Slavery and the American Founding: The "Inconsistency not to be excused"

This lesson will focus on the views of the founders as expressed in primary documents from their own time and in their own words. Students will see that many of the major founders opposed slavery as contrary to the principles of the American Revolution. Students will also gain a better understanding of the views of many founders, even those who owned slaves – including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – who looked forward to a time when slavery would no longer mar the American Republic. Students will become aware of the obstacles – real and imagined – that ultimately led to the failure of the founders to achieve immediate emancipation in 1789. At the same time, students will see that the people of many states did take action to gradually emancipate slaves, while in other states legal sanctions were enforced to make manumission of their slaves more difficult for slave owners.

Guiding Questions

How did the American founders' views on slavery shape the creation of the republic?

Learning Objectives

Students will compare the views of prominent American founders regarding slavery and evaluate the extent to which they reflect the principles of the American Revolution.

Students will analyze the plans proposed by the states for abolishing slavery.

Students will evaluate the short and long-term ramifications of these decision across U.S. history.