Thomas Jefferson & George Washington

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Both Washington and Jefferson were raised in Virginia, a geographic part of the country in which slavery had been an entrenched cultural institution. In fact, at the time of the Founders, the morality of slavery had rarely been questioned; and in the 150 years following the introduction of slavery into Virginia by Dutch traders in 1619, there had been few voices raised in objection.

That began to change in 1765, for as a consequence of America's examination of her own relationship with Great Britain, there arose for the first time a serious contemplation of the propriety of African slavery in America. As Founding Father John Jay explained, this was the period in which America's attitude towards slavery began to change:

Prior to the great Revolution, the great majority . . . of our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it. 1

As the Colonists increasingly recognized that they themselves were slaves of the British Empire, and were experiencing the discomforting effects of such power exercised over them, their commiseration with those enslaved in America began to grow. As one early legal authority explained:

The American Revolution. . . . was undertaken for a principle, was fought upon principle, and the success of their arms was deemed by the Colonists as the triumph of the principle. That principle was. . . . an ardent love of personal liberty, and hence, the very declaration of their political liberty announced as a self-evident truth that all men were created free and equal. 2

Notwithstanding this emerging change in attitude, the response across America on how to end slavery differed widely according to geographical regions. As Thomas Jefferson explained:

Where the disease [slavery] is most deeply seated, there it will be slowest in eradication. In the northern States, it was merely superficial and easily corrected. In the...
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