America’s separation from Great Britain, many of the Founding Fathers who had owned slaves released them (e.g., John Dickinson, Ceasar Rodney, William Livingston, George Washington, George Wythe, John Randolph, and others). It is true, however, that not all of the Founders from the South opposed slavery. According to the testimony of Thomas Jefferson, John Rutledge, and James Madison, those from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia favored slavery. Nevertheless, despite the support in those states for slavery, the clear majority of the Founders was opposed to this evil–and their support went beyond words. For example, in 1774, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first antislavery society; John Jay was president of a similar society in New York. When Constitution signer William Livingston heard of the New York society, he, as Governor of New Jersey, wrote them, offering: “I would most ardently wish to become a member of it [the society in New York] and… I can safely promise them that neither my tongue, nor my pen, nor purse shall be wanting to promote the abolition of what to me appears so inconsistent with humanity and Christianity… May the great and the equal Father of the human race, who has expressly declared His abhorrence of oppression, and that He is no respecter of persons, succeed a design so laudably calculated to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.” Other prominent Founding Fathers who were members of societies for ending slavery included Richard Bassett, James Madison, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, William Few, John Marshall, Richard Stockton, Zephaniah Swift, and many more. In fact, based in part on the efforts of these Founders, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1780; Connecticut and Rhode Island did so in 1784; New Hampshire in 1792; Vermont in 1793; New York in 1799; and New Jersey in 1804. Furthermore, the reason that the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa all prohibited slavery was a federal act authored by Rufus King (signer of the Constitution) and signed into law by President George Washington which prohibited slavery in those territories. It is not surprising that Washington would sign such a law, for it was he who had declared: “I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery].” -George Washington Notice a few additional examples of the Founder’s strong antislavery sentiments: “[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known… [N]ever in my life did I own a slave.” -John Adams, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. President. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1854), vol IX pp. 92-93. In a letter to George Churchman and Jacob Lindley on January 24, 1801. “[W]hy keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil.” -Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Kate Mason Rowland, Life and Correspondence of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1898), Vol. II, pg. 231. ————————————–… “As Congress is now to legislate for our extensive territory lately acquired, I pray to Heaven that they …[c]urse not the inhabitants of those regions, and of the United States in general, with a permission to introduce bondage [slavery].” -John Dickinson, Signer of the Constitution and Governor of Pennsylvania. Charles J. Stille, The Life and Times of John Dickinson (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1898) p. 324. “That men should pray and fight for their own freedom and yet keep others in slavery is certainly acting a very inconsistent as well as unjust and perhaps impious part.” -John Jay, President of Continental Congress, Chief-Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Governor of New York. Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, Henry P. Johnston, editor (New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1891), Vol. III, pp. 168-169. In a letter to Dr. Richard Price on Sep. 27, 1785. ————————————–… “Christianity, by introducing into Europe the truest principles of humanity, universal benevolence, and brotherly love, had happily abolished civil slavery. Let us who profess the same religion practice its precepts… by agreeing to this duty.” -Richard Henry Lee, President of Continental Congress and Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee and His Corre

    January 11, 2013 at 4:08 pm
  • classmat says:

    The Founders were a diverse group. They did not all have the same views about slavery. At the time of the American Revolution, slavery was legal in all of the 13 original states. Many of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were slaveowners, as were many Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, and Supreme Court Justices in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Instead of trying to find out how the Founders in general felt about slavery, look some of them up one by one to learn about each man’s individual views on the issue.

    January 11, 2013 at 9:38 pm
  • Panama Joe says:

    They did NOT have a single opinion. Neither did they have a single opinion about tariffs, or a standing army, or a well-equipped Navy, nor … They tended to be regionalists, that is men who supported the practices and businesses of the regions from which they came. Southerners tended to support slavery whether they owned any humans or not. Northerners supported manufacturing and water-powered machining. Don’t forget: the founding fathers needed ‘campaign contributions’ back then, too!

    January 12, 2013 at 12:36 am
  • Maria says:

    It would be hard to really know but i would say he was neutral to the idea. He owned a huge plantation and several hundred slaves. A few founding fathers who were the authors of the decloration of independance were aigainst slavery, but most supported it and owned alot of slaves that would of lost them alot of money if the slaves went free.

    January 12, 2013 at 4:49 am
  • Daniel John says:

    There were terrible arguments over the issues of slavery during the Continental Congress. You should look up the book “Founding Faith” at the library. It has some great information (early in the book) on this. The truth is, there were as many who were religiously against slavery as were for it, economically.

    January 12, 2013 at 6:39 am
  • Rose says:

    I know the founding were like in the middle because you can’t be sectional if you are a president except Lincoln of course and George Washington had slaves himself even though he was a President but that does not mean he supported it and it clearly does not mean he was against it but in his will he set all of his slaves free. Andrew Jackson owned 150 field and household slave respectively and for real girl do your own research you can go around it your neighbor hood and ask people what they think copying of the internet

    January 12, 2013 at 12:44 pm
  • ? says:

    Rose, Only one of the three people you mentioned was a founding father. That was George Washington. Andrew Jackson was just a boy during the American Revolution and Abraham Lincoln was not even born yet.

    January 12, 2013 at 7:19 pm
  • prothope says:

    good question. answer? depends on your point of view, and your moral convictions.

    January 12, 2013 at 10:48 pm
  • Mark says:

    That’s because the founding fathers were not monolithic. They had disagreements. They all did not feel the same way on the subject. For example the 3/4 compromise in the U.S Constitution that is often misrepresented. Some of the founding fathers were for it b/c they did not want slave states to have more members in the House of Representatives. Why count them in the census if they were not going to be allowed to vote. Counting them at all only gave political power to there owners (it did not mean that these people felt the were only 3/4 of a person) Where southern states liked the 3/4 clause for other reasons. A few of them understood the immorality of it (hence Jefferson’s famous quote regarding slavery: this is not the exact quote but it was words to the effect of “I tremble for my country if there is a just god” Slavery existed through out history. It was nothing new with the discovery of America as some history teachers who try to bash America suggested. America did not invent slavery. The ideas of the founding fathers laid the moral foundation for the argument against slavery. One of the ironies of history is that slavery did not become a racial issue until people began to question the immorality of it. Once people began to question the immorality of it, slave holders had to justify it. So, one of the justifications had to be racial. For example, white men are endowed by there Creator of certain unalienable rights not black men b/c black men are not as human. Before, the ideas the lead to the American Revolution came along no one questioned the morality of slavery so no one, really tried to justify it. Everyone just took it for granted. That’s why I get very annoyed when I see people try to blame America for slavery. Slavery existed long before America and it was the formation of American that helped end it in most of the world. It still exists in some places. Read Thomas Sowell’s column… Here’s an excerpt “If American society and Western civilization are different from other societies and civilization, it is that they eventually turned against slavery, and stamped it out, at a time when non-Western societies around the world were still maintaining slavery and resisting Western pressures to end slavery, including in some cases armed resistance. Only the fact that the West had more firepower than others put an end to slavery in many non-Western societies during the age of Western imperialism. Yet today there are Americans who have gone to Africa to apologize for slavery– on a continent where slavery has still not been completely ended, to this very moment. ” ****I’d sure lilke the person who did not like mine and Staisil’s answer to explain why.********

    January 13, 2013 at 12:14 am

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