Although many of the Founding Fathers acknowledged that slavery violated the core American Revolutionary ideal of liberty, their simultaneous commitment to private property rights, principles of limited government, and intersectional harmony prevented them from making a bold move against slavery. The considerable investment of Southern Founders in slave-based staple agriculture, combined with their deep-seated racial prejudice, posed additional obstacles to emancipation.
|Founding Father||state||Founding Father||state|
|Charles Carroll||Maryland||John Adams||Massachusetts|
|Samuel Chase||Maryland||Samuel Adams||Massachusetts|
|Benjamin Franklin||Pennsylvania||Oliver Ellsworth||Connecticut|
|Button Gwinnett||Georgia||Alexander Hamilton||New York|
|John Hancock||Massachusetts||Robert Treat Paine||Massachusetts|
|Patrick Henry||Virginia||Thomas Paine||Pennsylvania|
|John Jay||New York||Roger Sherman||Connecticut|
|Richard Henry Lee||Virginia|
|Charles Cotesworth Pinckney||South Carolina|
|Edward Rutledge||South Carolina|
|1Held slaves at some point in time.|
In his initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson condemned the injustice of the slave trade and, by implication, slavery, but he also blamed the presence of enslaved Africans in North America on avaricious British colonial policies. Jefferson thus acknowledged that slavery violated the natural rights of the enslaved, while at the same time he absolved Americans of any responsibility for owning slaves themselves. TheContinental Congress apparently rejected the tortured logic of this passage by deleting it from the final document, but this decision also signaled the Founders’ commitment to subordinating the controversial issue of slavery to the larger goal of securing the unity and independence of the United States.
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