Skip to main content

tv   Presidents and Slavery  CSPAN  April 11, 2016 12:01am-1:21am EDT

12:01 am
other people who have these important ideas and become part of the american fabric. this is not unusual, and it is interesting to see how these things develop. >> our cities tour staff recently traveled to long beach, california. to learn about its rich history. learn more about long beach and other stops on our tour by visiting you are watching "american history tv" all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. next, tyler perry, and african-american studies professor at california state university fullerton talks about the american presidents that dealt directly with slavery. 12 presidents were slave owners and eight owned slaves while in office. professor parry discusses these cases and the broader discussion of racism in the states. >> now, let's get to today's
12:02 am
-- this is an hour and 15 minute event. >> now, let's get to today's topic, which i am glad we did because it seems to have struck a chord. u.s. presidents who owned slaves while we're creating this instrument and democracy, they were leaders who had people enslaved, and we are honored to have dr. tyler parry, with an "a." i just want to tell you a little bit about him. dr. parry received his bachelor's of arts from the university of nevada and 2008 and earned his master's degree in 2011 and his phd in 2014 in history from the university of south carolina. he is currently revising his manuscript entitled "love and
12:03 am
marriage, domestic relations and matrimonial strategies among the slaves and atlantic world." that intrigues me to no end. his research examines the degree to which diaspora africans and their american-born dissidence re-created their marital rights in the americas. utilizing methods from legal, political and cultural history, he began his analysis in atlantic africa and traces the struggle of african descended people throughout the british, west indies, bermuda in north america for fighting for marital equality. his research has taken him throughout black atlanta, or munich, jamaica, england, scotland, lucky guy. he has received crucial funding
12:04 am
from various institutions including harvard, duke, university of south carolina, florida international university. he has published articles and book chapters on its slave marriage rituals and african-american popular culture. in addition to his manuscript revision, he is concurrently writing a book length treatment of the unique wedding ritual, jumping the broom. this has taken popularity amongst north american slaves. he teaches classes on african-american history, the history of racism and the african diaspora. we are honored to have him with us this afternoon and thank you so much. i bring to you dr. tyler parry. [applause]
12:05 am
professor parry: how is everybody? thank you so much for coming. it means the world to me to see a good-sized crowd on a topic of history. as a history professor of african american studies, it is always nice to see engage people interested in such an important and compelling topic. as --she suggested, i want to thank the african-american museum for asking me to get this series of lectures for black history month, and as was suggested, i am largely interested in enslaved people, but particularly how they thought, fought, loved and other types of questions. when i was asked to give a talk on the slave owners, particularly the presidents, i had to reorient my thinking on how i approached the research.
12:06 am
i have a variety of methods in which i am going to do this. i am going to take a step back from history and try to propose how it is possible that you have a group of elite, white men talking about liberty and freedom but only meaning it for a select group of people. as the polls closed on november 2008, barack obama knew he was entering history. he understood the formative moments of the occasion. born of a white mother and kenyan father, he followed a legacy as a black americans from slavery to freedom pursued civil rights on the cotton plantations of the mississippi, the rice swamps of south carolina, the
12:07 am
lunch counters of nashville and the registration desks of state universities throughout the country. not the ultimate solution to racism or racial advancement, obama's election through the electoral and popular vote represents a crowning achievement of those who marched throughout the south, proposing that human dignity was not determined by skin color. the significance of this event was not lost and his wife, michelle either, a descendent of south carolina slaves whose people fled to chicago, illinois to escape jim crow segregation. what would they have thought? one wonders, that future generations would be removed from their realities of racial oppression in the united states when entered the highest office in the nation through an election that garnered a revolutionary fervor not displayed in national elections for multiple decades. with their children, melia and sasha, barack and michelle obama showed the diversity of the
12:08 am
black experience in the united states, the complexity of the african diaspora and the possibilities for a nation whose legacy of slavery is manifest on the very building that symbolizes its complicated past of liberty and oppression. , the white house. while i was asked to speak on u.s. presidents who owned slaves, my brief tangent provides important context for the subject. the violence of slavery permeates the fabric of the united states and convinced many americans that coexistence between black and white people was an unrealistic expectation. a fantasy for a few delusional abolitionist who saw the end of legalized enslavement and enfranchisement of black citizens, should the day ever come. for most americans, the expansion of u.s. slavery is relatively well-known. a few black people walked the landscape of the country that
12:09 am
would become the united states prior to british expiration, the climactic u.s. slavery came in virginia. at this point, the english colonial experiment was not guaranteed, and the crown understood that controlling the north american mainland was critical to preserving british interest in the americans. iberian maritime powers had already achieved vast amounts of land, tapping into an expanding trade of african peoples who were forced to work in spanish and portuguese controlled areas that expand from mexico city to brazil. though the british were relatively late, colonizers quickly reoriented the priorities toward expanding the
12:10 am
system of forced bondage. indigenous african slaves alongside white indentured servants were the backbone of the early colonial process. however, indigenous peoples resisted slavery by fleeing to their homes or simply perish by european diseases and white indentured servants became freed, return to europe and eventually became too costly to import into the colony. interest shifted into anti-black racial philosophies, determining the black skin was equal to racial inferiority. historians argue whether racism or slavery came first. did their racial philosophies organically emerge out of the expanding trade in african peoples through multiple sentries? cogent arguments are presented on both sides, but it is clear that by the 18th century, a few decades before the declaration of independence, the juxtaposition between white and black symbolized the clear divisions between freedom and
12:11 am
slavery in the new nation. this intellectual development would develop into the 1760's and provide an awkward counterpoint for a nation founded on the principles of freedom and democracy and the pursuit of happiness. slavery permeated through all of the colonies, southern soil, climate in agricultural developments prolifically expanded the institution of slavery by the mid-1700s. most slaves in the north worked on smaller farms, shipyards or urban centers, southern slaves cultivated the cash crops that made a few white men rich, exploiting their labor on tobacco farms, rice farms and later, the cotton plantations that stretch from the upper south to use taxes alongside the sugar plantations of the louisiana.
12:12 am
investment in slaves was a social status and once claim to elite whiteness rested on the ownership of people. it comes as no surprise that 12 united states presidents owned slaves, and eight of them while in office. symbols of an enslaved has to dominate the landscape and symbols throughout america. we find slave owners on currency , their statues on universities, and to celebrate individuals who were literally involved in human trafficking. terminology matters in this context. for slavery, as foreign as it is , for some reason seems easier for people to digest when thinking about the past. many tend to excuse the institution or perhaps overlook it as a black eye of american history that many prefer to forget, but in using the modern phrase "human trafficking." this places jefferson, washington and others into a more uncomfortable memory. for many people, human
12:13 am
traffickers are the modern vagrants who sell women and children, were dominantly young girls in eastern europe, the middle east or africa. the movement of black bodies for whites, s consumption -- capitalist consumption was rebelled. sometimes with subtleties, other times deliberately, by those who drafted the country's founding documents. geographers may have one believe that the founding fathers accomplishments overshadow any blame they deserve for investing in the system. they were simply products other time, some may say. the great irony of america's historical memory is a simultaneous combination of corrupt, criticizing isis, but memorializing george washington, a man who owned hundreds of
12:14 am
slaves and while discussing principles of freedom and liberty, he signed the fugitive slave law of 1793 and sent slave hunters to attack -- go after his slaves. writing to joseph witten, the collector of customs in portsmouth, new hampshire, washington condemned these factions, exclaiming, "the on gratitude of that girl." and mrs. washington's desire to recover may not escape with impunity if it could be avoided." this notion of benign slaveholding, in which slave owners saw themselves as benevolent, eternal figures will give attention at the end of this presentation.
12:15 am
national memories viewed slavery as a secondary component of the founding fathers achievements. thus, while washington and jefferson claimed discuss toward the institution, we must realize they were prolific slaveowners and invested in a system that condoned and expanded the despicable practice of human trafficking. one must remember the transatlantic slave trade was not closed to u.s. port cities until 25 years after the revolution. the slaves these founders held were products of human traffickers, ripped from their homelands, deposited into circumstances, stripped of human dignity and erased ancestral memories. long neglected into popular history of american history, the slave hands built the nation's
12:16 am
capital and presidential residence. their families were severed and sold to the deep south to one of the largest slave markets in north america. from a numerical standpoint, the domestic slave trade from the eastern seaboard into the old southwest warped through the predecessors. the domestic slave trade uprooted one million people, severing husbands from wives, mothers from children, causing enslaved people like hannah blair to write the following letter. "my dear husband, we received a letter that your master so kindly wrote to us, and you cannot even think how glad we were to hear from you and jake.
12:17 am
i had almost given up the thought of ever hearing from you again. i was certain much surprised when mrs. gallagher sent for me to come up and here's the letter read. i went right off to hear it, for i did want to hear from you so much, we do not even know in what part of the field you were in. so you may know, i was glad to hear that you and jake were together. i hope that you all will be good men so your master will be kind to you. we are doing tolerably well. our boy grows fondly. i wish you could see him, but as i cannot be, i will learn him to always remember you. he has not forgotten you, yet. i must close this but will write to you again as soon as i hear from you. from your loving wife, hannah. " similar to blair, some thoughts might resemble those avoiding
12:18 am
butler during this process of forcible separation. he wrote to his wife in maryland, hoping his letter " will find you, my wedded wife as i left you. i will be glad if you let me know how you are as soon as possible. i am bound to be yours, and if i ever have the least idea of changing my present state, i will let you know, and do try to walk in the steps of a married woman." hannah blair and william butler are a few examples that symbolize the thousands of unknown voices whose painful memories died with them, hoping future generations would never know the painful loss of kinship to satisfy the economic desires of slave owners like washington and jefferson. despite the many presidents who expressed their sentiments against the institution, as many
12:19 am
of them claim to despise it, they're in action toward ending slavery makes them complicit in this exploitation. to fully understand the perceived inconsistencies between men who claim a heart while simultaneously allowing it perpetuation, we must understand how the revolution itself in the documents that follow it explicitly condone racially based indignation. historians argue the american revolution was at least partially connected to a decision in 1772 that occurred the -- across the atlantic ocean as an enslaved men, james somerset, realizing london was deemed recently, walked away from his master with intention to never return. he was eventually apprehended and his master intended to send him to jamaica, a sugar colony
12:20 am
that served as a death warrant to many african-american people, unlucky enough to cultivate sugar. his case was taken up by a leading abolitionist in britain who had a successful track record in helping fugitive slaves gain their freedom. the lord chief justice of the king, you married -- william murray oversaw the case. after a series of difficult deliberations, he declared the following verdict "the state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reason, moral or political, but only by law which preserves its force long after the reasons occasion and time itself, once it was created was erased from memory. it is so odious that nothing can
12:21 am
be supported under this law. " just when i read these types of tracks, i realize i was born in the right century. even though that was english, that is difficult to understand. in layperson's terms, mansfield believed there was something in english law that permitted slavery to exist, this was the argument. one can imagine, the some believe the writing was on the wall. slavery had been relatively uncontested as a revolution -- institution for multiple centuries, at the notion that slavery could be successfully challenged in the court of law surely worried colonist who were wholly invested into the system. " the ripple effect was immediate, trance atlantic jubilation, brought in swift. " he noticed some people escaped
12:22 am
to great britain, hoping to obtain the same freedom granton to somerset -- granted to somerset, believing the british law would demand the same to them, colonies like virginia, north carolina, georgia had a heightened enthusiasm to sever the relationship with the british empire. such information is not to downplay the significance of the revolution's goals, freedom, liberty, the pursuit of happiness are worthy of praise but we must understand that i colonist claim they were breaking the yoke of their slavery to the british empire. their in temperament of slavery did not apply to those individuals literally enslaved to the colonies. enslaved people of africa were considered racially subordinate in many white people may have accurate the poem by phyllis wheatley when she wrote "twas mercy that brought me from my pagan lands, souls to understand
12:23 am
there is a god and a savior, once redemption and neither side, renewed." while her poem is quite nuanced, many of her contemporary white americans believed that the notion of christian salvation was offered in exchange of enslavement and was a sufficient explanation for their apparent inconsistencies. their enslavement to the british empire was political and economic, which they believe was forcing free people to bow to the pressure of resources without sufficient compensation. modern historians since see the hypocrisy of this viewpoint but earlier there was no conflict. they were carefully developed to
12:24 am
ensure individual liberties were protected from governmental threats. in another twist of irony, individual liberties, especially those related to property rights would have a devastating impact upon universal liberties that transcend racial boundaries. the declaration of independence arguably serves as the most powerful symbol for america's founded, crafted an elegant prose and unapologetically direct in its forcefulness, the document is celebrated by citizens throughout the country and sometimes internationally. like americans have held a complex relationship with the document, however as it reflects the deliberate hypocrisy of freedom given to only a select portion of the population. virginia's declaration of rights
12:25 am
a month before had already declared that slavery would be a protected institution while simultaneously proposing that "all men are equally free and independent." jefferson's declaration followed these popular sentiments. appending the document that granted liberty and freedom to the newly american citizens, jefferson was served his nightly tea by a house slave named richard. the tea served by an enslaved hand like the aided jefferson's concentration on his crowning achievement. while we do not have testimonials from either of the two men about this bizarre event, a historian proposes that "perhaps, the irony is not lost on either of the two." only mentioning slavery as a way to incite the fear of flight: s, the document -- fear of white colonists, the document shows a hunger for expansion freedom and slavery. it is no wonder that many
12:26 am
decades later, frederick douglass, the foremost abolitionist in the united states, declared what to the slave is the fourth of july? obviously, there is a contradiction. as the country moved through warfare and work to establish governing principles, various principles were held to the public. the articles of the confederation, hopelessly succumbed to slave owning interests, renouncing the somerset decision and foreshadowed the fugitive slave act by declaring the government held responsibility for returning any runaway slave to its owner. the articles also initiated vigorous discussions over state sovereignty, a debate that continues today. it is election season and we care about state's writes all the time. perhaps, unsurprisingly,
12:27 am
southern states lobbied for state rights. a not-so-subtle method for protecting these slaveholders interest in ensuring other states could not infringe on the racial practices. while slavery was gradually dying in the north, especially after the war's conclusion in the late 18th century, the southern states showed few signs to downsizing their investments. i would like to discuss the constitution is little bit. when i listen to radio programs and i sometimes hear conservative hosts talk about how americans do not know what the constitution really says, cure is what the constitution really says. article one, section two "taxes should be enforced among several states that can be included within this union accorded to their respective numbers which can be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound of service for a term of years and excluding 3/5 of all other
12:28 am
persons." this is where the 3/5 compromise get some of its language. article one, section nine, " to provide for the repel of invasions, many have suggested that the suppressions meant a pressing slaves. " article one, section nine "the migration of such persons by any of the states existing shopping proper to admit, shell not be prohibited by the congress prior to the year 1808 but a tax may be imposed on such persons." this expanded the years of the transatlantic slave trade.
12:29 am
they were still allowing some leeway to slaveowning interests. sorry, the constitution is a lot longer than many may think, so i am trying to move through here. "the united states shop protect each of them against invasion and an application of the legislature when the legislature cannot be convened against the domestic violence." all right. so, essentially the importance of understanding what the constitution says and the bazaar believe you -- bizzare believe that you cannot change the writing, means some people think these were progressive
12:30 am
things stated. while amendments are nice, the fact that the original document still says these things, disenfranchises part of the population, and people wonder why individuals are frustrated in their current circumstances when not even the founding document of their history suggests they are even citizens. black americans have always had a complex relationship with these founding documents. those like martin luther king jr. and barack obama have invoked the declaration of independence and the constitution to discuss the inherent equality of all americans, while those like former secretary of state condoleezza rice in the largely traditional republican party still asserts when the founding fathers said we the people that did not mean us.
12:31 am
in many respects the continuous issues with surrounding equality in the nations founding manifested deep contradictions in the american republic. contextualizing the founders' possible motives certainly remains a challenge for the modern philosopher. i will propose a few ideas. this context leads us to the pertinent question of presidents who owned slaves. how they could justify owning people. we should understand the founding fathers anticipated that slavery would die a natural death. but this did not mean black and white coexistence. the point of confusion that many people make is the opposition to slavery and the idea of race. to be anti-slavery did not mean to be pro-black.
12:32 am
so we're clear on that. the founding fathers envisioned america as a reflection of euro-american achievement. eliminating the african-american population from the national imagery. multiple proposals would ensue but many like james madison, a slave owner himself. believed that relocation was the best option and helped develop the american colonization society. an organization that relocated black people to the west african country of liberia. he said the two races cannot coexist both being free and equal. encapsulating the original sentiments of racial strife that continues to plague many parts of the nation. despite their optimism for emancipation slavery expanded
12:33 am
rapidly. forcing many to question how a country could be sustained when it was so deeply divided over its primary economic institutions. for george washington, slavery was a normal part of his life. at the age of 11 his dying father bequeathed his large virginia plantation to the young washington. which included the inheritance of 10 slaves. he ambitiously expanded his and holdings and purchased around eight more slaves as a young adult. he knew that marriage was a key factor. marrying martha custis dramatically expanded his holdings in human property. by the time of his death, more than 300 slaves were at mount vernon. washington fancied himself a
12:34 am
kind slave owner. expressing shock and dismay when a favorite slave rebels against bondage. accounts differ on whether he was a benevolent slave owner or not. some neighbors believe he was excessively stern. others suggested he had a gentle approach. it was washington's relationship with a few slaves that provides significant insight. i have already mentioned the ordeal of those who fled bondage to be recaptured. and placed in perpetual slavery. other slaves were more successful. in a twist of fate one enslaved man named harry washington ran and away to the british army. despite the promises of liberty and freedom promoted by the declaration of independence harry knew many this was not for
12:35 am
him. prior to sailing to the british colony of sierra leone. he would be exiled by british authorities for his participation in an uprising against colonial administrators. his revolutionary spirit was manifested on both sides of the atlantic. the situation simultaneously revealed that racial inequality and unjust governance was a transatlantic issue. arguably the most unique figure among washington's slave population was his world-renowned chef hercules. an individual washington expressed a certain connection toward. scholars suggest that providing a slave and hercules laid on the sadistic emotions of slave masters. as they allotted the names of greek heroes and champions to individuals who legally held no
12:36 am
agency bodies. hercules at least from a comparative perspective gained a certain amount of autonomy as washington's slave and to an additional income. a sum that is likely than many free white people are. hercules dressed lavishly and traveled with washington. his culinary skills were celebrated outside the confines of washington's home. despite his more benign experiences, freedom back and hercules. on march 1797 he departed washington's home while they were residing in philadelphia. his exact motivations were difficult to decipher. it seems hercules went reasonably well as a slave to the most powerful man in the united states but nothing could
12:37 am
replace ownership over his own person. this is a trend subsequent slaves would take throughout the 19th century. much to the chagrin of the masters. washington would request his slaves be liberated at the time of his death. many of them were. he firmly believed that freedom provided few benefits to black people. it was common among white colonists and early americans to conclude that black people held intellectual deficiencies and lack industry to advance the positions and freedom. in a unique turn of events, washington also helped correspond with the aforementioned phillis wheatley.
12:38 am
she sent washington a letter on his appointment as commander-in-chief. a poem that lauded washington's place in history. proceed great chief with virtue on thy side. by the reaction neglect the goddess guide. crown the mansion and a throne that shines with gold unfading. washington be thine. washington eventually received wheatley at his home in 1776. switching gears, thomas jefferson was the nation's third president and arguably the most polarizing figure in the discussion. so progressive in many respects, jefferson not only held many slaves but he subscribed to extreme forms of racism. that analyzed black people as a subspecies of the human family. for historians his most offensive statements emerged from his work notes on the state
12:39 am
of virginia. he discussed the habits and customs of the area's inhabitants. from what was supposedly first-hand observation. like most of his work, he explored the concepts of romance and love among african descended people. he specifically targeted black men. "they appeared ardent after their female but love seems with them more in either desire than a delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation." for jefferson, the overtly sexualized and passionate african actions demonstrated genuine concern for women. but they lacked the ability to love as white people did. jefferson was also privy to the rather bizarre discussion but sexually connected africans with orangutans. following the hypothesis of the jamaican planter, jefferson
12:40 am
surmised that "africans desired white mates in the same manner as the orangutan demonstrated a preference for black women over those of his own species." yeah. [laughter] this was one of the more bizarre intellectual currents produced. some writers even believed that orangutans could be performed to perform similar tasks in similar ways as africans. the notion that further stabilized to the position of european superiority over the analyzed slaves of african descent. i remember watching 12 years a slave and they were building a shed in the slave owner claimed that he saw an orangutan perform down in new orleans and the same intelligence is the slaves. this was something that wasn't just what jefferson thought. a lot of people actually subscribe to this.
12:41 am
this theory of interspecies copulation between africans and primates began with the slave traders on the african coast who claims to witness these interactions. such notions became embedded in the development of scientific racism in the 18th century. images taking orangutans carrying off african women became accepted as legitimate. is tempting to dismiss jefferson's statement as those of an elite planter. acceptance of these ideas show the gullibility that many americans likely possessed when confronted with stereotypes of africa sexual practices no matter how bizarre they appear. jefferson also approached slavery from an economic perspective. determining the advantages of slavery over importation. thomas jefferson considered the
12:42 am
labor of the breeding woman is no object. "a child raised every two years is of more profit than the crop of the best laboring man. with respect therefore to our women and their children i must pray you inculcate upon our overseers that is not their labor but their increase which is first consideration." so following that, the practice of slavery became a primary economic incentive for slaveowners there. oftentimes these were violence psychologically as well as physically. slaves were forced to copulate with one another. it was not so much the marital right there was the primary issue but the assurance of a
12:43 am
natural increase to numerically bolster the slave population. as many know, jefferson's interests and slave sexual encounters were also cross racial. i would be remiss if i did not mention sally hemmings. while i have no new research to contribute, it is a relationship will never cease to be fascinating. for those of you who watch scandal there is a great episode where olivia gets mad at fitz for pursuing her. she says something to the effect of feeling like sally hemings. which angers the very powerful white president. sally hemings is still very much a part of popular culture. it also subject of debate. people will try to deny this dna evidence and say was disproved by other things. in many ways jefferson's story remains unresolved in this case. this was not an invention of the late 20th century as far as
12:44 am
accusing jefferson of sleeping with this woman or maybe forcing her to lie with him. this is something that people and contemporaries accused him of doing. this is not something that was a secret. people in political propaganda were accusing him of having a relationship with sally hemings. i don't think he was ever in that it he did take her with him to france and he seemed somewhat open with the relationship. i usually tell my students to garner their interest in why history matters. if you want a true soap opera, scholars propose that sally hemings was actually the half-sister of jefferson's own wife. if you want a very scandalous relationship, that is one of them to tell. we must reckon with reality that the designer of the declaration of independence held hundreds of
12:45 am
people as slaves. most of whom he never freed. the vast majority of whom he never freed. hopefully historians will continue to interrogate the intellectual history of jefferson and perhaps continue to take opportunity to intersect the historical reality with the public memory. the washington and jefferson are the two most prominent examples of slaveowning presidents it is worth highlighting key facets of other successors will slaves. especially those who did so while they occupied the white house. james madison who followed jefferson is the fourth president of the united states owned more than 100 slaves holding a large percentage while he occupied the white house. he is responsible for proposing and expanding the 3/5 compromise the guaranteed the south disproportionate influence in congress to preserve and uphold slavery. one of madison slaves, paul
12:46 am
jennings, published a memoir of his experiences as a slave to the president. laudatory in nature, it casually inserts his deepest criticisms toward dolly madison. one of his grievances surrounded her reluctance to deliver payments owed to him as she kept his last red cent" of earnings, forcing him to seek additional employment to pay for his wardrobe and his laundry. he was also forced to live away from his wife. she lived on another virginia plantation. slaves referred to these relationships as abroad marriages. and slave husbands engaged in a practice called night walking. sometimes dodging the attentions of slave patrols to visit their wives one or two nights out of the week. historians have uncovered that jennings actively resisted the system even after he was free. purchasing his freedom through
12:47 am
negotiation in 1847, he participated in an attempted escape of enslaved people in 1848 that rocked washington dc. jennings would assist dolly madison during the duration of her life his forgiveness was especially compelling when one considers the james madison did not free any of the slaves. a president like james monroe held 75 slaves during his life. he followed in the strange contradiction of his counterparts. expressing a disdain for slavery while owning slaves himself. this was common.
12:48 am
his most well-known for his support for the american colonization society and the modern capital monrovia bears his name. andrew jackson the seventh president owned many slaves. despised abolitionism. and gave permission for southern postmasters to detain abolitionist materials that dared to spread throughout the south. coupled with his forced removal of native americans and wars of imperial conquest. many have wondered why jackson's face remains on the $20 bill. martin van buren the eighth president owned one slave named tom but would later support the free soil party that opposed the expansion of slavery to the west. that does not necessarily mean he opposed the existence of slavery, just its expansion. william henry harrison owned 12 slaves. he unsuccessfully lobbied to legalize slavery in indiana which was opposed by thomas jefferson. john tyler, a virginian,
12:49 am
staunchly defended the preservation of slavery. he is oftentimes voted one of the worst presidents. james k. polk owned slaves in the white house, commissioning his wife to free their slaves after her death. the 13th amendment beat them to the punch. she did not die until the 1890's. zachary taylor owned many slaves. but generally advocated against the expansion of slavery. this was a surprising maneuver for taylor. which challenged the ire of proslavery ideologues. taylor died in 1850 during a heated debate over the expansion of slavery. andrew johnson and ulysses s. grant, two post civil war presidents, also at one point owned slaves. the main point here despite a dearth of resources we find that
12:50 am
each unique and interesting president was surrounded by interesting enslaved people. historians must continue to find the stories and secure their place in the canon of american historical figures. these individuals should be more than secondary figures in high school history textbook. you have they make about far. this causes me to wonder what can we say about the american revolution? the ideas of freedom and democracy were compelling and revolutionary among themselves, some people compose the idea behind a revolution is that you can turn the house down and build up to something new and better. get rid of everything that was bad about it. the great irony of calling it an american revolution is that the most nefarious aspect of the
12:51 am
colonies was glossed over and protected in the interest of a few elite people who wanted to keep others in bondage. even though many of them knew that what they were doing was wrong. their statements from these individuals that condemn slavery despite the fact that they continued to own slaves. so i would like to end this presentation now with my own words but with somebody who i think could say it much better than i can. i like to end with a quote from david walker's appeal as he eloquently takes on the blatant contradictions of the founding principles in the u.s. nation. he says, "to prove that the condition of the israelites was better under the egyptians. i call upon the professing christians and the
12:52 am
philanthropists and the tyrant himself to show me a page of history either sacred or profane on which a verse can be found which maintains that the egyptians held the insupportable insult upon the children of israel are telling them that they were not of the human family. can the whites disprove it? have they not after having reduced us to the horrible condition of slavery under their feet. as descending originally from a tribe of monkeys or orangutans? oh my god, i appeal to every man of feeling. is this not insupportable? is it not keeping the most gross insult upon our miseries because they have got us under their feet and we cannot help ourselves. pity on us, lord master.
12:53 am
has mr. jefferson declared to the world that we are inferior to whites? both of the endowments of our bodies and our minds? it is indeed surprising that a man of such great learning combined with such excellent natural heart should speak so of the sin of man in chains. i don't know what to compare it to. unless by putting one wild deer in a cage work will be secure and hold another by the side then let it go and expect the one in the cage to run as fast as the one in liberty." thank you. [applause] let's give dr. perry another round of applause. [applause]
12:54 am
>> what political price did these presidents who owned slaves while in office pay? dr. perry: this is a good question. i don't see any indication that their politics or their influence suffered from these decisions.
12:55 am
this is largely because the 3/5 compromise insured that southern slaveholding interest dominated the politics of washington dc. being a slave owner even if you claim to did to dislike it people may have been ambivalent about the idea that slave owning seemed this type of normalcy where it would not of been surprising for someone to own slaves while occupying the white house. even though we are talking about 12 u.s. presidents first this seems bizarre and strange. for an 18th or 19th century white to voting individual, this would've been normal for the day. i don't think they paid any price. >> my question is in relation to justice scalia.
12:56 am
this notion of pure constructionism as you were talking about it, they really didn't embrace the idea of slavery but practiced it. these amendments didn't really alter the philosophical premise of us being 3/5. is this conservative constructionist review of the constitution then problematic based on what you said? dr. perry: i think that sometimes we have to try to understand how certain people perform in a way that is expected of them.
12:57 am
in the 21st century there is a lot of discussion about capitalism versus socialism. one thing that interests me is i see a lot of very prominent wealthy people rail against capitalism. while making their money from capitalist ways. this is something i think about when i try to get into the minds of an 18th-century individuals. the idea that the founding fathers were banking on the possibility that slavery would die. and that they were simply just condescending the conditions of their time and in some ways that was a method to downplay the significance of what they were doing. if you are george washington and you are saying slavery is going
12:58 am
to die anyway, that takes a psychological burden off him. he can see like a progressive individual because he hopes it will go away at some pnt. in some ways a lot of people living in the modern conditions say this all the time. you just have to play the game. get the job. then you can make a difference. the founding fathers, we have propped them up so much that there is this national memory to which everything they were doing was somehow infallible. but i think washington knew that what he was doing was wrong. >> if you are a strict constructionist than the decisions that he made are all saying that in the light of current reality today we should not change anything because that was the foundation. dr. perry: we hear a lot of discussion about the law of the land.
12:59 am
legality does not necessarily mean morally right. the context of the 19th century slavery was a legal institution but we would condemn it as an immoral practice. one of the problems i have with conservative supreme court justices is the unwillingness to believe that things change. and they change for the better. there is not this linear way that we get to certain things. things changed a lot. some traditionalists refuse to
1:00 am
see it that way. >> the letters that slaves exchange. i heard that slaves were killed if they were even thought to have reading ability. so where do these letters come from? dr. perry: these letters were dictated by the enslaved people through the masters. for the woman her mistress wrote the letter as she spoke it.
1:01 am
1:02 am
1:03 am
1:04 am
1:05 am
1:06 am
1:07 am
1:08 am
1:09 am
1:10 am
1:11 am
1:12 am
1:13 am
1:14 am
1:15 am
1:16 am
1:17 am
1:18 am
1:19 am
1:20 am
>> i am a history buff. i do enjoy seeing the fabric of our country and how things -- how they work and how they are made. >> i love american history tv. >> i had no idea they did history. that's probably something i would really enjoy. >> with american history tv, it gives you that perspective. >> i may c-span


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on