Slave Owners on US Money

The above featured image for this post shows John Trumbull’s 1818 oil painting “Declaration of Independence”. The red dots are courtesy of film maker, Arlen Parsa. The red dots cover the faces of the slave owners who were supposed to be present at the original signing of the the Declaration of Independence. Accordingly, 34 of the 47 founding fathers shown in the painting were slaveholders.

Money can build a community and money can divide a nation. Money has played and is playing a major role in the disarticulation of America. There is an echoing irony in the continuation of honoring slave owners on a nation’s currency. Even South Africa replaced the images of the apartheid leaders—and that was thirty years ago. Why is the US so slow in developing a 21st century mindset? The change should have come 60 years ago during the MLK period of the Civil Rights Movement. Is there any other nation in the world that honors slave owners and human rights violators on their currency?

Would it not promote a better impression of the United States if images of wildlife and scenic destinations decorated US currency instead of controversial dead politicians? It is time for a currency makeover!

George Washington owned slaves before, during, and after his presidency. He held over 600 enslaved individuals throughout his lifetime. His widow freed the remaining 123 within a year of his death.

Jefferson not only enslaved over 600 African Americans, he fathered multiple children with an enslaved woman he kept as a concubine. Jefferson would seem to be the epitome of hypocrisy as he he was a a lifelong slave owner,but condemned the institution of slavery and advocated emancipation.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, never owned slaves, was morally opposed to slavery and issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. However, his wife’s family did keep a small number of enslaved individuals.

Although Alexander Hamilton opposed slavery, he profited from buying and selling enslaved people. Despite any moral objections he held, his social and political ambitions motivated him to use slavery to advance his fortunes—both indirectly and through compromises he chose to make. (BTW, he was never a president. He was a “founding father” and Secretary of the Treasury.)

Andrew Jackson, the country’s 7th president, kept as many as 200 enslaved individuals during his lifetime. He earned a large portion of his private wealth from the slave trade. As president, he introduced legislation that protected slave owners and slavery in the southern states. He did not free his slaves in his will. Not a hypocrite, just a human rights violator.

 Ulysses S. Grant inherited one enslave individual in 1854 who he freed 2 years later. His wife Julia had possession of four enslaved people during the American Civil War. They had been given to her by her father.

Benjamin Franklin was never a president. He was an abolitionist. Still, he owned 2 slaves during his life. Both assumed positions as household servants, yet were legally enslaved individuals.

History is exactly that – history! We can learn from it. We should never forget it or erase it. However, we should not continue to honor historical individuals that profited from human rights violations. We should not ignore their hypocrisies. To do so only teaches our children to recapitulate world views that perpetuate social injustice and manufacture divisions of communities.

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