George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison on Slavery – Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

None of the leading Founders ever declared slavery to be a just or beneficial institution. In fact, they hoped to see the slave trade eradicated, and eventually the entire institution of slavery made illegal.

George Washington
Letter to Robert Morris 1
April 12, 1786

“…[T]here is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it….”

 

John Adams
Letter to Robert J. Evans 2
June 8, 1819

“…Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States…. I have, through my whole life, held the practice of slavery in…abhorrence….”

 

Benjamin Franklin
An Address to the Public from the Pennsylvania Society 3
November 9, 1789

“…Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitous care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils….”

 

Alexander Hamilton
Philo Camillus no. 2 4
August 1795

“…The laws of certain states which give an ownership in the service of negroes as personal property, constitute a similitude between them and other articles of personal property, and thereby subject them to the right of capture by war. But being men, by the laws of God and nature, they were capable of acquiring liberty–and when the captor in war, to whom by the capture the ownership was transferred, thought fit to give them liberty, the gift was not only valid, but irrevocable….”

 

James Madison
Speech at the Constitutional Convention 5
June 6, 1787

“…We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man….”


  1. George Washington, “To Robert Morris,” April 12, 1786, in W. W. Abbot et al., eds., The Papers of George Washington, 1748-1799, “Confederation Series,” Vol. 4 (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1976-present), 16.
  2. John Adams, “To Robert J. Evans,” June 8, 1819, in Adrienne Koch et al., eds., Selected Writings of John and John Quincy Adams (New York: Knopf, 1946), 209—10.
  3. Benjamin Franklin, “An Address to the Public from the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage,” November 9, 1789, in John Bigelow, ed., The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 12 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 157—58.
  4. Alexander Hamilton, “Philo Camillus no. 2,” August 1795, in Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Vol. 19 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961—present), 101—2.
  5. James Madison, “Speech at the Constitutional Convention,” June 6, 1787, in Max Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Vol. 1 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1937), 135.

Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College

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