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An In-Depth look at the Founders and Slavery



If Liberal Progressives had their way, the Founding Fathers would not be men to be looked up to and revered. If they had their way, the Founders would be viewed as just a bunch of old, White, racist slave-holders who couldn’t care less about abolishing slavery in the United States; after all, if they cared, why didn’t they just abolish it? This view of our Founders is simply incorrect, and malicious to boot; but sadly, even some Conservatives have bought into the narrative.

In reality, (most of) the Founding Fathers were fiercely anti-slavery, although this is almost never taught in classrooms today; that is why this piece is set on setting the record straight on the Founders and slavery, and it will do so by using their own words to show the abhorrence they had for the institution, and explaining the difficulties that they faced at the time.

The Founders on Slavery – Context

It is first important to note that the institution of slavery had been in place around the world for thousands of years before America was ever colonized, and it had been in place on this continent long before the Founding Fathers were even born or had any power. This context is important to understand because with that history and reality being understood during the entire lifetime of the Founders, they were able to study and realize the atrocities of the practice from a very young age; being around slavery and being educated in the history of the world helped shape their worldviews on this issue, leading most of them to repeatedly call (and act) for its abolishment.

Benjamin Franklin

Everybody knows of Benjamin Franklin; he is the guy on the $100 bill; he is the guy with the lightening and the kite, etc. But what most people don’t know is that he was one of the most influential abolitionists in the Colonies. Not only was Franklin a Signer of the Declaration and the Constitution, he was also the President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and he had this to say about the slavery problem:

“Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitous care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils.” (1)

This quote alone should be enough; it proves without a shadow of a doubt that Franklin had a hatred for slavery, something he believed was an “atrocity.” But Franklin had more to say about the issue of slavery; in a letter to Dean Woodward three years before America declared her Independence from England (1773), Franklin explained that Colonists had been trying to abolish slavery, but were always being prevented from doing so by the King of England:

“. . . a disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America, that many of Pennsylvanians have set their slaves at liberty, and that even the Virginia Assembly have petitioned the King for permission to make a law for preventing the importation of more into that colony. This request, however, will probably not be granted as their former laws of that kind have always been repealed.” (2)

A year before this in August of 1772, Franklin wrote a letter to a Mr. Anthony Benezet, where he told him:

“I am glad to hear that the disposition against keeping negroes grows more general in North America. Several pieces have been lately printed here against the practice, and I hope in time it will be taken into consideration and suppressed by the legislature.” (3)

Years later, in 1790, Franklin presented to Congress a “Memorial” from his very own Pennsylvania Abolition Society, saying:

“That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his care, and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to believe, and the political creed of Americans fully coincides with the position…[We] earnestly entreat your serious attention to the subject of slavery – that you will be pleased to countenance the restoration of liberty to those unhappy men who alone in this land of freedom are degraded into perpetual bondage and who…are groaning in servile subjection.” (4)

It is clear that Franklin was a man who was firmly against the evils of slavery; a man who fought hard and worked with others in an attempt to end the unjust practice. But Franklin was not the only Founder who felt this way; he was simply one of many who took offense to the very idea of enslaving their fellow man.

John Adams

Adams is another famous Founder; this great man from Massachusetts is universally known for his fiery advocacy for independence. But independence was not the only topic he was passionate about, he was also a fiery detractor of slavery. In a letter to Robert Evans in 1819, Adams made it a point to expound upon his wish for the abolition of slavery:

“The turpitude, the inhumanity, the cruelty, and the infamy of the African commerce in slaves, have been so impressively represented to the public by the highest powers of eloquence, that nothing that I can say would increase the just odium in which it is and ought to be held. Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States…I have, throughout my whole life, held the practice of slavery in…abhorrence.” (5)

Notice how Adams describes slavery as being inhuman and cruel, that it should be extirpated (abolished), and that he has always abhorred it; hardly the words of a racist lover of slavery is it? But Adams was not done, he wrote to Colonel Ward that “[Slavery is a] foul contagion in the human character” (6), and to George Churchman and Jacob Lindley he proclaimed: “[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known…[N]ever in my life did I own a slave.” (7)

James Wilson

Wilson is another influential, albeit horribly unrecognized Founding Father; he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Drafter of the U.S. Constitution, an original Supreme Court Justice, and an expert on law. In his work on The Natural Rights of Individuals, Wilson affirms:

“Slavery, or an absolute and unlimited power in the master over the life and fortune of the slave, is unauthorized by the common law…The reasons which we sometimes see assigned for the origin and the continuance of slavery appear, when examined to the bottom, to be built upon a false foundation. In the enjoyment of their persons and of their property, the common law protects all.” (8)

Wilson explains that the idea of slavery, that is, human ownership of another, is unauthorized by the common law and that to claim that anyone has the right to own another is built on a foundation of falsehood. He says that lawfully all people, slaves included, are entitled to their person and property, or to put it another way, to freedom from being owned by another.

Benjamin Rush

Rush is one of the great abolitionists of the Founding era, along with Franklin he started the first abolitionist society in America, and he was also a Signer of the Declaration of Independence; Being a Christian Pastor as well as an abolitionist, he saw slavery to be an insult to the God that gave men their rights:

“Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity. . . . It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is a practical denial of the extent and efficacy of the death of a common Savior. It is an usurpation of the prerogative of the great Sovereign of the universe who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property in the souls of men.” (9)

Furthermore, when abolition progress was made in Pennsylvania, he happily wrote to a friend of his:

“The commerce in African slaves has breathed its last in Pennsylvania. I shall send you a copy of our late law respecting that trade as soon as it is published. I am encouraged by the success that has finally attended the exertions of the friends of universal freedom and justice.” (10)

As a head of the national Abolition movement, Rush, like most Founders, understood that ending slavery was key to promoting freedom and justice; and he certainly played his part in the spread of this truth to the people of America.

Patrick Henry

Henry is another big name synonymous with the American Revolution, as he is the one who called for either Liberty, or death; but along with the passion he had in those remarks, he also had a passion for ending slavery, writing to Robert Pheasants he said:

“Is it not amazing that at a time when the rights of humanity are defined and understood with precision, in a country, above all others, fond of liberty–that in such an age and in such a country we find men professing a religion the most humane, mild, gentle and generous, adopting a principle as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible, and destructive to liberty?… I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we do is to improve it, if it happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot and an abhorrence of slavery.” (11)

John Jay

Jay was the original Supreme Court Chief Justice, President of the Continental Congress, and President of an anti-slavery society in New York; in a letter to R. Lushington in 1786 he wrote:

“It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honour of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.” (12)

In correspondence with the Revered Dr. Richard Price a year before, he expressed a similar sentiment on the issue:

“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.” (13)

James Otis, Luther Martin, and Charles Carroll

Otis, who was a Lawyer and Patriot in Colonial America, was a very influential member of society; it was he who spawned the phrase “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” This phrase was a rallying cry for the Patriots and helped stir up the desires for independence from the Royal Crown. Otis, in The Rights of the British Colonies explained:

“The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black … Does it follow that ’tis right to enslave a man because he is black?” (14)

Otis could not have been any clearer; no one, no matter what their color is, deserves to be a slave. James Otis was certainly another great voice for the abolition of slavery and the equality of the races. It is lamentable that he did not live a longer life, as he undoubtedly would have been able to do more for the cause.

Luther Martin, another Founder, was very influential in getting a Bill of Rights incorporated into the Constitution; of slavery, he said:

“[I]t ought to be considered that national crimes can only be and frequently are punished in this world by national punishments; and that the continuance of the slave-trade, and thus giving it a national sanction and encouragement, ought to be considered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and vengeance of Him who is equally Lord of all and who views with equal eye the poor African slave and his American master.” (15)

Along with these previous two Founders, Charles Carroll (a Signer of the Declaration), also agreed that slavery was terrible, saying in 1820:

“[W]hy keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil.” (16)

Noah Webster and George Mason

Webster was one of the greatest educators of the Founding, it is said that he is responsible for article 1, section 8 of the Constitution; he too was a fierce opponent of slavery:

“Justice and humanity require it [the end of slavery]–Christianity commands it. Let every benevolent … pray for the glorious period when the last slave who fights for freedom shall be restored to the possession of that inestimable right.” (17)

George Mason on the other hand, was one of the fathers of the 2nd amendment, and he laid down the gauntlet so to speak in terms of slavery and the Union:

“As much as I value a union of all the States, I would not admit the Southern States into the Union unless they agree to the discontinuance of this disgraceful trade [slavery].” (18)

Mason also thought very little of slave holders, calling them “petty tyrants”:

“Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgement of heaven upon a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities.” (19)

James Madison

Madison is one of the most heralded Founders as he was the “Father of the Constitution”; not only was he very influential in matters of the Constitution, but he was also another Founder who was an enemy of the institution of slavery. For example, Madison said in a speech at the Constitutional Convention:

“We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.” (20)

Madison understood that slavery was oppressive, and in a speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, he argued that no man can be considered property, but that they must be seen as men:

“It is due to justice; due to humanity; due to truth; to the sympathies of our nature; in fine, to our character as a people, both abroad and at home, that they should be considered, as much as possible, in the light of human beings, and not as mere property. As such, they are acted upon by our laws, and have an interest in our laws.” (21)

Madison clearly understood and was against the evils of slavery, and had firsthand experience in observing the practice in his home state of Virginia But he was not the only Virginia-based Founder to deal with slavery; two more Virginian Founders were ardent supporters of Abolition, and they were two of our most important Fathers: George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.

George Washington

It is now time to examine the man who is known as the “Father” of our country. General Washington grew up in a culture of slavery, having inherited a group of slaves when he was only eleven years old; however, even though he grew up with and was the owner of slaves, he as much as anyone was for slavery’s abolishment. In a letter to Founder Robert Morris in 1786, he wrote:

“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]; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by Legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage [vote and support] will go, shall never be wanting [lacking].” (22)

Washington understood the inhumanity of slavery and thus pledged his support to any plan that attempted to rid the country of the institution. He even  gave encouragement to others who were in the process of freeing slaves; over the span of a couple years, Washington wrote to Marquis de Lafayette about the issue, saying:

“The scheme, my dear Marqs. which you propose as a precedent, to encourage the emancipation of the black people of this Country from that state of Bondage in wch. they are held, is a striking evidence of the benevolence of your Heart. I shall be happy to join you in so laudable a work…[Y]our late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view to emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country; but I despair of seeing it. (23)(24)

A little more than a decade later, Washington wrote to his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, telling him:

“I wish from my soul that the legislature of this State could see the policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery.” (25)

Washington even acted within (local) government to discourage and stop slavery; in 1774 Washington chaired a committee in Fairfax County, and they passed an act stating:

“Resolved, that it is the opinion of this meeting that during our present difficulties and distress, no slaves ought to be imported into any of the British colonies on this continent; and we take this opportunity of declaring our most earnest wishes to see an entire stop for ever put to such a wicked, cruel, and unnatural trade.” (26)

But no matter how many quotes you can pull out to show that Washington was anti-slavery, people still continue to point to the fact that he owned slaves, but, what of it? As mentioned before, Washington inherited some slaves as a child, but he also purchased about 50 others before the start of the Revolution; and as far as we know he bought none after the purchase of said fifty. (27) The reason he stopped buying slaves was because he had come to the conclusion that he should never again be involved in the slave trade; he explained his reasoning, saying:

“I never mean . . . to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees.” (28)

Now, some ask why Washington did not just free his slaves, and it is a valid question; the answer having to do with the restrictiveness of the laws of the state of Virginia in regards to this endeavor (these laws are covered later in our discussion about Thomas Jefferson). Some argue that Washington could have gotten rid of his slaves by selling them off, but to Washington, this was out of the question, even though selling his overplus [overstock] would bring great financial profit. He explained:

“Were it not that I am principled against selling Negroes…I would not in twelve months from this date be possessed of one as a slave…To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species. To hire them out is almost as bad because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to disperse [break up] the families I have an aversion.” (29)(30)

In other words, his reasons for not selling his slaves were twofold; first, because he had a disdain for the selling of another human being, and second, because he understood that selling or hiring out his slaves to others would inevitably break up slave families; something he could not bear to let happen. Washington’s understanding and care for the humanity of his slaves is shown in his words and actions and proves just how against slavery he actually was.

Furthering his actions on slavery, Washington as President in 1787 signed “The Northwest Ordinance”, which prohibited slavery in any new state that desired to enter the union (specifically in the area northwest of the Ohio River); it read:

“There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.” (31)

In the end, Washington was able to legally free his slaves upon his death, something he couldn’t do while he was alive; Washington wrote in his will:

“Upon the decease of my wife, it is my will and desire that all the slaves which I hold in my own right shall receive their freedom. -To emancipate them during her life would, though earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties on account of their intermixture by marriages with the Dower [inherited] Negroes as to excite the most painful sensations, if not disagreeable consequences from the latter, while both descriptions are in the occupancy of the same proprietor; it not being in my power, under the tenure by which the Dower Negroes are held, to manumit [free] them.

-And whereas among those who will receive freedom according to this devise, there may be some who from old age or bodily infirmities, and others who on account of their infancy, that will be unable to support themselves; it is my will and desire that all who come under the first and second description shall be comfortably clothed and fed by my heirs while they live; -and that such of the latter description as have no parents living, or if living are unable or unwilling to provide for them, shall be bound by the court until they shall arrive at the age of twenty five years; -and in cases where no record can be produced whereby their ages can be ascertained, the judgment of the court upon its own view of the subject, shall be adequate and final.

-The Negroes thus bound are (by their masters or mistresses) to be taught to read and write and to be brought up to some useful occupation agreeably to the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia providing for the support of orphan and other poor children. -And I do hereby expressly forbid the sale or transportation out of the said Commonwealth of any slave I may die possessed of, under any pretense whatsoever. -And I do moreover most pointedly and most solemnly enjoin it upon my executors hereafter named, or the survivors of them, to see that this clause respecting slaves and every part thereof be religiously fulfilled at the epoch at which it is directed to take place without evasion, neglect or delay

…And to my mulatto man, William (calling himself William Lee), I give immediate freedom; or if he should prefer it (on account of the accidents which have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment) to remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional to him to do so: In either case, however, I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his natural life, which shall be independent of the victuals and clothes he has been accustomed to receive, if he chooses the last alternative; but in full, with his freedom, if he prefers the first; -and this I give him as a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me, and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War. (32)

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson is the final individual founder we are going to cover, and he too was a slave holder (from Virginia) who was against the institution of slavery.

Take for example what Jefferson wrote about slaves in his autobiography, saying: “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” (33)And in his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson made his opinion on slavery indelibly clear, proclaiming:

“There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. 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. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him…And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature, and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.

–But it is impossible to be temperate and to pursue this subject through the various considerations of policy, of morals, of history natural and civil. We must be contented to hope they will force their way into every one’s mind. I think a change already perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.” (34)

As if this is not proof enough of Jefferson’s anti-slavery beliefs, consider what he wrote in A Summery View of the Rights of British America: “The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies, where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state.” (35) In a letter to Henri Gregoire, Jefferson expressed hope that equal footing among the colors would continue to grow:

“[B]ut whatever be their degree of talent it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others. On this subject they are gaining daily in the opinions of nations, and hopeful advances are making towards their re- establishment on an equal footing with the other colors of the human family.” (36)

But as much as Jefferson hated slavery, he also understood how hard it would be to eradicate it in certain states, and he said as much to Rev. David Barrow:

“Where the disease [slavery] is most deeply seated, there it will be slowest in eradication. In the Northern states, it was merely superficial and easily corrected. In the Southern, it is incorporated with the whole system and requires time, patience, and perseverance in the curative process.” (37)

If we were to backtrack to the year 1770, we would find that Jefferson represented a slave in court, and in doing so, argued for that slave’s freedom:

“Under the law of nature, all men are born free. Everyone comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the Author of Nature.” (38)

Jefferson ultimately lost the case, but the argumentation he used in a court of law shows exactly what his personal feelings were on this important issue. Jefferson also had his hand in trying to end slavery through legislative action. For example, in 1776, Jefferson wrote the draft for the original Virginia state constitution. His original draft had a provision in it which was later rejected by the state convention; it read:

“No person hereafter coming into this country [Virginia] shall be held in slavery under any pretext whatever.” (39)

In 1778, Jefferson introduced a bill in Virginia which purpose was to ban the import of slaves to that state from other countries; Jefferson said of this bill: “This passed without opposition and stopped the increase of the evil importation, leaving to future efforts its final eradication.” (40) One year later as Governor he introduced a bill that was meant to eradicate slavery in the state of Virginia, but unfortunately it failed. (41) In 1784, he introduced a proposal in the Continental Congress to put an end to slavery in any new state that was coming into the nation; it stated: “after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states.” (42) This bill fell short of passing by one solitary vote. Jefferson explained why afterword, saying:

“There were ten states present. Six voted unanimously for it, three against it, and one was divided. And seven votes being requisite to decide the proposition affirmatively [under the Articles of Confederation], it was lost…Thus we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, & heaven was silent in that awful moment! But it is to be hoped it will not always be silent & that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail.” (43)

Jefferson did much more and was very vocal during his life in regards to slavery, however he did not live to see its demise; shortly before his death, Jefferson once again commented on the institution: “On the question of the lawfulness of slavery (that is, of the right of one man to appropriate to himself the faculties of another without his consent), I certainly retain my early opinions.” (44)

So if he was so against slavery, why was it that Jefferson did not release his slaves? As mentioned previously in regards to Washington, it was the laws of Virginia that made emancipation so difficult. What must be understood from the outset is that there was not “only one Virginia slave law”; over the course of many years there were copious amounts of law passed in Virginia in regards to Slavery; some of these laws came before Jefferson and Washington, and both of these Founders had to deal with quite a few of them.

In 1692 (before Washington or Jefferson were even born), Virginia passed a law which stated: “[N]o Negro or mulatto slave shall be set free, unless the emancipator pays for his transportation out of the country within six months.” (45) This law was meant to make it harder for masters to release their slaves, because now they would have to pay a sum of money to transport them “out of the country.” There were further similar laws that included even more financial requirements in regards to emancipating slaves, but one of vast importance was passed in 1723; it banned the emancipation of slaves, except under very rare circumstances, and releasing your slaves in your will was not one of these exceptions. (46)

In 1782 however, Virginia took a step in the right direction and allowed emancipation in one’s last will and testament (it was because of this law, Washington was able to emancipate his slaves when he died); in regards to these slavery laws in Virginia, George M. Stroud gives good explanation in his book; A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of America:

“In Virginia, the law of emancipation has undergone many changes since the year 1699, when the first legislative interposisition happened.  By an act of that year, the emancipation of any negro or mulatto slave, was rendered nugatory unless the emancipator should send his freedman out of the country within six months from the time of his emancipation; and in default so doing, the church wardens were authorized to apprehend and sell him…Another act was passed in 1723, forbidding emancipation, except for meritorious services to be adjudged by the governor and council…This latter act was superseded in 1782, by the introduction of one nearly similar, which is now in force in this state…” (47)

But even though Virginia took this step forward in 1782, they very soon afterword backtracked in 1806; because at that time, much of the ’82 law was repealed (48) and the result was to make it much harder to emancipate slaves by using your last will and testament:

“It shall be lawful for any person, by his or her last will and testament, or by any other instrument in writing under his or her hand and seal…to emancipate and set free his or her slaves…Provided, also, that all slaves so emancipated, not being…of sound mind and body, or being above the age of forty-five years, or being males under the age of twenty one, or females under the age of eighteen years, shall respectively be supported and maintained by the person so liberating them, or by his or her estate…And…a widow who shall, within one year from the death of her husband, declare in the manner prescribed by law that she will not take or accept the provision made for her…[is] entitled to one third part of the slaves whereof her husband died possessed, notwithstanding they may be emancipated by his will.” (49)(50)

In other words, if you wanted to emancipate a slave, your estate had to support and maintain them (most likely financially), and on top of that, your widow (if she so wished) could effectively cancel the emancipation of a certain amount of her husband’s slaves. Virginia law made it very hard on freed slaves as well, especially those who wanted to stay near their still enslaved families:

“If any slave hereafter emancipated shall remain within this Commonwealth more than twelve months after his or her right to freedom shall have accrued, he or she shall forfeit all such right and may be apprehended and sold.” (51)

It is clear that these laws of Virginia, as well as other restrictive laws not specifically mentioned here, made it entirely difficult to emancipate one’s slaves. Often times, it required a good some of money to do so, and Jefferson, in life and in death, did not have the money required to pull it off (though a discussion on Jefferson’s financial standing is a topic for another day).

To hammer home the point on Virginia law, let’s turn to Jefferson’s correspondence with fellow Virginian named Edward Coles, who was the private secretary to President James Madison; he wrote to Jefferson declaring:

“I never took up my pen with more hesitation or felt more embarrassment than I now do in addressing you on the subject of this letter. The fear of appearing presumptuous distresses me, and would deter me from venturing thus to call your attention to a subject of such magnitude, and so beset with difficulties, as that of a general emancipation of the Slaves of Virginia, had I not the highest opinion of your goodness and liberality, in not only excusing me for the liberty I take, but in justly appreciating my motives in doing so… I have not only been principled against Slavery, but have had feelings so repugnant to it, as to decide me not to hold them; which decision has forced me to leave my native state, and with it all my relations and friends.” (52)

It is important to understand what Coles is saying here; he says that because he hates slavery as much as he does, and no longer wants to hold (own) slaves, he is left with no other option and is now being forced to leave his state, family, and friends in order to emancipate them. Coles is indicating that because of the laws of the State of Virginia, he is unable to release his slaves and must go out of state to do so, leaving everything and everyone behind. Jefferson agreed with Cole’s sentiment (though encouraged him not to move) and responded to him, saying:

“The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good: and to commute them for other property is to commit them to those whose usage of them we cannot control.” (53)

It is now clear why Jefferson did not release his slaves; the simple answer being that it was nearly impossible for him to do so. With the evidence laid out, it is without a doubt a false narrative to say that Jefferson did not care about slavery or that he was against emancipation because he owned slaves.

The Declaration of Independence

But if the Founders were so against slavery, then why didn’t they ban it in our nation’s founding documents? After all, the exclusion of slavery from the Declaration and the Constitution must mean that the Founders really didn’t care the abolition of the institution right? Not at all; first, in regards to the Declaration, we must remember that the main writer of the document was Thomas Jefferson; and that in his original draft of the Declaration, Jefferson included a key section that accused King George of waging the cruel war of slavery against humanity:

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people which never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium [disgrace] of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. He has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain an execrable commerce [that is, he has opposed efforts to prohibit the slave trade], determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold.” (54)

So why was this portion deleted? Well according to the testimony of other founders, it was the representatives of both the Carolina’s and Georgia that most favored slavery (55), and it was the slavery favoring colonies that refused to join with the rest if slavery was maligned in the Declaration. Now some would ask why the majority of the colonies (ten), bowed to the wishes of the minority (three); couldn’t they just declare their independence without them? And the answer to this hypothetical question is technically yes, they “could have”, but it would have been suicide to do so.

To understand why this would be the case, first examine the reality; history shows us that when the sides were drawn, you had the American Colonists, and later the French (with help from Spain, the Netherlands, and Mysore) vs. The British Empire, their Hessian allies, the Loyalist Colonists, and the Six Indian Nations. Often times, the Indian Nations are forgotten when one thinks of the Revolution, which is strange considering how deadly a role they played:

“The five Indian Tribes, the Mohawks, the Oncidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and the Senacas, had formed a confederation long before they were discovered by the whites. It is not known when this confederation was first formed, but when the New England settlers penetrated westward, they found this powerful confederacy strongly united and at war with nearly all the surrounding tribes…spreading terror and desolation in their path…in 1714 they were joined by the Tuscaroras of North Carolina, and since that time the confederacy has been known as the Six Nations…In the War of the Revolution, “The whole confederacy,” says De Witt Clinton, “except a little more than half the Oneidas, took up arms against us. They hung like the scythe of Death upon the rear of our settlements, and their deeds are inscribed, with the scalping knife, and the tomahawk, in characters of blood, on the fields of Wyoming, and Cherry Valley, and on the banks of the Mohawk.” (56)

The Colonial Patriots were outnumbered from the get go; having to face the forces of the British Empire along with the strength of the Six Nations, the Hessians, and the Loyalists was bad enough; now imagine they had tried to take them on without the help of the three southern colonies! And it is not as if the three southern colonies would have just sat idly by and watched the war games; there was a genuine possibility that the south, still belonging to England, would have by choice or by force, fought for the Crown. If the three colonies had fought for England that would mean that you’d have the British forces coming from the North, and the other Colonies coming from the South, with the Six Nations interspersed amongst them; there would have been no escape for the American forces.

Even if the southern colonies didn’t actually do any fighting, it is no doubt that the British would still have used their land to execute the strategy of coming at the Revolutionaries from both sides. Needless to say, the Founders had no other option but to delete the section on slavery from the Declaration, for not to do so would have ended the war before it started; and what’s more is that if the Founders had kept the section in, lost the south and later the war, who knows how much longer slavery in America would have lasted? There certainly wouldn’t have been a United States of America to eradicate it when they did. Another Founding Father of sorts, John Quincy Adams (who was nicknamed the “Hell-Hound of Abolition”), spoke of what the other Founders did in regards to slavery and the Declaration:

“The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country [Great Britain] and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery, in common with every other mode of oppression, was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth….” (57)

The Constitution

When all else fails, Liberal Progressives turn to the Constitution in order to “prove” that the Founders didn’t care about ending slavery; they claim that the Constitution is a “Pro-Slavery Document.” But when looked at historically, we find this is simply not the case. It is true that the Constitution doesn’t outright ban slavery, but nowhere in the document is there any advocacy or promotion of the institution at all. In fact, the only clauses in the Constitution that deal with slavery are those that take steps to reduce it and eventually dismantle it.

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution reads: “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” (58)

What this means is that Congress could not prohibit the importation of slaves into the country until the year 1808; however, once the calendar turned to 1808, Congress would have the power to stop slaves from being imported into the States from outside the Country. This clause was a dramatic blow to the institution of slavery, because once an import ban was eventually passed, it would do a great deal in ending the slave trade. At the time, there were really two main ways you could bring a slave into the Union; the first being the importation of a slave from another country, and the second being the birth of a slave from one you already own. But because of the Constitution, once a law was passed banning the importation (and such a law was signed by Jefferson in 1808), the only way for a slave to enter the country was via birth. Taking away outsider slave importation is a major way that the Constitution fights slavery.

Oliver Ellsworth, who was a drafter of the U.S. Constitution said about this clause:

“All good men wish the entire abolition of slavery, as soon as it can take place with safety to the public, and for the lasting good of the present wretched race of slaves. The only possible step that could be taken towards it by the convention was to fix a period after which they should not be imported.” (59)

And the aforementioned James Wilson explained:

“If there was no other lovely feature in the Constitution but this one, it would diffuse a beauty over its whole countenance. Yet the lapse of a few years, and Congress will have power to exterminate slavery from within our borders.” (60)

But what about the 3/5 clause? Obviously it proves that the Founders were racist slave haters; after all, the 3/5 clause tells us that all slaves are counted as only 3/5 of a person right? On the contrary, it does no such thing. So where does this argument come from? Article 1, Section 2 says in part:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” (61)

What this clause is dealing with in particular is taxes and representation; it tells us how to decide the number of representatives each state gets, based upon the population in each state. How do we do it? Simply by taking the whole number of free persons, which by the way included free whites and free blacks, and adding it to 3/5 of all other persons. Notice how it says 3/5 OF all other persons, NOT that all other people who are not free are to be viewed as three-fifths of a person. What it is saying in terms of counting slaves is that instead of counting every slave towards the representation of a state, they would only count 3/5 of the slave population towards state representation.

This is akin to a College deciding to appoint representation to student government by counting the students in each department (Communications, English, Political Science, etc.) and in the case of one of the departments, only counting 3 out of every 5 students in that department. So if the Communications department has 25 students, the 3/5 clause would count 15 of those students toward student representation; this does not in any way mean that communication majors are worth any less as people than other students, it simply means that their numbers are being counted in lesser proportion compared to other departments.

Why is this clause a good thing? It’s good because it prevented a pro-slavery congress from ever taking office. How? Because in the southern states, slaves often times outnumbered freemen in anti-slave states, and so, if the entire slave population was counted with the freemen in the slave-loving states, then the Pro-slavery states would gain enough representatives to congress to hold a majority over the states that wished to end slavery. By only counting 3/5 of the slave population, the south did gain extra seats, but never enough to gain a majority. It is crucial to understand that the 3/5 clause is meant to deal with representation, NOT the worth of an individual person. But don’t take my word for it, the Founders themselves talked about the 3/5 clause and how it came about.

Founding Father Luther Martin for example, speaks to the fact that this section of the Constitution is not about the worth of a person, but rather the representation that each state would receive in congress, explaining:

“That the right of suffrage in the first branch of the national legislature, ought not to be according to the rule established in the articles of confederation, but according to some equitable rate of representation, namely, in proportion to the whole number of white, and other free citizens and inhabitants of every age, sex, and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three-fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, except Indians not paying taxes in each State.” (62)

Martin explains that this clause is in regards to representation by using the word “suffrage”, which according to Founding Father Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, means:

“A vote; a voice given in deciding a controverted question, or in the choice of a man for an office or trust. Nothing can be more grateful to a good man than to be elevated to office by the unbiased suffrages of free enlightened citizens.” (63)

James Madison in his notes on the Constitutional Convention (June 30th, 1787), further explains how the 3/5 compromise is meant to deal with representation of the states to congress:

“But he contended that the States were divided into different interests not by their difference of size, but by other circumstances; the most material of which resulted partly from climate, but principally from the effects of their having or not having slaves. These two causes concurred in forming the great division of interests in the U. States. It did not lie between the large & small States: it lay between the Northern & Southern. And if any defensive power were necessary, it ought to be mutually given to these two interests. He was so strongly impressed with this important truth that he had been casting about in his mind for some expedient that would answer the purpose. The one which had occurred was that instead of proportioning the votes of the States in both branches, to their respective numbers of inhabitants computing the slaves in the ratio of 5 to 3, they should be represented in one branch according to the number of free inhabitants only; and in the other according to the whole no. counting the slaves as free. By this arrangement the Southern Scale would have the advantage in one House, and the Northern in the other…” (64)

The debate that lead to the 3/5 clause was truly an interesting one, especially considering the tactics that the south tried to pull, and the northern response to them; Madison again describes the debate surrounding the clause in his notes on the Convention (June 11th, 1787):

“It was then moved by Mr. Rutlidge 2ded. by Mr. Butler to add to the words “equitable ratio of representation” at the end of the motion just agreed to, the words “according to the quotas of Contribution. On motion of Mr. Wilson seconded by Mr. C. Pinckney, this was postponed; in order to add, after, after the words “equitable ratio of representation” the words following “in proportion to the whole number of white & other free Citizens & inhabitants of every age sex &condition including those bound to servitude for a term of years and three fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, except Indians not paying taxes, in each State.” this being the rule in the Act of Congress agreed to by eleven States, for apportioning quotas of revenue on the States, and requiring a census only every 5 — 7, or 10 years.

Mr. Gerry thought property not the rule of representation. Why then shd. the blacks, who were property in the South, be in the rule of representation more than the cattle & horses of the North.” (65)

You see, what was happening in the debates was the South was trying to have it both ways; on one hand, they wanted to have their slaves counted as people to bolster their representation, but at the same time, only recognize them as property, and not as people. The North rightly found this to be the height of hypocrisy, feeling that if the slaves were to be counted for representation, they should also be recognized as people and therefore be made free. But the South stood their ground, and so Mr. Gerry (among others) had a little fun with the South and essentially argued; “Fine, if you want to count Black slaves as people and property, then we are going to count our property, such as horses, cows, etc., as people too, in order to get the representation numbers from them!” Obviously the South didn’t like this idea, so after more debate, they finally settled on the 3/5 clause, and in so doing, took another step towards ending slavery.

Former slave Frederick Douglass provides the final nail in the coffin of the “Constitution is a pro-slavery document” argument; when Douglas was first “discovered” by the abolitionist movement, they found him to be a smart and eloquent man, perfect for their cause. Their plan was to have Douglass go out and in the course of promoting the anti-slavery case, bash the Constitution as a document that was pro-slavery; Douglass agreed to do it, but only after he read the Constitution for himself, so that he would know what he was talking about. After reading the document however, Douglass realized that he couldn’t rail against the Constitution, considering there was nothing pro-slavery about it; as he proclaimed in a speech:

“I hold that the Federal Government was never, in its essence, anything but an anti-slavery government. Abolish slavery tomorrow, and not a sentence or syllable of the Constitution need be altered. It was purposely so framed as to give no claim, no sanction to the claim, of property in man. If in its origin slavery had any relation to the government, it was only as the scaffolding to the magnificent structure, to be removed as soon as the building was completed.” (66)

In What to the Slave is the Fourth of July, Douglass further proclaims:

“The Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider it purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? it is neither…Now, take the Constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.” (67)

The words of Douglass continue to ring true to this day, as they always will; the Founding Fathers were not some horrible racist White guys who couldn’t care less about slavery. In reality, the Founding Fathers by enlarge were dedicated to ending the institution of slavery, and constantly wished that the day would hasten forward where equality of the races would be met, and all men would truly be free. Were they perfect? No; did they face many tough choices, challenges, and compromises? Yes. But the simple fact remains that these men should be honored and respected for what they did to help end slavery in the United States, and that is something we must never forget.



1. Benjamin Franklin, An Address to the Public, Nov. 9th, 1789,

2. Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, editor (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore, and Mason, 1839), Vol. VIII, p. 42, to the Rev. Dean Woodward on April 10, 1773.

3. Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, John Bigelow, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), Vol. 5. p. 356, letter to Mr. Anthony Benezet on August 22, 1772

4. Annals of Congress, Joseph Gales, Sr., editor (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1834), Vol. 1, pp. 1239-1240, Memorial from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society from February 3, 1790 presented to Congress on February 12, 1790.

5. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10. Letter to Robert Evans, June 8th, 1819.

6. John Adams, to Colonel Ward, January 8, 1810, AP,#118,MHS,

7. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1854), Vol. IX, pp. 92-93, to George Churchman and Jacob Lindley on January 24, 1801.

8. James Wilson, The Works of the Honorable James Wilson, Bird Wilson, editor (Philadelphia: Lorenzo Press, 1804), Vol. II, p. 488, lecture on “The Natural Rights of Individuals.”

9. Benjamin Rush, Minutes of the Proceedings of a Convention of Delegates from the Abolition Societies Established in Different Parts of the United States Assembled at Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Zachariah Poulson, 1794), p. 24.

10.  Benjamin Rush, Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1951), Vol. 1, p. 371, to Richard Price on October 15, 1785

11. Patrick Henry, Patrick Henry: Patriot in the Making, Meade, Robert Douthat, p. 299-300, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1957

12. William Jay, The Life of John Jay with Selections from His Correspondence. New York: J. & J. Harper, 1833. Pages 181-82.

13.  John Jay, The Life and Times of John Jay, William Jay, editor (New York: J. & S. Harper, 1833), Vol. II, p. 174, to the Rev. Dr. Richard Price on September 27, 1785.

14. Pamphlets of the American Revolution 1750-1776 pp 439-440, Edited by Bernard Bailyn with assistance of Jane N. Garrett, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965 Harvard College Library

15. Luther Martin, The Genuine Information Delivered to the Legislature of the State of Maryland Relative to the Proceedings of the General Convention Lately Held at Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Eleazor Oswald, 1788), p. 57. See also Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington, D. C.: 1836), Vol. I, p. 374.

16. Kate Mason Rowland, Life and Correspondence of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1898), Vol. II, p. 321, to Robert Goodloe Harper on April 23, 1820. (

17. Noah Webster, Effect of Slavery on Morals and Industry (Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1793), p. 48.

18. Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington, D. C.: 1836), Vol. III, pp. 452-454, George Mason, June 15, 1788.

19. Mark Beliles and Stephen McDowell, America’s Providential History (Charlottesville, Va.: Providence Foundation, 1991), p. 227


21.  James Madison, Proceedings and Debates of the Virginia State Convention of 1829-1830, p. 538,

22. George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington, D. C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1936), Vol. 38, p. 408, to Robert Morris on April 12, 1786.

23. George Washington, George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal, p. 124,

24. George Washington, May 10th, 1786,

25. George Washington, Fitzpatrick, John C., ed. The Writings of George Washington. 39 vols. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1933.

26. George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, Jared Sparks (Boston: American Stationers’ Company, 1837), Vol. 11, p. 494.

27. George Washington, The Diaries of George Washington, 1748-1799, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, published for the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, 1925), Vol. I, p. 117 (on January 25, 1760, Washington sought to purchase a joiner, a bricklayer, and a gardener), p. 278 (on July 25, 1768, Washington purchased a bricklayer), and p. 383 (on June 11, 1770, Washington purchased two slaves). Additional information on the total number of slaves Washington purchased, and the dates of those purchases, was provided by research specialist Mary Thompson of Mt. Vernon.

28. Washington, Writings (1939), Vol. 29, p. 5, to John Francis Mercer on September 9, 1786.

29. Washington, Writings (1939), Vol. 34, p. 47, to Alexander Spotswood on November 23, 1794.

30. Washington, Writings (1940), Vol. 37, p. 338, to Robert Lewis on August 18, 1799.

31. The Northwest Ordinance, 1787,

32. George Washington, The Last Will and Testament of George Washington and Schedule of his Property to Which is Appended the Last Will and Testament of Martha Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington, D. C.: The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, 1939), pp. 2-4.

33. Jefferson, Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892-99. 10 vols.

34. Ibid ^

35. Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Julian P. Boyd et al. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950–,


37. Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, ed, Paul Leicester Ford, vol. 11 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906), 264.

38. Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Ford, 1:474

39. Boyd, Julian P., Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, et al, eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-. 33 vols, 1:363

40. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Henry A. Washington, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Taylor & Maury, 1852), 38.

41. Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, ed. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, vol. 1 (New York: G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1830), 41-42

42. Journals of the Continental Congress, ed. Gaillard Hunt, vol. 26 {Washington, DC; Government Printing Office, 1928), 118-119; Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Boyd, 6:604.

43. Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Ford, 3:65.

44. Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Lipscomb, 16:162-163

45. W. O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade; Ancient and Modern. The Forms of Slavery that Prevailed in Ancient Nations, Particularly in Greece and Rome. The African Slave Trade and the Political History of Slavery in the United States (Ohio: J. & H. Miller, 1857), pp. 373-374.

46. George M. Stroud, A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of America (Philadelphia: Henry Longstreth, 1856), pp. 236-237.

47. George M. Stroud, A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of America (Philadelphia: Kimber and Sharpless, 1827), p. 150.

48.  Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time: Volume Six, The Sage of Monticello (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1981), p. 319.

49. The Revised Code of the Laws of Virginia: Being A Collection of all Such Acts of the General Assembly, of a Public and Permanent Nature, as are Now in Force (Richmond: Printed by Thomas Ritcher, 1819), pp. 433-436.

50. The Revised Code of the Laws of Virginia, pp. 433-436.

51. The Revised Code of the Laws of Virginia, pp. 433-436; see also, Stroud, A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery, pp. 236-237.

52. Edward Coles, J. Jefferson Looney, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), 7:503–504.

53. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Edward Coles, 1814.

54. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1906), Vol. V, 1776, June 5-October 8, p. 498, Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence.

55. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington, D. C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903),Vol. I, p. 28, from his autobiography. See also James Madison, The Papers of James Madison (Washington: Langtree and O’Sullivan, 1840), Vol. III, p. 1395, August 22, 1787; James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, Gaillard Hunt, editor, (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1910), Vol. IX, p. 2, to Robert Walsh on November 27, 1819.

56. Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence, Benson J. Lossing, p. 62

57. John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport at Their Request on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple, 1837), p. 50

58. The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1.

59. Ellsworth, Oliver. “The Landholder [Oliver Ellsworth].” The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

60. Elliot, Jonathan, ed. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. . . . 5 vols. 2d ed. 1888. Reprint. New York: Burt Franklin, n.d.

61. The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2.

62. Martin, Luther. “Luther Martin: Genuine Information.” The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

63. “Suffrage”, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary;

64. Madison, James. “James Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention.” The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 1. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. 481-93. Print.

65. Madison, James. “James Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention.” The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 1. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. 196-204. Print.

66. Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass and the Fourth of July, James A. Colaiaco, 2007, p. 87;

67. Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. Philip S. Foner (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1999), 188-206.





  1. Josiah Fletch Hinterberger says:

    Yo Aaron! I’m working my way through this, and you’ve done some great, if presuppositional, reading and compilation! Can you retroactively break it up into three sections or something? This is a bit long for a single wordpress post and it’s easy to lose place on the page; would probably work better in a series of its parts.

    • Thanks man, in terms of this article, no, I am not going to retroactively break it up into a series, because this is supposed to be the one main source you get all the quotes proving what they believed. However, I do plan on breaking into a series future articles (such as my upcoming trilogy on the Civil War), because I do want to avoid future posts that are this long.

  2. Reblogged this on The Patriot Brotherhood From Sea to Shining Sea and commented:
    Great piece on Slavery and the Founding Fathers of the United States

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