Much of the country howled with laughter a couple of days ago when leading GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann defended her contention that the US’s founding fathers had worked tirelessly to end slavery.
The founding fathers were all dead when slavery was abolished, Bachmann ridiculers roared. And “John Quincy Adams,” the one founding father Bachmann brought up when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to defend herself, was a boy at the time.
But was Michele Bachmann actually right?
A lot of Bachmann defenders think so. Many of the founding fathers, they say, were against slavery, even if they didn’t write this position into the Constitution.
So was Bachmann unfairly slammed?
The truth appears to be somewhere in the middle.
Based on this article in Encyclopedia Britannica, it seems fair to say that some of the founding fathers opposed slavery, and that some of them worked to limit it on the state level. But as a group they certainly didn’t work tirelessly to end it.
According to Britannica, most of the “Founding Fathers” owned slaves (see chart below). A handful didn’t, including John Adams and Thomas Paine, and slaveowner Thomas Jefferson actually wrote a draft section of the Constitution absolving Americans of responsibility for slavery by blaming the British. But this paragraph was struck from the final version.
Photo: Encyclopedia Brittanica
The commitment to the status quo (legalized slavery) among the “southern founders” was particularly strong, and the “northern founders” didn’t challenge this. Slavery remained legal in the northern states, even though few people owned slaves. And only one of the slave-owning “southern founders” actually freed his slaves after the nation was founded.
So did Michele Bachmann completely revise history when she said the founders worked tirelessly to end slavery? No.
But was Michele Bachmann correct?
The fairest characterization of the “founding fathers” view on slavery seems to be that they tolerated it.
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