Anti-slavery revolutionaries who practiced what they preached
George Washington once describe slavery as “the only subject of inevitable regret” in his life. Thomas jefferson decried the practice as a “moral depravity” and a “hideous stain” and noted that slavery posed the greatest threat to America’s future survival. And James Madison called it is “the most oppressive domination ever exercised by man over man”.
Although each of these men publicly lamented its existence, they never ended the practice of slavery in their personal lives.
However, not all the founding fathers who deplored this practice are guilty of hypocrisy. The following men – along with John Laurens, Samuel Adams, Robert Paine and Oliver Ellsworth, among others – not only spoke out against the institution publicly, they also refused to participate in the business in their personal lives.
John adams, for example, completely disowned slavery. Adams accomplished a lot as the second president of the United States and as a founding father. He contributed significantly to America’s founding documents, defended independence from Britain, was a full-fledged diplomat abroad who negotiated loans the Dutch desperately needed to maintain the America afloat during the War of Independence and kept the country out of war with France during its presidency.
Perhaps his most laudable accomplishment is being one of the two of the first 12 US presidents to never own a slave – his son, John Quincy Adams, being the other.
The Adams senior decried the institution as a “foul contagion in the human character” and as “an evil of colossal magnitude” and noted the American Revolution would never be complete until all slaves were free. Although personally opposed to slavery, Adams did not support most attempts at abolitionism during America’s fragile infancy and said he preferred a more gradual approach. He did however offer encouragement to abolitionists who sought a more sudden end to the practice, writing: “(I) wish you success in your benevolent efforts to alleviate the distress of our fellow human beings, and will always be ready to cooperate with you, within my means. and we can reasonably expect the opportunities to expand. “
Thomas paine took an even stronger stance against slavery. Referred to as “the father of the American revolution” for his writing “Common Sense”, Paine perhaps deserves more credit than any of the founders for galvanizing the colonies in the search for outright independence from the Great -Brittany. His writings were so widely read and influential that John Adams once said: “Without the pen of the author of ‘Common Sense’ Washington’s sword would have been raised in vain.”
Paine was famous throughout the New Nation and used his influence to advocate for the abolition of slavery. He never owned a slave himself and spoke out against the practice with ferocity. He published a Pennsylvania Magazine article that attacked slavery as an “abhorrent trade” and a “contempt against humanity and justice”. He wrote a similar leaflet in London to help pass the abolitionist “Slave Act” when he resided across the Atlantic.
Marquis de Lafayette is another example. While Lafayette never signed any of America’s founding documents and is generally not considered a founding father, his contributions to the cause are significant and deserve to be noted. The wealthy Frenchman left his home country at the start of the American Revolution to help the Continental Army in its fight against the British. He immediately became a close friend and assistant to George Washington and served under his command. He was promoted to the rank of general and tirelessly negotiated between America and our ally, France. Historians praise his efforts and recognize his significant contributions to the Continental Army’s victory at Yorktown.
During the war, Lafayette befriended a slave soldier named James Armistead, who fought alongside the young Frenchman during the Siege of Richmond. Their friendship affected his views on slavery. Although he never owned slaves, Lafayette became an advocate for emancipation and one of the first things he did after the war was to put pressure on Washington join his cause – an offer the general politely declined.
With his personal funds, Lafayette bought a plantation in the French colony of Cayenne with the intention of freeing slaves through progressive manumission. He also appealed to King Louis XVI to support the business and became an inspiration to other abolitionists with his words and deeds. Frederick Douglass praised the efforts of Lafayette and wrote that he considered the revolutionary to be a “true abolitionist” and one of the few men of the time to have embraced racial equality.
Roger sherman called the slave trade “iniquitous” and never owned a slave either. He is the alone Founding Father to sign the four founding documents of America: the Declaration of Independence, the American Constitution, the Articles of Confederation and the Articles of Association – which ended trade with Great Britain. In addition, the Constitution of the United States may never have come into being without the Connecticut delegate’s “Grand Compromise” proposal to provide a dueling system of representation in Congress by dividing Congress into the Senate and House of Commons. representatives.
In addition to breaking the deadlock at the Constitutional Convention, Sherman opposite a tax on slaves as well, indicating that this would imply that they were property and not human beings. He was also instrumental in passing several laws aimed at restricting and ultimately eliminating slavery in his home state of Connecticut. Even though he finally made a compromise with the southern colonies when agreeing on some of the provisions protecting slaves in order to keep these colonies in union, Sherman deserves to be recognized for being what his biographer, Mark David Hall, hailed as “an opponent of slavery.” Hall writes in “Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic” that Sherman “systematically opposed slavery because he believed that all humans were made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity.” .
Governor Morris likewise believed and was another delegate to the Constitutional Convention who spoke openly against slavery. Although Morris came from a family of slave owners, he never owned slaves himself. Morris is one of the most notable Founding Fathers because he wrote the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and helped Madison with much of the language of the Founding Document. He also signed both the Constitution of the United States and the Articles of Confederation, and he represented Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention.
In addition to advocating for a strong central government, Morris gave a flamboyant anti-slavery speech at the convention, saying it was incongruous to say that a slave was both property and man. Madison characterized Morris’s speech recognized that the institution of slavery acted “in defiance of the most sacred laws of mankind” and that Morris viewed the “nefarious practice” with “laudable horror.”
Almost a century later, when President Lincoln cited the “best known anti-slavery men of that time,” Governor Morris was one of three founders he recognized above all.
Alexandre hamilton does not need to be introduced thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton”. The “Founding father without father“helped Washington lead the Continental Army to victory against the British, founded the United States Coast Guard and the nation’s financial system as the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury, and wrote the majority of documents federalists – helping to secure eventual ratification of the U.S. Constitution by all thirteen colonies.
One of his most respectable accomplishments has been to be a Founding Member of the New York Manumission Society – an organization dedicated to the abolition of slavery in its home state of New York. Society pushed for the progressive emancipation of the state, and such a law was eventually passed during Hamilton’s lifetime. Despite this, it should be noted that Hamilton is not considered by some historians to be an abolitionist. Although universally recognized as being truly anti-slavery, historian Annette Gordon-Reed has noted that âOpposing slavery has never been at the forefront of its agenda,â and historian Michelle DuRoss reported documentation suggesting that Hamilton and his wife Eliza may have owned slaves after all. (A point that was disputed by other scholars.)
Indeed, in “Alexander Hamilton”, historian Ron Chernow praises Hamilton as an “unshakeable abolitionist who saw the emancipation of slaves as an inseparable part of the struggle for freedom”, and praises Hamilton for never having possessed slaves while so many of his contemporaries profited greatly from the business. “Few, if any, other Founding Fathers opposed slavery more consistently or worked harder to eradicate it than Hamilton,” Chernow writes.
that of Benjamin Franklin objections to slavery are also worth noting, despite being the only revolutionary on this list to have personally owned slaves. Franklin’s contributions to the great American experiment have been noted everywhere. He helped draft both the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence, and he negotiated the Treaty of Paris which effectively ended the War of Independence. Franklin was also an important philosopher, inventor, lawmaker, printer, scientist, and diplomat. He always proved to be a man ahead of his time, including in his personal developments on the issue of slavery.
While he owned a few slaves as servants for part of his life and, as a young man, carried advertisements for the sale of slaves in his newspaper, Franklin came to recognize the wrongdoing of the practice and freed his slaves and became a staunch abolitionist. Franklin was president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery – a society dedicated to both freeing slaves and helping them become better citizens.
Further, in February 1790 – just three months before his death – Franklin presented Congress with a formal petition of abolition which stated:.
While each of these men deserves to be commended for putting into practice what they preached regarding slavery, they still had many loopholes and made mistakes along the way. Like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, they were all products of their time and often did not speak or act as they should have although they were on the right side of history on the issue of slavery.
Writing for the New Yorker, journalist Louisa Thomas captures the moment for each founder: âThere was then, as there is now, an idealized vision of a great new experience of freedom. But, in their life, there were disorderly, sometimes intolerable contradictions. The past is like the present, in an important way: it’s not always what we want it to be. “
Daryl Austin is a Utah-based editor and writer. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, NBC News, Live Science, Business Insider, and Newsweek.