On Founding Fathers and Slavery

Franklin was one of the rare people who was actually able to re-examine his long-held beliefs and assumptions over his lifetime and slowly become a better person as a result. He went from being a slaver to an abolition advocate later in life. (The only one of the “founding fathers” to do so, as far as I’m aware) He was definitely not a “hero” in that regard and could have done more, and remained a flawed man, but the capacity for real change was still kinda impressive. Most people lose that when they get older.


Oh, I agree, and he is my favorite Founding Father by far, which is why I was so disappointed when I learned of this youthful indiscretion of his. But it shows how even a clearly towering intellect like his does not provide immunity from tribalism.


Referring to owning slaves as a “youthful indiscretion?” Wow.


How about Roger Sherman, instead. Started out as an abolitionist, remained an abolitionist throughout. And owning slaves as a “youthful indiscretion?” I would rephrase that, perhaps.


Seems that he took some politically expedient positions on that, unless this Wikipedia entry is inaccurate:

There’s a lot here about how far he went to support southern states on this issue during the constitutional convention. Frankly he doesn’t sound super principled here.

He well may have been a better person overall than Franklin and it’s obviously good to be against slavery from the start. But someone starting out with bad views and gradually changing them due to self-examination is a more inspiring story (and more hopeful for our future prospects as a people) than someone just being right all along because they were raised as a puritan.

I fear we may be drifting a bit off-topic, so I’ll just add this: I hope that Whoopi can demonstrate a similar capacity for re-examining some of her own views.

1 Like

No, I am referring to his pamphlet on German immigration:

I wasn’t aware of his slave-dealing until just now, and you’re right, that’s far, far worse. I don’t know where you inferred that from my comments, though.

Edit: I get it now, you are referring to @Otherbrother’s reply to my comment about the German pamphlet, that I skipped over in my speed-reading.

He went from being a slaver to an abolition advocate later in life.


I also didn’t realize slavery was legal in Pennsylvania before the Civil War (last slave freed in 1847), even though Philadelphia had the first abolitionist society in the US, which explains my blind spot that I never associated Franklin with it. Same thing as Whoopi’s blind spot about Nazi racism, I guess. Consider me suitably chastened.


On second thought, my favorite really should be Tom Paine, but I don’t know if he is actually considered to be a Founding Father.

I don’t know who brought up slavery. I wasn’t even aware of it until this thread, the one bio I read completely omitted the subject. I was referring to his pamphlet against German immigration in Pennsylvania:

Edit: I get it now, you are referring to @Otherbrother’s reply to my comment about the German pamphlet, that I skipped over in my speed-reading.

He went from being a slaver to an abolition advocate later in life.

1 Like

This was true in several “free states” that “freed” their slaves gradually over time, through post nati emancipation.


Unrelated but many people also don’t realize that for a little while slavery remained legal in a couple of Northern states even after the civil war. Slaves weren’t emancipated in Delaware until the 13th amendment was ratified on December 18, 1865, which was more than 3 years after the emancipation Proclamation and 8 months after the end of the war. (And Delaware only belatedly ratified that amendment in 1901. Even Texas had done it by 1870. Way to go, Delaware. :disappointed_relieved:)


Yeah, most misunderstood presidential proclamation of all time. It actually freed no one, at least not at the time. The only slaves freed were those in states in rebellion, and, well, they were unlikely to pay attention to it.


The legal theory behind the Emancipation Proclamation was that it fell under Lincoln’s broad authority to wage war and the southern states’ slave labor was supporting the war effort against the United States. If Lincoln had the legal authority to simply end all slavery by executive order then there never would have been any need to pass the 13th Amendment.

So it was largely symbolic at the time, but it did provide even more incentive for enslaved people to escape since their status as free citizens would be recognized by the Federal government if they could manage to get to Union-controlled areas. And of course it meant that those people got to remain legally free after the war ended.


right, without the 13th amendment those slaves in states that stayed with the union like missouri and maryland would not have been freed.


Those two states saw the writing on the wall towards the end of the war and knew that the 13th amendment was coming, so they went ahead and ended it with their state legislatures slightly before the 13th went into effect. The reason I called out Delaware specifically is that even when they knew it was inevitable they still maintained slavery until the last possible second when the amendment was finally ratified. Kentucky did the same.


Slavery is actually still “legal” in the US because the13th Amendment makes an exception for “punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” All that needed to happen was to categorize individuals by incarceration status rather than melanin levels (and the two are never, ever associated, /s). Heck, the State of California saves hundreds of millions of dollars per year by using “volunteer” firefighters recruited from the prisons.


Fair enough, I meant the specific form of chattel slavery that the 13th eliminated.


There were a huge number of “founding fathers” (which is just a ridiculous term, the founding of this country was by and large a collective effort at every level of the government and the vast majority of people responsible for this country being what it is will never be known, much less get credit for it BUT ANYWAY) who were vocally, vociferously, and passionately against slavery and refused to practice it. Their records and evidences can only be seen in the legislative records of the various states and cities and municipalities, because they sure as heck won’t be seen in the massively slaver owned media of the time.

There’s a reason the major abolitionists we know of also just happened to be newspaper owners and publishers.


Wasn’t it also to stop the aid the UK was giving the Confederates?

While the aristocratic elite was in sympathy with the South, the people hated slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation put too much public opinion pressure to maintain their covert assistance, even in the pre-democratic UK of the 19th Century.

1 Like

There were probably a number of moral, political and practical reasons for that Executive Order. I was just addressing “why did it apply to enslaved people in the Confederate states and not the states where slavery was still legal in the Union?”


Lincoln ignored the Supreme Court on habeas corpus so it would be interesting to understand why he exempted non-rebellious slave states. Perhaps because he didn’t want to provoke them into rebellion?