Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?

Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)

1838:  After Fillmore was nominated to Congress an abolitionist group sent him the following  list of questions:  “Do you believe that petitions to congress…on slavery and the slave trade, ought to be received... and... considered?  Are you opposed to the annexation of Texas…?  Are you in favor of  congress [abolishing] the…slave trade between the states?  Are you in favor of immediate… abolition of  slavery in the District of Columbia?”  Fillmore supposedly shouted “The Philistines are upon us,” but to all  questions he answered: “Yes.”  (Rayback,  p162)


 1846: Fillmore called the Mexican War a “wild and wicked scheme of foreign conquest” to add “another slave  territory to the United States.”  He added that while the North had the majority, “the South has managed to have  the Speaker of the House about two-thirds of the time, and the Presidency about two-thirds of the time…I cast no  imputations upon the South for this, but ask: Shall we submit to our servile condition?”  (Rayback,  p162)


 1850:  Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act and warned that he would use federal troops to enforce it.  “God  knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil, for which we are not responsible, and we must endure it, and  give it such protection as is guaranteed by the constitution, till we can get rid of it without destroying the last hope of  free government in the world.”  (Rayback, p252 and 271)


 1850:  Fillmore signed a law banning the slave trade (but not the ownership of slaves)  in Washington, D.C.  (Snyder,  p45)


 1850:  Fillmore responded to fears that the Fugitive Slave Act would lead to free Blacks being wrongly  kidnapped:  “The law having passed, must be executed.  That so far as it provides for the surrender of  ugitives from  labor it is according to the requirements of the constitution and should be sustained against all attempts at repeal, but  if there be any provision in it endangering the liberty of those who are free, it should be so modified as to secure the  free blacks from such an abuse…” Two months later he added that the law  should not be so modified: “until  time and experience shall demonstrate the necessity of further legislation to  guard against evasion or abuse.”  (Rayback, p 277-8)


 1852:  Fillmore wrote about slavery in the draft of his last state-of-the-union message, but his cabinet  convinced him to leave that text out.  He predicted that within a century the population, White and  Black,  would overwhelm the land.  “It will give birth to a conflict of races with all the lamentable  onsequences which must  characterize such a strife…  The terrific scenes of St. Domingo [i.e. the slave rebellion in Haiti]  are sooner or  later to be re-enacted here, unless something be done to avert it.”  The only solution would be to free the slaves  and send them back to Africa.  “If emigration could take place at the rate of 100,000 per annum, that would not  only prevent the increase of the slave population, but constantly diminish it, and at last…wipe it out entirely.”  Asians  would be permitted in to replace the slave labor force.  (Rayback, p368-9)


 1860:  Fillmore to Dorothea Dix: “You have been at the South and you can best appreciate the feeling excited by John  Brown’s foolish and criminal invasion of Virginia.  He doubtless believed what these insane fanatics at the North have  taught, that the slaves would rise in mass and join his insurrectionary standard, and the result, I think has had one  good effect; and that is to show the people of the North, that the slaves themselves do not regard their condition as  so bad that they have any strong desire to change it.”  (Snyder, p 325-6)