Posts Tagged ‘Founding Fathers’

Give Me Liberty

April 30, 2014 Leave a comment

In 1776, at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, over 98% of Blacks living in the English colonies in North America were slaves.  That same year, Adam Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations that slavery was uneconomical because the plantation system was a wasteful use of land and because slaves cost more to maintain than free laborers. 

When Jefferson wrote that “all men were created equal,” he certainly did not intend to include blacks, because he later on said that blacks were an inferior being to whites. (Slavery: a world history by Milton Meltzer, pg. 153, Chicago: First Da Capo Press, 1993.)  This sentiment is upheld by Stephen A. Douglas, who at the time of his 1858 political debates questioned the validity of the idea that the Founding Fathers included their Black slaves in the “…all men are created equal” ideals of the Constitution.  He noted that at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, all thirteenth colonies were slaveholding colonies and every man who signed the document was a slaveholding constituency.  He also noted that none of the Declaration signers freed their slaves at the time of the signing.  (Political Debates between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas. Columbus: Follett, Foster and Company, 1860, pg. 37.)

The revolution was not one of a poor or working class society.  Twenty four of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were lawyers and judges, eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and plantation owners, and four were doctors.  The framers of the Constitution were among the wealthiest members of American society.  They became the ruling elite which established a government which was by rich white free men, for rich white free men.  The Constitution was exclusionary; it did not intend to include, women, Black slaves, Native Americans, or white indentured servants.

Nearly all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave owners or slave traders.  In my research, I could only find nine signers who I could not substantiate as slave owners. 

`Nineteen of the signers of the Constitution owned slaves, with an average of more than 90 slaves each. (To Form a More Perfect Union by Robert Allen McGuire. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, pg. 54) At least ten owned or managed large slave plantations or farms. 

It was the country’s elite, the law makers and heads of state governments, who were the biggest slave owners.  John Rutledge, Governor of South Carolina who later became Chief Justice, was a large slave owner and importer.  John’s younger brother, Edward, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and was also a slave owner.   Henry Laurens, who became the President of the Continental Congress, ran the largest slave trading house in North America.  In fact, five of the framers of the Constitution owned more than 100 slaves: George Mason (300), John Rutledge (243), Pierce Butler (143), Charles Pinckney (111), and Edmund Randolph (101). (To Form a More Perfect Union by Robert Allen McGuire. New York: Oxford University Press 2003, pg. 54)

Think of the hypocrisy of these men, fighting against the injustices of their king, which they deemed as a threat to their economic and political freedom, while endorsing the wholesale enslavement of an entire race of people. They embraced the revolutionary ideologies of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, and yet ignored the unalienable rights of Blacks.  They wanted freedom from the yoke of oppression of their ruler, but refused to grant the same to their slaves.  Ironically, while Rousseau and other Enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu were against slavery, Locke, while espousing ideas of freedom, did not believe that those personal freedoms were afforded to Black slaves.  He accepted the expeditions of the Royal Africa Company, assisted in the formulation of colonial policies, and even wrote the constitution for the state of South Carolina. (Against Empire: feminism, racism and the West by Zillah R. Eisenstein. New York: Zed Books, 2004, pg. 78) Locke believed that people could only be citizens if they owned property, with slaves being seen as property.  (John Locke: champion of modern democracy by Graham Faiella. New York: the Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2006, pg. 46)

Living conditions in England in the 17th century were difficult.  Unemployment was high and wages were low.  For many, the New World represented an opportunity for economic prosperity. Those opportunities for economic prosperity led to greed as the desire for increased revenue led to the increased importation of slaves into the colonies.  Slavery created a way to increase profits without having to do any work themselves. 

The British made large amounts of money through the slave trade.  They collected taxes on slaves, which made it vital to the British economy. In 1774, in an attempt to hurt the British financially, the First Continental Congress disallowed the British to import slaves in the colonies.

The argument has been presented by many who wish to purify the names of the Founding Fathers that they struggled with the idea of slavery.  It is said that many abhorred the idea of slavery, yet continued to own slaves even after they signed the document which declared their own freedom.  

(This post is an excerpt from my ebook Give Me Liberty by Calvin Evans available on