By Paul Bremmer
The legacy of American Founders who owned slaves has come under fire in recent months from a politically correct contingent seeking to tear down statues, rename events and even rechristen cities.
But a scholar who has studied those leaders extensively says to do that would be to ignore what they truly believed and accomplished.
Often overlooked, according to Joshua Charles, a WND columnist and author of “Liberty’s Secrets: The Lost Wisdom of America’s Founders,” is the full story and the larger context in which they lived.
“Washington freed his slaves at his death,” Charles says. “Washington not only freed them, but in his will, he provided that his estate would pay for their food, for their clothing, especially for the elderly and the younger. He provided for his estate to pay for their education, to teach them useful skills so they could be useful in the world.
“Most people have no idea about that.”
The current disparagement of some of America’s Founders, including by members of the “Black Lives Matter,” is misguided, Charles contends.
“To complain about the Founders in this way is to do so in a very ignorant way about human nature,” said Charles. “It’s easy for all of us in this generation to say slavery was a moral evil. But we didn’t earn that; we grew up into a world where that was already true.
“And if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, if we were similarly situated in the 18th century, a lot of people think, ‘Well, I would have thought this. I would have thought slavery was evil.’ I’m like, ‘Really? I don’t know myself enough to be absolutely sure of that.'”
Slave labor was an integral part of life for many wealthy landowners, Charles noted. Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for example, were born into slave-owning families and inherited slaves as young men. That doesn’t make slavery right, according to Charles, but it does put their slaveholding into perspective.
“[In] the world we were born into, that moral victory had already been won,” he said. “At this point, that moral victory had not [yet] been won.”
In June, nevertheless, after the mass shooting at a historically black church, students at the University of Texas started a petition to demand the removal of a George Washington statue and memorials to other Founders because of their ownership of slaves.
And over the past few months, Democratic Party officials in Iowa, Missouri, Georgia and Connecticut have renamed their annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners because of Jefferson’s slave ownership and Andrew Jackson’s brutal relocation of Native Americans.
Also in June, during the post-Charleston media discussion of “hate” symbols, CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield broached the subject of whether the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., should come down because Jefferson owned slaves.
Her cohost, Don Lemon, said “there may come a day when we want to rethink Jefferson.”
A PJ Media correspondent spoke to several people on the streets of Washington in July and found many of them were willing to do just that.
One man even suggested the city of Washington should be renamed to “Black City,” because Washington owned slaves.
Charles pointed out Frederick Douglass praised Washington in a famous 1852 speech called “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Just as Jesus once chided the Jews for not living up to their ancestor Abraham’s example, Douglass called out his fellow slaves for losing the spirit of Washington.
“He basically accused the next generation of dropping the ball that the Founders had given to them,” Charles said. “And so that’s from an actual slave, and I tend to believe the actual slave over the people who are sipping on lattes at Starbucks, presuming to be the moral superiors of the Founders.”
Charles also noted Congress banned the slave trade Jan. 1, 1808 – the very first day the Constitution allowed it. He said many of the Founders opposed slavery.
“You’ll find [John] Adams didn’t own a slave, Hamilton didn’t own a slave, John Jay was against slavery, Benjamin Rush was against slavery, George Washington was against slavery, James Madison was against slavery. Was there a certain level of hypocrisy with some of these men? There’s no doubt.”
But here’s the point, according to Charles:
“The fact that they grew up in a world where slavery was entirely acceptable and they themselves did not accept it, at least intellectually, many of them, is a big thing.”
Charles said it’s dangerous and ignorant to dismiss theFounders as racist slave-owners, and it could be a slippery slope.
“Should we erase Plato from history?” Charles asked. “Should we erase Aristotle? Both of these men supported slavery. Should we erase Confucius? Certainly by modern standards, Confucius was a raging misogynistic woman-hater. Should we not read Confucius anymore? What about Sun Tzu? What about some of the Jewish sages? What about some of the Renaissance thinkers?
“I mean, you go down the line, and there are plenty of people in history whose views and whose actions did not match up with modern sensibilities. There’s plenty of people today who act in these ways. To act as if we’re somehow morally superior to all these people is just nonsense, in my opinion.”