Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?

James Buchanan (1857-1861)

By the standards of his own day, James Buchanan was not a slaveowner.  However, when he was running for the Senate from Pennsylvania he discovered this his brother-in-law owned two slave in Virginia.  Buchanan purchased them from his brother, immediately converting them to indentured servants.  Daphne Cook, age 22, was indentured for seven years.  Ann COok, age 5, was indentured for 23. (Klein,p100.)

1826: "I believe [slavery] to be a great political and a great moral evil.  I thank God, my lot has been cast  in a State  where it does not exist.  But, while I entertain these opinions, I know it is an evil at present without a  remedy.  It has been a curse entailed upon us by that nation [Great Britain] which now makes us a subject of reproach to our  institutions.  It is, however, one of those moral evils, from which it is impossible for us to escape, without the  introduction of evils infinitely greater.  There are portions of this Union, in which, if you emancipate your slaves, they  will become masters.  There can be no middle course.  Is there any man in this Union who could, for a  moment, indulge in the horrible idea of abolishing slavery by the massacre of the high-minded, and the chivalrous race  of men in the South?"  (Curtis,  v1.  p68)

1835:  “What is now asked by these memorialists?  That in this District [of Columbia] of ten miles square – a  District carved out of two slaveholding States, and surrounded by them on all sides, slavery shall be abolished!  What  would be the effects of granting their request?  You would thus erect a citadel in the very hearts of these States, upon  a territory which they have ceded to you for a far different purpose, from which abolitionists and incendiaries could  securely attack the peace and safety of their citizens.  You establish a spot within the slaveholding States which would  be a city of refuge for runaway slaves.  You create by law a central point from which trains of gunpowder may be  securely laid, extending into the surrounding States, which may at any moment produce a fearful and destructive  explosion.  By passing such a law, you introduce into the enemy into the very bosom of these two States, and afford  him every opportunity to produce a servile insurrection.”  (Horton,  p153)

 1836: "Touch this question of slavery seriously - let it once be made manifest to the people of the South that they  cannot live with us, except in a state of continual apprehension and alarm for their wives and their children, for all that  is near and dear to them upon the earth - and the Union is from that moment dissolved.  It does not then become a  question of expediency, but of self-preservation."  (Buchanan,  p15)

 1836:  "The natural tendency of their publications is to produce dissatisfaction and revolt among the slaves, and to  incite their wild passions to vengeance...  Many a mother clasps her infant to her bosom when she retires to rest,  under dreadful apprehensions that she may be aroused from her slumbers by the savage yells of the slaves by whom  she is surrounded.  These are the works of the abolitionists."  (Curtis v1 p317)

1837:  “When the States became parties to the federal compact, they entered into a solemn agreement that property  in slaves should be as inviolable as any other property.  Whilst the Constitution endures no human power, except that  of the State within which slavery exists, has any right to interfere with the question..”  (Horton.  P246)

 1852:  "History teaches us that but for the provision in favor of the restoration of fugitive slaves, our present  Constitution would never have existed.  Think ye that the South will ever tamely surrender the Fugitive  Slave Law to Northern fanatics and Abolitionists?"  (Curtis,  v2.  p65-6)

 1860:  "The immediate peril arises... from the fact that the incessant and violent agitation of the slavery question  throughout the North, for the last quarter of a century, has at length produced its malign influence on the slaves, and  inspired them with vague notions of freedom."  (Buchanan) p114)

1861-6:  Between 1861 and 1862 Buchanan wrote a book defending his administration against charges ranging  from incompetence to treason that had been made by congress and the press.  It was published in 1866,  after the war was over.  "If the fanatics of the North [in the 1830s] denounced slavery as evil and only evil, and  that continually, the fanatics of the South upheld it as fraught with blessings to the slave as well as to the master.  Far different was the estimation in which it was held by Southern patriots and statesmen both before and for many years after the adoption of the Constitution.  These looked forward hopefully to the day when, with safety both to the white  and black race, it might be abolished by the people of the slaveholding States themselves, who alone possessed the  power." (Buchanan)  p14)