2.6 What about the Founding Fathers of America, didn't they own Slaves?  Weren't they Racist?

Children are taught in school that the founding fathers were racists who owned slaves.  Most did own slaves, however many of the founding fathers were opposed to slavery and tried to end it.  

 Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush was a physician and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  He wrote a pamphlet in 1773 in which he criticized the slave trade as well as slavery.

 Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was both a printer, writer, scientist and inventor and one of the creators and signers of the Declaration of Independence.   He printed his own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, as well as Poor Richard's Almanac.  He and Benjamin Rush founded the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.

Stephen Hopkins

Stephen Hopkins was an astronomer, the governor of the colony of Rhode Island, a chief justice of the Rhode Island supreme court and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  He owned slaves but became opposed to slavery.  When he freed one of them he wrote that keeping a rational person who could take care of himself as a slave was against the will of God.  Hopkins introduced a bill in 1774 while serving in the Rhode Island Assembly that prohibited the importation of slaves into the colony.This became one of the first anti-slave trade laws in the United States.

  John Jay


 John Jay was the second governor of New York and the first chief justice of the United States.  He freed his own slaves.  He founded the New York Manumission Society in 1785, to free slaves. The society created the African Free School in New York City, to educate the children of free blacks and slaves. After John Jay was governor of New York in 1798, he helped pass a law against forced labor.  He was a congressman during the signing of the Declaration of Independence and his duties prevented him from signing it.

 John Adams

John Adams was an attorney who represented slaves in their suits for freedom.  He was a leader of the American revolution and vice president to George Washington.  He became the second president of the United States.  He helped write the Declaration of Independence.  Slavery was abolished in Massachusetts about 1780, when it was forbidden by the Declaration of Rights that John Adams wrote into the Massachusetts Constitution. He never owned slaves.

Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams pushed for independence long before the American revolution.  He signed the Declaration of Independence.  He never owned slaves.

 Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine wrote two pamphlets that inspired Americans to revolt for freedom against Britain.  One pamphlet was called Common Sense and the other The American Crisis.  He helped write the Declaration of Independence.  He never owned slaves.

 Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was an inventor who invented a cipher wheel for writing codes, a portable copying press and many more gadgets.  He was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.  While president he outlawed the international slave trade. What is strange about that is that Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves. This certainly appears contradictory. Why would someone who was against slavery own slaves? One reason was that Jefferson believed that releasing unprepared persons with no place to go and no means to support themselves into the world would bring them misfortune.  He was also afraid that freed slaves might be full of rage at what they'd been through and violently attack their former white masters.  He was afraid what happened in Haiti where revolting slaves killed their white masters and their families, might happen in the colonies.  He and many others were afraid that opposing slavery would divide people against each other.  Many feared such division could spark a civil war which it ultimately did when president Lincoln opposed slavery.  620,000 people lost their lives in the civil war, a war that whites fought to free black slaves. 

One of the criticisms we hear in schools regarding America is that the Declaration of Independence did not include women, blacks and native Americans.  Yet today all Americans, women, blacks and native Americans have all the rights specified in the Declaration of Independence.  America was divided on the issue of slavery, native Americans and women and it would not have been possible to achieve a declaration at all if the Declaration had been perfect.  The declaration did start the process that brought about the freedom everyone enjoys in America today.


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