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Samuel Johnson: "Why Do We Hear the Loudest Yelps for Liberty from the Masters Drivers of Negroes?" Department

Edmund S. Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom is all about the paradox that the most aggressive and strident political advocates of the small-government personal-liberty tradition in America were the highly-racist plantation slaveowners of the Virginia Dynasty. There is something about holding hundreds of your fellow humans in inhuman bondage that makes you very averse to even a moderately-strong and powerful central government--especially one that you and your class do not control.

Will Wilkinson muses on this paradox, and on the execrable Michele Bachmann:

The founders and slavery: John Jay saves the day: MICHELE BACHMANN got herself in a bit of hot water with  her assertion that America's founding fathers "worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States", somewhat oddly citing the example of John Quincy Adams, who was a... founding father's son....

The really odd thing about this is that she... can't seem to get the right part right. Plenty of founders did fight hard to end slavery, but Ms Bachmann doesn't seem to know who they were.... [C]onservatives' favourite founders, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, held large numbers of human beings as slaves and did less than a lot about it. The really good guys on the slavery issue—which is to say on the human freedom issue—were not the Virginia plantation masters but the less-venerated "big government" Yankee founders who sped the abolition of slavery in the north....

Alexander Hamilton's role in the  New York Manumission Society.... John Jay... was the real mastermind behind this admirable enterprise, and he got essential help from other legit founders like Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and my favourite, Gouverneur Morris.... And Jay did more than get the New York Manumission Society off the ground. Behold: 

In 1787, he helped found New York’s African Free School, which by December 1788 had fifty-six students and which he continued to support financially. By the time  the Manumission Society surrendered management to New York City in 1834, the school had educated well over 1,000 students. Although he owned slaves himself, Jay had an explanation for this seemingly contradictory practice: "I purchase slaves and manumit them at proper ages and when their faithful services shall have afforded a reasonable retribution." His attitude toward slavery in New York followed the same gradualist line. In 1799 as governor of the state, Jay signed into law An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. The measure provided that, from July 4th of that year, all children born to slave parents would be free ... and that slave exports would be prohibited.

Maybe next time Ms Bachmann discusses this issue, she can gives some credit to Jay, who, in addition to co-authoring The Federalist and serving as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, actually put an end to slavery in New York.

Or how about a shout-out to Gouverneur Morris?... Here's what Morris said, to his eternal credit, on the idea of counting slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of determining representation in the House:

Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why then is no other property included? The houses in [Philadelphia] are worth more than all the wretched slaves that cover the rice swamps of South Carolina....The admission of slaves into the representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina who goes to the coast of Africa and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections and damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a government instituted for the protection of the rights of mankind than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey who views with laudable horror so nefarious a practice.

By the way, this comes from the notes of James Madison, who proposed the 3/5 ratio.... Madison also reports of Morris that "He would sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all such negroes in the U. States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution."... Morris would have preferred a tax that would buy the freedom of all America's slaves from their masters over a constitution that not only codifies but rewards human bondage. Quite right. Because taxation is not slavery; slavery is slavery. However, thanks to our eminent and not-so-eminent southern, pro-slavery founders, no such option was ever on the table.

Ms Bachmann can easily correct the record, and sound smart to boot, by insisting on a distinction between those founders who really did fight tirelessly to end slavery and those who fought tirelessly to tilt the young country's balance of power toward states filled with human chattel who could not vote. And she ought to stop name-checking John Quincy Adams and start agitating for the eternal glory of John Jay. Or Gouverneur Morris. He had a peg leg.