This post is in response to a comment thread on another site that I frequent. The discussion turned off the current topic and someone made the statement, "Besides, didn't some of the founding fathers acknowledge slavery and even approve of its use?" First off, I have to point out that this comment didn't have diddly to do with the conversation we were having. Secondly, my first inclination was to dismiss it as a worthless argument to address and just ignore it. However, it was pointed out to me in another comment by a worthy individual that to do so would approve the message by default. So as not to take the other post hostage to this argument, I decided to post a full and complete (as well as I may) answer to such an asinine point.
First, I want it understood that although I revere and respect our Founders, I do not worship them. They were human and made mistakes and committed sins, the same as you and I. What I revere them for is there uncommon wisdom and foresight in creating the governance that showed a steady incline in freedoms and liberty for over 130 years. The decline started when we started turning from those foundations and the current social and economic situation that we find ourselves in is a direct response. Now as to keep from going further on this tangent I'll get after the main point.
Slavery was in practice in the colonies 200 years before Jefferson, Madison, and Washington among others, started this nation. "Prior to the great Revolution, the great majority ... of our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it." -John Jay, 1891
It was, in point of fact, the Revolution that became a turning point for the slavery issue. The Founding Fathers contributed greatly to the changing of attitudes concerning the practice. In fact, many of them complained vociferously about the British forcing the practice on the colonies. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "He [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. . . . Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce [that is, he has opposed efforts to prohibit the slave trade]."
And this wasn't the only Founder who felt this way. In addition to Thomas Jefferson, there was Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Quincy Adams (known as the "hell hound of abolition"), Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Charles Carol. Many of the Founders such as George Washington, John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney, William Livingston, George Wythe, John Randolph of Roanoke, and others released the slaves that they owned in the years following the Revolution. They saw it as incompatible with the ideas of freedom and Natural Law. Alexander Hamilton: "The laws of certain states …give an ownership in the service of negroes as personal property…. But being men, by the laws of God and nature, they were capable of acquiring liberty—and when the captor in war …thought fit to give them liberty, the gift was not only valid, but irrevocable."
Yes, there were Founders that supported slavery. Most notably those of the Southern States of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. However, even with the support of those states, an overwhelming majority of the Founders saw slavery as Evil.
"The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country [Great Britain] and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery, in common with every other mode of oppression, was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth. Such was the undoubting conviction of Jefferson to his dying day. In the Memoir of His Life, written at the age of seventy-seven, he gave to his countrymen the solemn and emphatic warning that the day was not distant when they must hear and adopt the general emancipation of their slaves." -John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport at Their Request on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837.
So, were there Founders that believed in Slavery? Yes. But the inspiration I take from the clear majority of them is well founded. Slavery was wrong, and the Founding Fathers that I look to for guidance in the manner to which I would like to see our nation return itself to greatness, were very clear in their moral and religious stance to this topic.