Yesterday, the author was watching the reenactment of the funeral of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, on C Span 3–American History TV, and the question has arisen, while watching the event, of the truth about America’s Presidents and the institution of slavery.
It turns out, through further research, that more Presidents than once thought, owned slaves in their lifetime, and that others showed lack of concern about the institution, and compromised on it in their Presidencies.
So it turns out that 12 of the first 18 Presidents owned slaves, including
Thomas Jefferson–some expressed discomfort in his writings, but sill benefited from the institution
James Madison—some expressed discomfort in his writings, but still benefited from the institution
Martin Van Buren
William Henry Harrison
James K. Polk
Ulysses S. Grant.
Additionally, three Presidents, all Northerners, referred to as “doughfaces”, who went along with the institution through their actions, also supported continuation of slavery, including
Millard Fillmore–the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850
Franklin Pierce–the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854
James Buchanan–support of the Dred Scott Supreme Court Case, and the Kansas LeCompton Constitution of 1857
It should be pointed out that Martin Van Buren had a few slaves at one point through family members but not while being President, but defended the institution while in office, and theh later had a change of heart, and ran as the Free Soil Party candidate for President in 1848, at that point opposing slavery,
Also, James Buchanan, technically, owned one slave for a brief period of time through his family, but not while President.
The same holds for Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, ownership of slaves through family at some point, but neither while President. Grant, in particular, felt uncomfortable about the slavery heritage of his wife’s family.
The point is that only THREE Presidents always condemned slavery and worked against it
John Quincy Adams
JQ Adams was extremely active against slavery, participating in the Amistad Supreme Court Case of 1839-1841 as one of the lawyers defending the slaves on that slave ship, in their bid for freedom, and sponsoring the move to condemn slavery in the House of Representatives, in his years after the Presidency. While a member of the House from Boston, he was censured for fighting the “gag rule”, which forbade discussion of the institution in House debate from 1836-1844. He also opposed the Mexican War as a war for slavery expansion.