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This article is a summary of much longer articles written by David Barton and Stephen McDowell. You can access these articles by clicking on the links at the end.


One objection to America being a Christian nation and our founders being strong believers is the question of slavery. How could we have been a Christian nation and have allowed slavery? And how could men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington have been such great men when they owned slaves? These questions deserve an answer.

First, a Christian nation will still have some sins and problems, as it consists of men and women who are sinners. By analogy, I am a Christian, but I still sin. You could point out my sin and say, “You are not a Christian because you: have lied, eat too much, are

impatient, are cross or critical, are ungrateful, etc.

Get the picture? When held up to a standard of “no sin” we all fail, and every nation fails as well.

Slavery has existed since the beginning of time and there is slavery in the world even to this d ay, anestimated 29.85 million! The worst countries a re Haiti, Pakistan and India. If one wishes to get involved with the terrible injustice of slavery, one should consider becoming involved in fighting for slaves to be freed today! But western nations,influenced by Christianity, America, England and countries of Europe, have rid themselves of slavery. The story of William Wilberforce, fueled by his Christian faith, fighting to rid England of slavery is a very inspiring one.

We must understand the culture of the time.

Our founding fathers lived in a culture that inherited and accepted slavery. For the approximately 150 years before the Constitution, slavery was for the most part reluctantly accepted. When the colonies tried to restrict slavery, they were overruled, not by the southern colonies, but by England.

Slavery was not illegal, although of course it was immoral according to God’s Word. Some of our founders and leaders owned slaves, a practice that was wrong but not illegal. However they did not allow other grievous immoral practices such as homosexual marriage or killing of babies in the womb.

Today, slavery is illegal. However we have allowed homosexuality including so called “same sex marriage” and we allow babies to be killed in the womb at the rate of 2,500+ per day! So, we need to be very careful when we judge a nation during another time period for their sins, when we have our own national sins that are different, yet are as heinous.

David Barton observes:

“Some people suggest today that all early Americans must have been despicable to allow such an evil as slavery. They say early America should be judged as evil and sinful, and anything they have to say should be discounted. But if we were to judge modern America by this same standard, it would be far more wicked – we are not merely enslaving people, but we are murdering tens of millions of innocent unborn children through abortion. These people claim that they would not have allowed slavery if they were alive then. They would speak out and take any measures necessary. But where is their outcry and action to end slavery in the Sudan today?” (And slavery there, is much worse than that in early


Some say we should not listen to the Founders of America because they owned slaves, or at least allowed slavery to exist in the society. However, if we were to cut ourselves off from the history of nations that had slavery in the past, we would have to have nothing to do with any people, because almost every society has had slavery, including African Americans. For many African societies sold slaves to the Europeans; and up to ten percent of blacks in America owned slaves. The Bible, Slavery, and America’s Founders by David Barton

The Founders and Slavery

The overwhelming majority of early Americans and most of America’s leaders did not own slaves. Some did own slaves, which were often inherited (like George Washington at age eleven), but many set them free after Independence. Most Founders believed that slavery was wrong and that it should be abolished. Consider these statements of various founders.

“Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity. . . . It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is a practical denial of the extent and efficacy of the death of a common Savior. It is a usurpation of the prerogative of the great Sovereign of the universe who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property in the souls of men.” Benjamin Rush

“Justice and humanity require it [the end of slavery] – Christianity commands it. Let every benevolent . . . pray for the glorious period when the last slave who fights for freedom shall bere stored to the possession of that inestimable right.” Noah Webster

“Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States. . . . I have, through my whole life, held the practice of slavery in . . . abhorrence. My opinion against it [slavery] has always been known. . . . [N]ever in my life did I own a slave.” John Adams

“The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution.” John Quincy Adams, the Hell Hound of Abolition

“Slavery is . . . an atrocious debasement of human nature.” Benjamin Franklin, who served as President of the Pennsylvania Society of Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.

“Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven upon a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities.” George Mason

“Why keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil.” CHARLES


“As Congress is now to legislate for our extensive territory lately acquired, I pray to Heaven that they may build up the system of the government on the broad, strong, and sound principles of freedom. Curse not the inhabitants of those regions, and of the United States in general, with a permission to introduce bondage [slavery].” JOHN DICKINSON, SIGNER OF THE CONSTITUTION; GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA

“I hope we shall at last, and if it so please God I hope it may be during my life time, see this cursed thing [slavery] taken out. . . . For my part, whether in a public station or a private capacity, I shall always be prompt to contribute my assistance towards effecting so desirable an event.” WILLIAM LIVINGSTON, SIGNER OF THE CONSTITUTION; GOVERNOR OF NEW


“But to the eye of reason, what can be more clear than that all men have an equal right to happiness? Nature made no other distinction than that of higher or lower degrees of power of mind and body. . . . Were the talents and virtues which Heaven has bestowed on men given merely to make them more obedient drudges? . . . No! In the judgment of heaven there is no other superiority among men than a superiority of wisdom and virtue.” Samuel Adams, Signer of the Declaration, “Father of the American Revolution”

“That men should pray and fight for their own freedom and yet keep others in slavery is certainly acting a very inconsistent, as well as unjust and perhaps impious, part.” John Jay, President of Continental Congress, Original Chief Justice U. S. Supreme Court

“Slavery, or an absolute and unlimited power in the master over the life and fortune of the slave, is unauthorized by the common law. . . . The reasons which we sometimes see assigned for the origin and the continuance of slavery appear, when examined to the bottom, to be built upon a false foundation. In the enjoyment of their persons and of their

property, the common law protects all.” James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution; U. S. Supreme Court Justice

According to David Barton, “Many of the founders started and served in anti-slavery societies. Franklin and Rush founded the first such society in America in 1774. John Jay was president of a similar society in New York. Other Founding Fathers serving in anti-slavery societies included: William Livingston (Constitution signer), James Madison, Richard Bassett, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, William Few, John Marshall, Richard Stockton, Zephaniah Swift, and many more.”

It is hard to understand, but many of our slave owning founders (in Virginia George Mason, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee) believed that slavery was wrong, and they worked to figure out a way to rid our nation of this injustice even while owning slaves.

We have to realize that even if an individual believed that slavery was wrong and wanted to free his slaves, this was not as easy as it would seem. There were laws in each state that governed slavery and these laws changed often. Slave owners were bound by these laws and could not just do what they wanted with their slaves.

Barton continues, “As Jefferson and Washington sought to liberalize the State’s slavery laws to make it easier to free slaves, the State Legislature went in

exactly the opposite direction, passing laws making it more difficult to free slaves. As one example, Washington was able to circumvent State laws by freeing his slaves in his will at his death in 1799; by the time of Jefferson’s death in 1826, State laws had so stiffened that it had become virtually impossible for Jefferson to use the same means.” George Washington

David Barton elaborates on Washington’s slavery dilemma:

“Born in 1732, his life demonstrates how culturally entrenched slavery was in that day. Not only was Washington born into a world in which slavery was accepted, but he himself became a slave owner at the tender age of 11 when his father died, leaving him slaves as an inheritance. As other family members deceased, Washington inherited even more slaves. Growing up, then, from his earliest youth as a slave owner, it represented a radical change for Washington to try to overthrow the very system in which he had been raised. Washington astutely recognized that the same singular force would be either the great champion or the great obstacle to freeing Virginia’s slaves, and that force was the laws of his own State. Concerning the path Washington desired to see the State choose, he emphatically

declared: I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery]; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by Legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage [vote and support] will go, shall never be wanting.”

Washington could not free his slaves; he could only sell them, but he refused to do so on principle. This decision cost him dearly as he had twice as many slaves as he needed for his plantation. The only other thing he could do was free his slaves at his death, which he did.

Abolishing Slavery after Separation from Great Britain

As we have stated, it was almost impossible to do anything regarding the institution of slavery while the colonies were under the authority of the Mother Country. King George III prevented every attempt to end slavery in America —or in any British colony. Thomas Jefferson had bemoaned in the Declaration of Independence, that the king had forced the

institution of slavery upon them:

He [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. . . .

Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce [that is, he has opposed efforts to prohibit the slave trade].

Once Americans declared Independence in 1776, they were now free to deal properly with slavery.

According to David Barton:

Following America’s separation from Great Britain in 1776, individual States, for the first time in America’s history, were finally able to begin abolishing slavery. For example, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1780, Connecticut and Rhode Island did so in 1784, Vermont in 1786, New Hampshire in 1792, New York in 1799, New Jersey in 1804, etc. Significantly, Thomas Jefferson helped end slavery in several States by his leadership on the Declaration of Independence, and he was also behind the first attempt to ban slavery in new territories. In 1784, as part of a committee of three, they introduced a law in the Continental

Congress to ban slavery from the “western territory.” That proposal stated: That after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty.

Unfortunately, that proposal fell one vote short of passage.

For the years after the birth of our nation, many leaders worked to abolish slavery. Notably John Quincy Adams did so in the House of Representatives until his death. For his efforts he earned the nickname The Hell Hound of Slavery. Would that he could have prevailed through the legislative process as William Wilberforce did.

This is just a brief treatment of this subject. Please examine the articles below for many more details.

For more information:

Vindicating the Founders by Thomas West


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