The history of the United States paved its way through difficult times, starting from the 18th century. The first president of the United States, George Washington, led the American army and fought the British army during the American Revolutionary War – freeing his country from the enslavement of Great Britain.
However, despite this revolutionary act led by Washington, records show that there are US presidents that own slaves themselves – including Washington. Slavery was a huge part of United States history, and it was legal during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Furthermore, several US presidents owned slaves during their servitude, wherein they treated slaves like properties – which they could buy, sell, or give away.
During the time of the American Revolution, there was a high demand for slaves. Not only the early presidents owned slaves, but as well as wealthy people who can afford to buy them. They use slaves mainly for industrial works, making a profit out of free-labor, while others used them for personal matters.
US Presidents who owned slaves
In total, twelve US presidents owned slaves at some point in their life, and eight of those presidents owned slaves during their servitude.
1. George Washington
Washington is the first president of the United States and led the revolutionary army that freed the country from the enslavement of Great Britain. Washington is one of the eight presidents who owned slaves while serving as the US president. Records show that he owned roughly 317 slaves during his lifetime and one of the major slaveowners before. He used his slaves for economic purposes, mainly in farming. His will shows that the freedom of his slaves is certain after his death.
2. Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson served as the third president of the United States and owner of more than 600 African-American slaves in his lifetime. He is the president with the most number of slaves during his servitude. Jefferson was responsible for ending the international slave trade in 1808 – which states that importing and exporting slaves was strictly prohibited. One notable claim by historians is that Jefferson was a father for multiple slave children from his slave, Sally Hemings. This claim was a long time debate by historians and experts – in which they even made DNA tests from both Jefferson and Heming’s bloodline. Despite the results of the test, it doesn’t show any clear evidence for the claim.
3. James Madison
James Madison is the fourth president of the United States. During his presidency, he owned more than a hundred slaves that worked for him. Madison is responsible for the proposal of the Three-Fifths Compromise, which was the way of counting slaves to determine a state’s total population.
4. James Monroe
Monroe is the fifth president of the United States and owner of dozens of slaves during his servitude. Furthermore, he was active in the American Colonization Society, which built the colonies outside the United States for free African-Americans. He supported sending thousands of freed slaves to the colony in Liberia, Africa, from 1820 to 1840.
5. Andrew Jackson
Jackson was an owner of roughly 200 slaves during his lifetime. He faced several controversies about slavery during his presidency, in which experts believed that he is a slave trader – which was a federal crime during that time.
6. Martin Van Buren
Van Buren served as the eighth president of the United States. Unlike the earlier presidents, Van Buren only owned one slave, and that was before his servitude. His only slave, Tom, escaped in 1814 and was found in Massachusetts. Van Buren tried to sell him to the finder; however, they didn’t end in an agreement – which ended up freeing Tom. Van Buren was a member of the Free Soil Party, which advocates the abolitionism of slavery in the United States.
7. William Henry Harrison
Harrison is the ninth president of the United States. He once owned eleven slaves outside his presidency.
8. John Tyler
Tyler is an advocate of slavery during and outside his servitude. He came from a rich lineage, wherein he was managing the Greenway Plantation – and owned slaves that grew various crops. Even after his term in office, he continued his support for slavery in the United States.
9. James K Polk
Polk is the eleventh president of the United States under the Democratic party. Despite his democratic views, he is one of the US presidents that tolerate slavery. Even during his servitude, he supported slaveholding rights, wherein he owns roughly twenty-five slaves. His will stated that his slaves would be free after the death of his wife. However, the Emancipation Proclamation freed his slaves long before the death of his wife in 1891.
10. Zachary Taylor
Taylor is the twelfth president of the United States. Throughout his life, he owned hundreds of slaves – even during his servitude. However, despite his support for slavery, he opposed the expansion of slavery in the territories.
11. Andrew Johnson
Johnson is the seventeenth president of the United States and the successor of Abraham Lincoln. He owned roughly eight slaves before his servitude and before the Emancipation Proclamation of Lincoln. Johnson much supported Polk’s views about slavery policies. During his term as the military governor of Tennessee, he convinced Lincoln for the state to be exempted in the Emancipation Proclamation.
12. Ulysses Grant
Grant served as the eighteenth president of the United States. He personally owned one slave, which he inherited from his father-in-law in 1857. Two years later, Grant manumitted his only slave.
- Slavery (Wikipedia)
- List of opponents of slavery (Wikipedia)
- George Washington and slavery (Wikipedia)