Which Presidents Owned Slaves?

Slave Owning Presidents

There were 12 presidents who, at some point in their lives, owned slaves. They were among the first 18 presidents of the United States, and 8 of them were slave owners while still in their tenure as president.

George Washington

As awful as it sounds, some presidents owned slaves.

George Washington owned many slaves throughout his life, with 123 slaves in his stead at his death. Historians have documented that he treated his slaves just like most slave owners in Virginia. However, he developed moral issues against slavery after the revolution.

He never publicly announced his impending opposition against slavery, but he stipulated through his will that his slaves be given freedom after his wife’s death.

Thomas Jefferson

The president who wrote that “All Men are Created Equal” owned 600 slaves throughout his life. Before becoming president, he argued that the slave trade should have restrictions and was against its expansion into the new US territories.

Thomas Jefferson even avoided discussing slavery during his presidency while the nation grew divided.

James Madison

James Madison grew up in a family that owned slaves. He even owned slaves while still serving as president.

But Madison didn’t free his slaves in his lifetime or even as a stipulation in his will. Instead, he continued to criticize slavery but was indecisive in taking action.

He treated with respect free Blacks who were successful in their endeavors. But he argued against immediate emancipation because of the problems of former slaves who haven’t evolved into more prosperous situations.

James Monroe

James Monroe grew up in a household that owned slaves. He owned 75 slaves.

Monroe supported the sending of freed slaves to the newly established country Liberia in Africa. The capital, Monrovia, was named in his honor. Countless Liberians, up to the present, have retained their American surnames.

Andrew Jackson

A large part of his wealth was earned through the slave trade.

Andrew Jackson introduced legislation that protected slave owners and slavery itself. According to an estate inventory, he had 161 slaves who served The Hermitage and his Mississippi plantation at the time of his death.

Martin Van Buren

His father owned an inn and a small farm in Kinderhook, New York. The family had six slaves, although it is documented that he owned one slave.

When Van Buren was president, four enslaved women and two free African American women worked in the White House. It is not documented if he owned these four slaves, but it is more likely that he hired them out from their owners and the free African American women were paid wages.

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison owned 11 slaves. In 1840, Harrison needed Southern votes during the presidential campaign, so he denied being an abolitionist.

Instead, he called himself a member of the Humane Society. He said he was misinterpreted in 1822 when he announced in a congressional campaign in Ohio that he opposed slavery. What he wanted was to improve the conditions of slaves, not abolition.

John Tyler

John Tyler publicly denounced slavery and claimed that it was evil, although he owned 70 slaves.

Even his political actions supported slavery. Tyler is the only US president whose death was not mourned in an official capacity because he was involved in the Confederacy.

James K. Polk

Like the other slave-owning presidents (he owned 25 slaves), James Polk maintained a differing political image on slavery when he was president (1845 to 1849) compared to his reality.

He was a slave owner who preferred financial gain to morals and didn’t think much about separating families for his profit.

Zachary Taylor

He inherited two enslaved men named Charles and Tom, who remained with him until he died in 1850. In all, he owned 150 slaves.

As President, Zachary Taylor adopted an antislavery stance, and he opposed the expansion of slavery into new US territories.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson didn’t own slaves while being the US President, but he owned 8 slaves before entering the political realm. He freed them all, and they remained with him as paid servants.

He oversaw the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Ulysses S. Grant

Like Johnson, Grant didn’t own slaves while in the Presidential office.

He grew up in an abolitionist family in Ohio, but his marriage to Julia Dent made him a slave owner (1 slave) when they lived on Dent’s family estate in Missouri. Thus, Grant was the last US president to own an enslaved person.

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