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The Founders’ Failure to End Slavery

  • Students will analyze and interpret primary and secondary sources to recognize change over time.
  • Students will respond to a writing prompt in a clear, thesis-driven essay that uses evidence from the provided sources.

In this lesson, developed by and included with the permission of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, students will examine eight primary source documents to support, modify, or refute the following statement:

Many leaders expressed moral concerns regarding human equality and the evils of slavery over the course of the Founding Era. Change was impossible to carry out and enforce because of the economic necessity and racial dynamics of slavery.


  • Maryland Gazette, August 20, 1761
  • Excerpt: Declaration of Independence, 1776
  • Excerpt: Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, 1782
  • Excerpt: George Washington to John Mercer, September 9, 1786
  • Excerpt: South Carolina Ratifying Convention, January 17, 1788, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
  • The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 24, 1796
  • Excerpt: The Last Will and Testament of George Washington, 1799
  • Excerpt: Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820

Click here to access this lesson and accompanying materials on Mount Vernon’s website:

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