Democratic Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, a member of the progressive “squad,” made false claims about the Founding Fathers and slavery, displaying a lack of knowledge about American history on Independence Day. Bush tweeted that the Declaration of Independence was written by enslavers who did not recognize Black people as human, and she used the occasion to advocate for reparations.
However, her claims are inaccurate. While some members of the drafting committee for the Declaration of Independence did own slaves, not all of them did. John Adams and Roger Sherman were two of the committee members who did not own slaves and held anti-slavery views. Adams opposed slavery, referring to it as a “foul contagion in the human character,” and he actively cooperated with abolitionists. Sherman also consistently opposed slavery, believing in the dignity of all humans, according to the Library of Congress.
Benjamin Franklin, another member of the committee, held slaves during parts of his life but later became a staunch abolitionist. He joined the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and petitioned Congress for the abolition of slavery and the ban of slave importation.
Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence, initially sought to curtail the expansion of slavery through legislative efforts. He introduced legislation in Virginia to ban the importation of slaves and establish a process for gradual emancipation. Jefferson also supported federal legislation prohibiting slavery in the Western territories, although it fell short of passing by one vote. Additionally, he signed the law banning the importation of slaves in 1808 and called on Congress to pass such legislation in his State of the Union address.
The Founding Fathers’ positions on slavery were complex, with some owning slaves while simultaneously expressing opposition to the institution and taking steps to end it. Representative Bush’s claims about the Founding Fathers and their attitudes towards slavery are inaccurate and fail to acknowledge their diverse perspectives and actions.