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Lincoln Said It Best: The Founding Fathers Opposed Slavery

9:48 AM, Jun 29, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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One gets the sense that some in the media are doing their best to help Michele Bachmann win the Republican nomination by attacking her over ridiculous kerfuffles. The latest example involves her claim that the Founding Fathers "worked tirelessly" to end slavery. On Good Morning America, host George Stephanopoulos told Bachmann that her claim is "just not true": 

Stephanopoulos: The Pulitzer Prize winning website, Politifact, has found that you have the worst record of making false statements of any of the leading contenders. And I wondered if you wanted to take a chance to clear up some of your past statements. For example earlier this year you said that the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence worked tirelessly to end slavery. Now with respect Congresswoman, that’s just not true. Many of them including Jefferson and Washington were actually slave holders and slavery didn’t end until the Civil War.

Pressed on the issue, Bachmann replied, "Well if you look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, that’s absolutely true. He was a very young boy when he was with his father serving essentially as his father’s secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery."

Citing only John Quincy Adams may have not made for the strongest argument, as Bachmann herself noted that he was a young boy during the revolution. But in arguing that the Founding Fathers worked to end slavery, Bachmann is on solid ground. She follows in the footsteps of the first Republican president.

The Founders put slavery on the path to ultimate extinction, Abraham Lincoln said. But the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 threatened to bring about slavery's resurgence by opening up new territories to slaveowning. In 1854, Lincoln made this argument in a series of speeches on behalf of candidates opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. "In these addresses Lincoln set forth the themes that he would carry into the presidency six years later," writes Princeton's James M. McPherson in the Battle Cry of Freedom. McPherson summarizes Lincoln's argument:

The founding fathers, said Lincoln, had opposed slavery. They adopted a Declaration of Independence that pronounced all men created equal. They enacted the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 banning slavery from the vast Northwest Territory. To be sure, many of the founders owned slaves. But they asserted their hostility to slavery in principle while tolerating it temporarily (as they hoped) in practice. That was why they did not mention the words "slave" or "slavery" in the Constitution, but referred only to "persons held to service." "Thus, the thing is hid away, in the constitution," said Lincoln, "just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or a cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death; with the promise, nevertheless, that the cutting may begin at the end of a given time." The first step was to prevent the spread of this cancer, which the fathers took with the Northwest Ordinance, the prohibition of the African slave trade in 1807, and the Missouri Compromise restriction of 1820. The second was to begin a process of gradual emancipation, which the generation of the fathers had accomplished in the states north of Maryland. 

Here's what Lincoln said of the Founding Fathers in his 1854 Peoria speech:

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