[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.
Signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland, senator; 1737—1832.
American painter, principally active in London after 1774; 1738—1815.
Philadelphia printer, writer, scientist, inventor, signer of the Declaration of Independence, diplomat to France; 1706—90.
Continental Army general, won the Battles of Saratoga; 1727—1806.
Continental Army general; key to winning the war in the South; 1742—86.
Financier, Continental congressman, U.S. senator; 1741/42—1804.
Lawyer, diplomat, Continental congressman, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; 1745—1829.
Lawyer, architect, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, Virginia governor, diplomat, third President, founder of the University of Virginia; 1743—1826.
Merchant, planter, slave trader, president of Continental Congress; 1724—92.
Virginia revolutionary, signer of the Declaration of Independence, senator; 1732—94.
Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (1996)