One of the most frequent tactics employed to discredit America's Founding Fathers is to say that the Founding Fathers were all pro-slavery racists and hypocrites. Therefore, why should we care what their views were on any subject? African-American professor Walter Williams wisely explained the use of this tactic in these words:
These people paint a false picture of the Founding Fathers and the issue of slavery. The historical fact is that slavery was not the product of, nor was it an evil introduced by the Founders; slavery was introduced in America nearly two centuries before the Founders. In fact, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay noted that there had been few serious efforts to dismantle the institution of slavery prior to the Founding Fathers.
The Revolution was a turning point in the national attitude against slavery—and it was the Founders who contributed greatly to that change. In fact, one of the reasons given by Thomas Jefferson for the separation from Great Britain was a desire to rid America of the evil of slavery imposed on them by the British.
Benjamin Franklin explained that this separation from Britain was necessary since every attempt among the Colonies to end slavery had been thwarted or reversed by the British Crown. In fact, in the years following America's separation from Great Britain, many of the Founding Fathers who had owned slaves released them (e.g., John Dickinson, Ceasar Rodney, William Livingston, George Washington, George Wythe, John Randolph, and others).
It is true, however, that not all of the Founders from the South opposed slavery. According to the testimony of Thomas Jefferson, John Rutledge, and James Madison, those from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia favored slavery.
Nevertheless, despite the support in those states for slavery, the clear majority of the Founders was opposed to this evil—and their support went beyond words.
For example, in 1774, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America's first antislavery society; John Jay was president of a similar society in New York. When Constitution signer William Livingston heard of the New York society, he, as Governor of New Jersey, wrote them, offering:
Other prominent Founding Fathers who were members of societies for ending slavery included Richard Bassett, James Madison, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, William Few, John Marshall, Richard Stockton, Zephaniah Swift, and many more.
In fact, based in part on the efforts of these Founders, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1780; Connecticut and Rhode Island did so in 1784; New Hampshire in 1792; Vermont in 1793; New York in 1799; and New Jersey in 1804. Furthermore, the reason that the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa all prohibited slavery was a federal act authored by Rufus King (signer of the Constitution) and signed into law by President George Washington which prohibited slavery in those territories.
It is not surprising that Washington would sign such a law, for it was he who had declared:
Notice a few additional examples of the Founder's strong antislavery sentiments:
“[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known… [N]ever in my life did I own a slave.”
Numerous similar quotes could be cited.
Yet despite the progress made by many of the Founders to end the institution of slavery and to recognize in practice that “all men are created equal,” it is currently charged that in the Constitution, the Founders considered a black to be only three-fifths of a person. This charge is yet another misportrayal of the truth.
The records of the Constitutional Convention make clear that the three-fifths clause was actually an antislavery provision. As Professor Walter Williams explains:
“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.” (emphasis added)
The three-fifths clause was not a measurement of human worth; it was an attempt to reduce the number of pro-slavery proponents in Congress. By including only three-fifths of the total numbers of slaves into the congressional calculations, Southern states were actually being denied additional pro-slavery representatives in Congress.
While there were a few Founding Fathers who were pro-slavery, the truth is that it was the Founders who were responsible for planting and nurturing the first seeds for the recognition of black equality and for the eventual end of slavery. This is a fact made clear by Richard Allen.
Allen had been a slave in Pennsylvania, but was freed after he converted his master to Christianity. A close friend of Benjamin Rush and several other Founding Fathers, he went on to become the founder of the A.M.E. Church in America. In an early address entitled “To the People of Color,” Allen reminded them:
“Many of the white people [who] have been instruments in the hands of God for our good, even such as have held us in captivity, are now pleading our cause with earnestness and zeal.”
If this view of the Founding Fathers and many of their names were new to you, there is a solution to help acquaint you with many of them. Wallbuilders has reprinted an 1848 book entitled Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. This work, long used as a school text, gives a brief and informative biographical sketch of each of the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence.
What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer
Copyright © 1995, 1999, WallBuilders, Inc., All Rights Reserved—except as noted on attached “Usage and Copyright” page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools.