Slavery and America’s Founding Fathers: How did they really feel?

In 2009, Hillary Clinton won the Margaret Sanger Award. Margaret Sanger, socialist and racist, is still hailed by the left. She coined the phrase, “birth control” and believed that “the physically unfit, materially poor, racially inferior, and mentally incompetent needed to be eliminated.” Hillary Clinton was questioned about this during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing and she made the following deflective statement:

“Well, Congressman, let me say with respect to your comments about Margaret Sanger, you know, I admire Thomas Jefferson. I admire his words and his leadership and I deplore his unrepentant slave holding. I admire Margaret Sanger being a pioneer in trying to empower women to have some control over their bodies and I deplore statements that you have referenced. That is the way we often are when we look at flawed human beings. There are things that we admire and things we deplore.”

This is a recurring theme on the left. To discredit the founding fathers, they are often referred to as “Old, white slave owners.” This history should be put in context with the time in which they lived.

So the question is, what did the founding fathers actually say about slavery?

Slavery was not introduced by the founding fathers – it had been in America for well over a century by the time the founding documents were conceived. Many of the founders abhorred slavery, but since it was such a supported practice, intertwined with the economy and since the slaves themselves were vulnerable to external forces, many advocated for a “gradual abolition”, but an abolition was required as not only did the practice conflict with the founding documents, but the practiced conflicted with Christianity.

“A Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in 1619. The Africans became indentured servants, similar in legal position to many poor Englishmen who traded several years labor in exchange for passage to America.” These black and white indentured servants stayed in America after they payed their “debt”. “The popular conception of a racial-based slave system did not develop until the 1680’s”. Interestingly (and a bit off topic), one of these African indentured servants, often cited as the “first slave”, is John Punch, and can be traced back from Barack Obama’s mother.

The popular conception of a racial-based slave system did not develop until the 1680’s.

Slavery was accepted as the norm and would not be easy to overturn. Before the founding fathers, there was little effort to stop slavery.

That all changed with the Revolution, the “Father of the American Revolution”, was against slavery (Samuel Adams) and helped to change the tone of a nation. Some of the founders complained that slavery was an evil pushed onto the colonies by England.

For example, Thomas Jefferson said,

“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 who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. . .”

sadly, it was removed from the draft of the declaration. He also stated,

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.”

Joseph Reed, Revolutionary Officer; Governor of Pennsylvania

“Honored will that State be in the annals of history which shall first abolish this violation of the rights of mankind.”

Samuel Adams, Signer of the Declaration,

“But to the eye of reason, what can be more clear than that all men have an equal right to happiness? Nature made no other distinction than that of higher or lower degrees of power of mind and body. . . . Were the talents and virtues which Heaven has bestowed on men given merely to make them more obedient drudges? . . . No! In the judgment of heaven there is no other superiority among men than a superiority of wisdom and virtue.”

James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution

“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.”

From Benjamin Franklin, (1773) lamenting that the British government wanted slavery, even as America opposed it…

“. . 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.”

John Quincy Adams, July 4th, 1837

“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.”

Elias Boudinot, President of the Continental Congress, lamenting Georgia, North and South Carolina’s continued support for slavery:

“Even the sacred Scriptures had been quoted to justify this iniquitous traffic. It is true that the Egyptians held the Israelites in bondage for four hundred years, . . . but . . . gentlemen cannot forget the consequences that followed: they were delivered by a strong hand and stretched-out arm and it ought to be remembered that the Almighty Power that accomplished their deliverance is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.”

Richard Henry Lee, Signer of the Declaration

“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.”

James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution:

“Slavery, or an absolute and unlimited power in the master over the life and fortune of the slave, is unauthorized by the common law”

John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration:

“It is certainly unlawful to make inroads upon others . . . and take away their liberty by no better means than superior power.”

John Adams, US President, Signer of the Bill of Rights, in a letter to George Churchman and Jacob Lindley (1801)

“…my opinion against it has always been known, and my practice has been so conformable to my sentiments that I have always employed freemen, both as domestics and laborers, and never in my life did I own a slave. The abolition of slavery must be gradual, and accomplished with much caution and circumspection. Violent means and measures would produce greater violations of justice and humanity than the continuance of the practice.”

Benjamin Franklin, Signer of the Declaration, Signer of the Constitution (1772)

“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.”

and

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.”

Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Senator from Maryland, State Senator in Maryland

“Why keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil.”

John Dickinson, Signer of the Constitution; Governor of Pennsylvania,

“As Congress is now to legislate for our extensive territory lately acquired, I pray to Heaven that they may build up the system of the government on the broad, strong, and sound principles of freedom. Curse not the inhabitants of those regions, and of the United States in general, with a permission to introduce bondage.”

Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration,

“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.”

and

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.”

John Jay, President of Continental Congress,

“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.”

Noah Webster, Responsible for Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution

“Justice and humanity require it. Christianity commands it…pray for the glorious period when the last slave who fights for freedom shall be restored to the possession of that inestimable right.”

George Washington

“that it is my wish to hold the unhappy people who are the subject of this letter, in slavery. 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 — but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, & that is by Legislative authority: and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting.”

**The photo in this article is of Founding Father John Jay, who presided over the Continental Congress (1778-79), served as an Ambassador to Spain and France, co-authored the Federalist Papers that advocated for our Federal Constitution, and became the original Chief Justice U. S. Supreme Court. He was also a devout believer and an ardent abolitionist. (and one of my new heroes)

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Author: renee nal

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4 thoughts on “Slavery and America’s Founding Fathers: How did they really feel?

  1. When I went to see the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, I had to walk past a long row of exhibits about the founding fathers. Each exhibit emphasized slavery. There was even a replica of a slave holding cell. I wondered why there was this dwelling on slavery in an exhibit about a symbol of our freedom.
    Then, I saw a plaque on the wall, stating that the exhibits were funded by the Annenberg Foundation, which is associated with George Soros.
    This leftist bought the right to castigate our founding fathers and diminish them.

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