Virginia’s Founders and Emancipation


Those who demand slavery reparations forget that one, we would have no American republic without the Constitutional compromise in 1787 to recognize the interests of all States; two, that there was a clause inserted into the Constitution to end the slave trade as a measure toward emancipation; and three, the proliferation of emancipation societies and voluntary emancipation/manumission meant that there was a steady march toward freeing black slaves—marred only by the rise of fanatical abolitionists in New England who disregarded the warning below.

The Founders and their heirs should be commended for setting the country on the road to emancipation, but we should hold a special contempt for the abolitionists who would not allow the natural course of voluntary emancipation to continue.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

Virginia’s Founders and Emancipation

James Madison’s concern over slavery throughout life was similar to Jefferson’s, Washington’s, George Wythe’s, George Mason’s, Edmund Randolph’s, and other conscientious and humanitarian Virginian’s.

Regarding the slave trade clause debated at the Constitutional Convention—-Madison accepted the 1808 clause as the Articles of Confederation did not have an end to the slave trade, and it was necessary to compromise for the interests of South Carolina, Georgia and New England (it should be remembered that the "interests" of these States were created by the British plantation system, and the large number of slaves imported to service the British economy before 1776).

Madison believed that the differences between the black and white races was permanent, and amalgamation of the two races was unacceptable as an ideal, while a perfect equality on social, political and economic terms he thought unattainable in fact. The latter consideration made him favor a method of gradual emancipation through colonization, since he thought that if the freed Negroes remained among the whites “under the degrading privations of equal rights, political or social, they must always be dissatisfied with their condition as a change only from one to another species of oppression.” He became a life member of the American Colonization Society upon its formation in 1813, and was Vice President of the Virginia branch of the society.

In 1832, the Colonization Society of Virginia had John Marshall as president, and Madison vice president. They requested the Legislature to provide public money to aid the colony in Liberia. Madison also thought that the Federal government could be drawn upon to support an extensive program (of emancipation and colonization) from its sale of western lands.

(Said Thomas) Jefferson in 1814 on how to rid the country of slavery:

“I had always hoped that the younger generation, receiving their early impressions after the flame of liberty had been kindled…and become….the vital spirit of every American…would have sympathized with oppression wherever found, and prove their love of liberty beyond their own share of it.”

Yet said Jefferson, “the hour of emancipation is advancing in the march of time. It will come.” Regarding abolition, Jefferson said to “come forward in the public councils, “insinuate and inculcate it softly but steadily thro’ the medium of writing and conversation, associate others in your labors, and when the phalanx is formed, bring on and press the proposition perseveringly until its accomplishment…no good measure was ever proposed, which, if duly pursued, failed to prevail in the end.”

But Jefferson and Madison knew the tragic depth and measure of the problem of the South’s peculiar institution, and foresaw the avalanche of blood which irrational and overly hasty action might set flowing. They knew unless emancipation came gradually and with the consent not only of a section, but all the sections whose interests were deeply concerned, the legacy of prejudice and hatred would perpetuate itself for generations.

(Madison’s Advice to My Country, Adrienne Koch, editor, Princeton Press, 1965)