Madison's Lessons in Racism

  • 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 mountain of 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 institution enjoyed 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.

JDN | 1-Nov-2017

Mocking idleness and turning labor [in the North] into a badge of honor made the South, with its leisured aristocracy supported by slavery, seem even more anomalous than it had been at the time of the Revolution, thus aggravating the growing sectional split in the country. Many Southern aristocrats began emphasizing their cavalier status in contrast to the money-grubbing northern Yankees. They were fond of saying that they were real gentlemen, a rare thing in America.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)