Slavery at Mount Vernon: Grappling with Our Founding’s Complex Story | BRIdge from the Past
How can we talk about founding principles of liberty and equality without accounting for slavery? To explore this question, Mary went to George Washington’s Mount Vernon just outside of Washington, DC, and spoke with Director of Interpretation, Jeremy Ray. What does the design of the Greenhouse Slave Quarters reveal about the two sides of the plantation: the ornamental, public-facing greenhouse side and the functional, behind-the-scenes side where the people held in bondage lived? How can visiting historical places like Mount Vernon help us grapple with our complex story?
Slavery at Mount Vernon: Grappling with Our Founding’s Complex Story Viewing Guide
In this special episode of BRIdge from the Past, Mary visits George Washington’s Mount Vernon to talk with Director of Interpretation Jeremy Ray about the complex history of slavery in Washington’s world. How can we talk about founding principles of liberty and equality without accounting for slavery? How can visiting historical places like Mount Vernon help us grapple with this complex story?
Slavery and the Constitution
Today there are few more controversial topics in the study of American history and government than the issue of slavery and the Constitution. On the surface, the Constitution seemed to protect slavery in the states, prohibited Congress from banning the slave trade for twenty years, and required that fugitive slaves, even in the North, be returned to their masters. Because of these apparent constitutional protections, a bloody Civil War was fought to free the slaves and win ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to end slavery in the U.S. forever. The Constitution, therefore, in the eyes of some scholars, seems to be a contradiction to the universal ideals of liberty and equality in the American Founding and the Declaration of Independence which proclaimed “all men are created equal” and endowed with “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
George Washington’s Views on Slavery
Before completing this Lesson, students should be familiar with the societal, cultural, and economic conditions of eighteenth-century American life that sustained the institution of slavery. Anti-slavery sentiment can be explored in the Benjamin Franklin and the First Abolitionist Petitions Narrative.