- If slavery was a neutral thing for most colonials and early Americans, the Founding Fathers are on record with a position. On the one end Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were against it; in the middle Thomas Jefferson, while believing that enslaved blacks should be free, also believed they were inferior — and never found a way to divorce himself and his way of life from his Monticello plantation and his
little mountainof slavery.
There is a more nuanced middle inhabited by James Madison — slave-owner, political philosopher and practical repositioner,
three-fifths-er, and Father of the Constitution — who truly believed that Africans were equal to whites yet never found a way to let go of the
peculiar institutionenjoyed by the South. See Noah Feldman on James Madison’s Lessons in Racism (29-Oct-2017) for a look at Madison and his evolving political positions vs. his unchanging personal one.
Madison's Lessons in Racism
One of the most stubborn myths of American history is the idea that the frontier promoted equality of material condition. This national folk legend is, unhappily, ver much mistaken. With some exceptions, landed wealth was always highly concentrated throughout the southern highlands, as it would be in the lower Mississippi Valley, Texas and the far southwest. Inequality was greater in the backcountry and the southern highlands than in any other rural region of the United States.