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How The Founding Fathers Fought For An End To Slavery


Denise and Frederic W. Henderson



           Christopher Gadsden and Henry Laurens


   The arguments of two natives of South Carolina, Christopher Gadsden and Henry Laurens (who was extremely close to George Washington), against slavery at the time of the fight to create the American nation, demonstrate that even in the states of South Carolina and Georgia, with whose delegates to the Constitutional Convention the Founding Fathers had to compromise on the issue of the abolition of slavery, significant opposition to the institution existed.

    In 1766, Gadsden, then a member of the colonial legislature, and later a member of the Continental Congress, wrote:

"We are a very weak province, a rich growing one, and of as much importance to Great Britain as any upon the continent; and great part of our weakness (though at the same time 'tis part of our riches) consists in having such a number of slaves amongst us; and we find in our case, according to the general perceptible workings of Providence, where the crime most commonly though slowly, yet surely, draws a similar and suitable punishment, that slavery begets slavery. Jamaica and our West-India Islands demonstrate this observation, which I hope will not be our case now, whatever might have been the consequences had the fatal attempts been delayed a few years longer, when we drank deeper of the Circean draught, and the measure of our inequites were filled up."

    In 1776, Henry Laurens, who would be President of the Continental Congress, wrote:

"You know, my dear son, I abhor slavery. I was born in a country where slavery had been established by British kings and parliaments, as well as by the laws of that country, ages before my existence. I found the Christian religion and slavery growing under the same authority and cultivation. I nevertheless disliked it. In former days, there was no combating the prejudices of men supported by interest; the day, I hope is approaching, when, from principles of gratitude as well as justice, every man will strive to be foremost in showing his readiness to comply with the golden rule. Not less than twenty thousand pounds sterling would all my negroes produce, if sold at public auction tomorrow. I am not the man who enslaved them; they are indebted to Englishmen for that favor: nevertheless, I am devising means for manumitting many of them, and for cutting off the entail of slavery. Great powers oppose me,--the laws and customs of my country, my own and the avarice of my countrymen. What will my children say if I deprive them of so much estate? These are difficulties, but not insuperable. I will do as much as I can in my time, and leave the rest to a better hand."

"I am not one of those who arrogate the particular care of Providence in each fortunate event; nor one of those who dare trust in Providence for defence and security of their own liberty, while they enslave, and wish to continue in slavery, thousands who are as well entitled to freedom as themselves. I perceive the work before me is great. I shall appear to many as a promoter, not only of strange, but of dangerous doctrines: it will therefore be necessary to proceed with caution. You are apparently deeply interested in this affair; but, as I have no doubts concerning your concurrence and approbation, I most sincerely wish for your advice and assistance, and hope to receive both in good time."

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