4 presidents and 1 Confederate general on slavery
The leftists currently pushing America on a path to self-destruction insist that this country was built on racism and slavery. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have been vandalized or torn down because they were slaveholders and thereby despicable racists who don’t deserve to be honored, according to these revisionists.
I suspect nary a one of these vandals knows anything more about these men than that they had slaves, and most didn’t even know that. They just saw an opportunity to destroy and took it, and it wouldn’t have made any difference to them to know that both Washington and Jefferson wanted to see slavery abolished. Why they continued to hold slaves can be understood in the context of the times, but they were not insensitive to the unjust indignities inflicted on their fellow human beings through what was an entrenched, worldwide practice.
“It being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by law.” George Washington, in a letter from Mt. Vernon in 1786. (1)
“Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the Book of Life than that these people are to be free.” Thomas Jefferson, inscribed on his memorial. (2)
Many of our nation’s founders and leaders opposed slavery. Our sixth president John Quincy Adams reentered politics as a congressman in the 1830s and earned the nickname “Hell-Hound of Slavery” because of his tireless campaign leading the fight to abolish the Gag Rule, which prohibited even the discussion of the issue of slavery in Congress. Adams knew the battle against slavery was God-ordained, and when asked how he kept from getting discouraged he said, “Duty is ours; results are God’s.” (3)
And when in 1844 after an 8-year long effort by Adams the Gag Rule was lifted on his motion, he wrote in his diary, “Blessed, forever blessed, be the name of God!” (4)
Even Confederate general Robert E. Lee was opposed to slavery and freed his own slaves a number of years before the Civil War. In a letter to his wife in 1856 he said, “Slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country…” (5)
Lee was so well-respected that when war appeared imminent President Lincoln offered him a command in the Union Army. But after struggling with his decision, his loyalty to and love for his family and his state prevented him from accepting it. As he explained in a letter to his sister, “With all my devotion to the union and the feelings of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.” (6)
And finally, Abraham Lincoln had some prophetic words for the times we are living in. For the sake of our Union today, we need to heed them. I wanted to emphasize only a few phrases, but it’s all so relevant.
“Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage and you prepare your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of others, you have lost the genius of your own independence and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises among you.”
“How can anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people?…When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” (7)
(1) William J. Federer, America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia Of Quotations (St. Louis: Amerisearch, Inc., 2000) p. 660.
(2) Ibid, p. 333.
(3) Ibid, p. 15.
(4) Ibid, p. 20.
(5) Ibid, pp. 363-4.
(6) Ibid, p. 363.
(7) Ibid, p. 376.