- 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
[George] Mason’s obvious legacy is in his contribution to America’s founding documents: the Declaration of Independence through the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Constitution through his role at the Philadelphia Convention, and the Bill of Rights through his dogged opposition to a Constitution without one. Mason may have taken a circumscribed view of the rights he advocated — limiting the right of representation to white men or restricting freedom of the press to a ban on prior restraint — but he put words on paper that could be given more expansive meanings by later generations.