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Handout G: Slavery and the Founders

Handout G: Slavery and the Founders

Background: Slavery was legal in every state at the beginning of the American Revolution, but its impact on the economy of northern states was minimal. Founders in the North were, therefore, more likely to write publicly about the injustices of slavery and the inconsistency between republican ideals and the practice of enslaving human beings. However, even the slave-holding Founders were well aware of those injustices and inconsistencies. Virginians Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and Mason, all of whom wrote powerfully and carried out courageous actions on behalf of human liberty, and all of whom criticized slavery, were slave-holders.

Directions: Use this table as a reference when studying the Founders.

Slaveholders* Among Some Prominent Founders

(Name, State, Attended Philadelphia Convention?)

  • Richard Bassett, Delaware, Yes
  • George Read, Delaware, Yes
  • Button Gwinnett, Georgia, No
  • Charles Carroll, Maryland, No
  • Daniel Carroll, Maryland, Yes
  • Samuel Chase, Maryland, No
  • Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, Maryland, Yes
  • Luther Martin, Maryland, Yes
  • John F. Mercer, Maryland, Yes
  • John Hancock, Massachusetts, No
  • John Jay, New York, No
  • William Blount, North Carolina, Yes
  • William Davie, North Carolina, Yes
  • Alexander Martin, North Carolina, Yes
  • Richard Dobbs Spaight, North Carolina, Yes
  • Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania, Yes
  • Benjamin Rush, Pennsylvania, No
  • Pierce Butler, South Carolina, Yes
  • Charles Pinckney, South Carolina, Yes
  • Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, South Carolina, Yes
  • Edward Rutledge, South Carolina, No
  • John Rutledge, South Carolina, Yes
  • John Blair, Virginia, Yes
  • Patrick Henry, Virginia, No
  • Thomas Jefferson, Virginia, No
  • Richard Henry Lee, Virginia, No
  • James Madison, Virginia, Yes
  • George Mason, Virginia, Yes
  • Edmund Randolph, Virginia, Yes
  • George Washington, Virginia, Yes
  • George Wythe, Virginia, Yes

*All of those listed in the table owned slaves at some point in their lives