- 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
The disarrayed condition of the colonies in 1764 — economies and societies in flux with changes wrought by war, governments trying simultaneously to adjust to international peace and cope with the effects of Indian insurrections — helps explain how the colonists reacted to British efforts to reform imperial relations.… But the single most significant factor was the depression that by 1764 had fastened a clammy grip on trade in every colony, and which would not fully release it until the decade had ended.