Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?

James Monroe (1817-1825)

Monroe inherited one slave, named Ralph.

When he owned the farm named Highland he owned 30-40 slaves. 

1796:  When James Monroe was in Paris he heard that one of his slaves in Virginia was very ill.  "We lament much the ill health of Tinah...  Indeed she is valuable as a sensible and honest servant, as well as most capable, and whose loss could never be repaired.  We are particularly gratified that she is well taken care of and wants for nothing." 


1800:  James Monroe was governor of Virginia during Gabriel’s Conspiracy, an abortive slave uprising in the state.  "We have had much trouble with the negroes here.  The plan of an insurrection has been clearly proved,  and appears to have been of considerable extent.  10 have been condemned and executed, and there are at least twenty, perhaps 40 more to be tried, of whose guilt no doubt is entertained."  The slaves who reported the conspiracy were purchased by the government and freed as a reward.  (Monroe,  v3, p 208.)


1801:  The Virginia  legislature suggested purchasing lands outside the state to which slaves who  participated in the conspiracy could be sent.  "The idea of such an acquisition was suggested by motives of  humanity, it being intended by means thereof to provide an alternate mode of punishment for those described by  the resolution, who under the existing law might be doomed to suffer death...  We perceive an existing evil which  commenced under our Colonial System, with which we are not properly chargeable, or if at all not in the present degree, and we acknowledge the extreme difficulty of remedying it." (Monroe.  v3, p 292-294.)


1802:  The government considered sending insurgent slaves to Sierra Leone.  Governor Monroe discovered that under the law of Sierra Leone the slaves would be free as soon as they arrived.  "Still I am persuaded that such was not the intention of the Legislature, as it would put culprits in a better condition than the deserving part of those people...  The ancestors of the present negroes were brought from Africa and sold here as slaves, they and their descendents for ever.  If we send back any of the race subject to a temporary servitude with liberty to their descendants will  not the policy be mild and benevolent?" (Monroe.  v3, p 352-353.)


1820:  "I do not think that any foreigner can sustain a claim against an African brought directly from Africa as a  slave, in our Courts, but that when brought within our jurisdiction he must be free."  (Monroe.  v6, p146.)


1821:  "[The international slave trade] is an abominable practice, against which nations are now combining,  and it may be presumed that the combination will soon become universal.  If it does the traffic must cease, if it does not it will still be carried on, unless the nations favorable to the suppression unite to crush it, under flags whose  powers tolerate it, which would in effect be to make war on those powers."  (Monroe.  v6, p 196.)


1824:  James Monroe signed a treaty with Great Britain that would have declared the African slave trade a form of  piracy, thereby making it easier to fight the trade supposedly without making it easier for foreign navies  to stop and search U.S. ships.  He made a plea to the Senate, but did not convince them to  ratify the  agreement.  “Should this convention be adopted, there is every reason to believe that it will be the commencement of  a system destined to accomplish the entire abolition of the slave trade… [Other nations  will  follow the U.S. and U.K.]  The crime will then be universally proscribed as piracy, and the traffic be suppressed  forever.” (Monroe.  v7,  p 26.)

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