8 US Presidents You May Not Have Known Bought and Sold Enslaved Africans

Earlier this week the nation celebrated President’s Day. Historian Clarence Lusane highlighted the obvious contradictions in his most recent article, “Missing from Presidents’ Day: The People They Enslaved.”

“Schools across the country are adorned with posters of the 44 U.S. presidents, children’s books put students on a first-name basis with the presidents, and U.S. history textbooks describe the accomplishments and challenges of the major presidential administrations.

“But while these books engage students and readers with stories of the presidents’ accomplishments and challenges, stories of their dogs in the Rose Garden or childhood escapades, there is no mention that more than 1-in-4 U.S. presidents were involved in human trafficking and slavery. These presidents bought, sold and bred enslaved people for profit. Of the 12 presidents who were enslavers, more than half kept people in bondage at the White House.”

George Washington (1789-1797)

Washington, the first president of the United States, is often hailed as one of its best.

When he was just 12 years old, Washington inherited several Africans in bondage, and he reportedly gained another 200 more through his wife’s estate. The total number of enslaved people owned by Washington ranges from 216 to 316.

It is a widely held belief that Washington struggled with the concept of slavery. His actions, however, proved he stood firmly in agreement with the barbaric practice. Amongst other things, Washington signed the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, the first to provide for the right of whites to recapture Black people they had made their slaves, even within free states that had abolished slavery.

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