[Of those opposed to slavery,] George Washington belonged, with Mason and Jefferson, in the hardest category — disapproving owners. Theirs was the most difficult position to maintain, psychologically and rhetorically. It would not be maintained over the next sixty years, as southern antislavery rhetoric withered. Practically and politically, disapproving owners were in the hardest position from which to achieve their goals. How do you weaken an institution in which you and all your neighbors are enmeshed? Washington did enough, finally, to free his own slaves, which was more than many owners in his position did. Jefferson never freed all his, nor did any of the other slave-owning presidents.
Lawyer, politician, writer, militia officer, signer of the Declaration of Independence; 1732—1808.
Philadelphia printer, writer, scientist, inventor, signer of the Declaration of Independence, diplomat to France; 1706—90.
Signer of the Declaration of Independence, vice president under Madison; 1744—1814.
Washington’s aide-de-camp, lawyer, contributor to the Federalist Papers, Secretary of the Treasury; 1755/1757—1804.
Lawyer, signer of the Declaration of Independence, CT governor; 1731—96.
Constitutionalist, congressman, Secretary of State, fourth President; 1751—1836.
Politician, author, political philosopher, Anti-Federalist; 1725—92.
Merchant, financier; helped draft then stylized the Constitution; 1752—1816.
Soldier, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, congressman, South Carolina governor, senator; 1757—1824.
Lawyer, soldier, delegate to the Constitutional Convention; 1746—1825.
Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (1996)