Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Founding Fathers - Some Fathers Fought Slavery

Slavery was neither the product of the Founding Fathers nor was it an evil introduced into the colonies by them. The institution of slavery was introduced into the American colonies two centuries before the Founding Fathers.

Henry Laurens, President of Congress declared:

“I abhor slavery. I was born in a country where slavery had been established by British Kings and Parliaments as well as by the laws of the country ages before my existence…In former days there was no combatting the prejudices of men supported by interest; the day, I hope, is approaching when, from principles of gratitude as well as justice, every man will strive to be foremost in showing his readiness to comply with the Golden Rule [“do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Matthew 7:12].

There had been few attempts to dismantle the institution of slavery in the American colonies prior to the era of the Founding Fathers. The change in attitude toward slavery throughout the American colonies was recognized by John Jay.

“Prior to the great Revolution, the great majority…of our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it.”

The national attitude toward the institution of slavery turned during the era immediately preceding and throughout the American Revolution. The Founding Fathers contributed a great deal toward the eventual abolition of slavery. They ardently complained that Great Britain forcefully imposed slavery upon the American colonies.

Thomas Jefferson complained:

“He [King George] 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 into another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither…Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce [he has opposed efforts to prohibit the slave trade.]”

Attempts in America to end the institution of slavery were thwarted by the British government. In a letter to Dean Woodward dated 1773, Benjamin Franklin confirmed that attempts to end slavery were thwarted by Great Britain.

“…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.”

Nor were Virginia Founders responsible for slavery but tried to dismantle the institution of slavery. Confirmation of the attempted is found in the works of John Quincy Adams. John Q Adams was well known as the “hell-hound of abolition” for his far-reaching efforts to bring an end to slavery.

“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 [Thomas 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. Such was the undoubting conviction of Jefferson to his dying day. In the Memoir of His Life, written at the age of seventy-seven, he gave to his countrymen the solemn and emphatic warning that the day was not distant when they must hear and adopt the general emancipation of their slaves.”

Actually, Thomas Jefferson introduced a bill in the Virginia Assembly which was designed to bring an end to slavery in Virginia. Unfortunately, not all southern Founders were opposed to slavery. Virginians James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Rutledge declared that the Founders from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia favored slavery. Although the Founders of those three states opposed the abolition of slavery; it is clear that the majority of Founders opposed slavery. Some Southern pro-slavery advocates attempted to justify slavery by invoking the Bible. Elisas Boudinot, President of the Continental Congress replied:

“[E]ven 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 consequence that followed: they were delivered by a strong hand and stretched-out arm and it ought to be remembered that the Almighty Power that accompanied their deliverance is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.”

Several of the Founding Fathers who held slaves while they were British subjects chose to release their slaves following the War for Independence. Among those Founders were: George Washington, John Dickenson, Caesar Rodney, William Livingston, George Wythe, and John Randolph of Roanoke. Many of the Founders such as John Adams never owned slaves.

John Adams declared: “[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known…[N]ever in my life did I own a slave.”

A strong anti-slave sentiment is found in the declarations of several Founders.

“[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

“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 [slavery].” John Dickenson – signer of the Declaration of Independence

“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 United States Supreme Court

“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 the degrading submissions on the other…And with that execration [curse] should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other…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 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 forever.” Thomas Jefferson

“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 the Continental Congress – Signer of the Declaration of Independence

“I hope that we shall at last, and if it be so please God I hope it may be during my life time, see this cursed thing [slavery] taken out…For my part, whether in a public station or a private capacity, I shall always be prompt to contribute my assistance towards effecting so desirable an event.” William Livingston – Signer of the Declaration of Independence – Governor of New Jersey

[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.” Luther Martin – Delegate at the Constitutional Convention

“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].” George Mason – Father of the Bill of Rights

“Honored will that State be in the annals of history which shall first abolish this violation of the rights of mankind.” Joseph Reed – Revolutionary Officer – Governor of Pennsylvania

"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.” Benjamin Rush – Signer of the Declaration of Independence

“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.” Noah Webster

“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.” James Wilson – Signer of the Constitution – United States Supreme Court Justice

“[I]t is certainly unlawful to make inroads upon others…and take away their liberty by no better right than superiority of power.” John Witherspoon – Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Not few of the Founders went beyond their declarations. Their actions went beyond mere rhetoric. In the year 1774, Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush helped establish the first anti-slavery society in America. Furthermore, John Jay became the president of an anti-slavery society in New York. William Livingstone – signer of the Constitution – heard of the establishment of an anti-slavery society in New York. As governor of New Jersey; he wrote to the New York society.

“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.” William Livingston

Richard Bassett, James Madison, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, William Few, John Marshall, Richard Stockton, Zephaniah Swift were members of anti-slavery societies form the abolish slavery. Through the efforts of the Founding Fathers, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts took decisive steps to abolish slavery in 1780. Connecticut and Rhode Island took steps to abolish slavery in those respective states in 1784; Vermont in 1786; New Hampshire in 1792; New York in 1799 and New Jersey in 1804.

Rufus King – Signer of the Constitution – authored a Congressional act which prohibited slavery in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The act which prohibited slavery in those territories was signed into law by President George Washington. It was George Washington who 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].

The Founding Fathers were responsible for planting the seeds which led to the recognition of black and Caucasian equality. They nurtured the seeds which would eventually end the institution of slavery. Richard Allen was a slave in Pennsylvania when his master led him to faith in Christ. His master freed him after his conversion to Christ. Richard Allen became a close personal friend to Dr. Benjamin Rush. Reverend Richard Allen became the founder of the AME Church in America. Reverend Allen preached an address titled “To the People of Color” in which he declared:

“Many of the white people have been instruments in the hands of God for our good, even such as have held us in captivity, [and] are now pleading our cause with earnestness and zeal.”

Although progress was made by the Founding Fathers to end slavery; it wasn’t until several years later that their endeavors were achieved.

The three-fifths clause in the United States Constitution is not a measurement of human worth. The clause is an anti-slavery provision limiting the political power of the proponents of slavery. The clause within the Constitution limits the congressional calculation of the slave population. The Southern States were denied additional pro-slavery representatives to the House by including only three fifths of the total number of slaves in each of the Southern states.

“[T]he Constitution allowed Southern States to count three-fifths of their slaves toward the population that would determine the numbers of representatives in the federal legislature. This clause is often singled out today as a sign of black dehumanization: they are only three-fifths human. But the provision applied to slaves, not blacks. That meant that free blacks – and there were many, North as well as South- counted the same as whites. More important, the fact that slaves were counted at all was a concession to the slave owners. Southerners would have been glad to count their slaves as whole persons. It was the Northerners who did not want them counted, for why should the South be rewarded with more representatives, the more slaves they held.” “Principles: A Quarterly Review for Teachers of History and Social Science” – Thomas G. West - “Was the American Founding Unjust? The Case of Slavery

“It was slavery’s opponents who succeeded in restricting the political power of the South by allowing them to count only three-fifths of their slave population in determining the number of congressional representatives. The three-fifths of a vote provision applied only to slaves, not to free blacks in either the North or South.” Walter Williams - “Some Fathers Fought Slavery”

African-American Professor Walter Williams explains why revisionists misrepresent the three-fifths compromise.

“Politicians, news media, college professors and leftists of other stripes are selling us lies and propaganda. To lay the groundwork for their increasingly successful attack on our Constitution, they must demean and criticize its authors. As Senate Joe Biden demonstrated during the Clarence Thomas hearings, the famers’ ideas about natural law must be trivialized or they must be seen as racists.” Professor Walter Williams – Some Fathers Fought Slavery

1 comment:

John Wilcox said...

I thank you for the ardent research represented herein. In my own studies I have found where some of the founders set up organizations to free the slaves. Charles of Carrollton and others pour great sums of their own finances into the prospect of setting men/women free and to return them to their homeland.
Also with great sadness I discovered the tension between those who wanted freedom from England but would not bend the knee to free the slaves. Those who lost that battle in order to gain the Declaration of Independence and the signing of the Constitution kept up the fight until it became law in 1865. Not enough good has been said about those of whom your blog gives credit for the fight. Thank you.