Progressive Myths About the Founding Fathers, and Hating Whitey

Not everyone admires the Founders.

As a reflection of his rebranding as a “progressive,” Ed Schultz accused Glenn Beck of “Psycho Talk” for thinking well of the Founding Fathers. After Beck mentioned his appreciation of Samuel Adams, Ed lectured Beck that the Founders deserved no honor, because they were evil white men.

[M]ost of these Founding Fathers that you think so highly of were actually slave owners themselves, and the ones that didn’t own slaves weren’t exactly abolitionists…[C]omparing progressives to slave owners while idolizing actual slave owners — that’s “Psycho Talk.”

In his remarks, he also indicted the Founders for allegedly believing blacks were only three-fifths of a human being.

There are three problems for Big Ed: He’s wrong about Sam Adams; he’s wrong about the Founding Fathers; and he’s wrong about the three-fifths compromise.

First, in the segment for which Schultz raked the high-rated Fox News host over the coals, Beck referenced one Founder specifically: Samuel Adams. As David McCullough wrote in his bestselling John Adams, “When Samuel Adams and his wife were presented with a black slave girl as a gift in 1765, they had immediately set her free.” Oops.

Second, Ed misinterprets the three-fifths clause. I refuted the common-yet-erroneous belief that this was a racist law deeming a black man “three-fifths of a human” here.


Watch Ed Schultz exercise the First Amendment against the men who authored it.

Finally, Ed falls back on the old saw that, yes, some of the Founders held slaves. In fact, there were more than a few abolitionists among our Founders. This obscure fellow named Benjamin Franklin wrote a biting satire of slavery. Founder and Presbyterian physician Dr. Benjamin Rush ardently preached abolitionism. Alexander Hamilton (he’s on the ten dollar bills Senate Democrats stuffed into Ed’s pockets) hoped black soldiers would be recruited for the Revolutionary Army, since an “essential part of the plan is to give them their freedom with their swords.”

The future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Jay wrote in 1780, “An excellent law might be made out of the Pennsylvania one for the gradual abolition of slavery. Till America comes into this measure her prayers to heaven for liberty will be impious. This is a strong expression but it is just.”

Hamilton and Jay famously collaborated on The Federalist Papers. They also led the New York Manumission Society.

At the Constitutional Convention, several delegates expressed their hope that the Constitution would outlaw the slave trade. George Mason condemned slavery like a fire-and-brimstone preacher:

Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a Country. As nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes & effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities. He lamented that some of our Eastern brethren had from a lust of gain embarked in this nefarious traffic. As to the States being in possession of the Right to import, this was the case with many other rights, now to be properly given up. He held it essential in every point of view that the Genl. Govt. should have power to prevent the increase of slavery.

John Dickinson of Delaware counted it “inadmissible on every principle of honor & safety that the importation of slaves should be authorised to the States by the Constitution.” John Langdon of New Hampshire felt he could “not with a good conscience leave it with the States who could then go on with the traffic.”

Maryland’s Luther Martin so opposed the trafficking that he tried to tax the importation of slaves.

Even some from South Carolina, like Henry Laurens, the second president of the Continental Congress, came to oppose the peculiar institution.

So, too, did slaveholders Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Washington wrote among his “first wishes” was “to see some plan adopted, by the legislature by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees.” He declared, “I can clearly forsee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union.” Even Jefferson wrote, “there is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.” The common image of Jefferson as a Deist slaver must contend with this quotation: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events.”


As Gen. Schwarzkopf might say, Ed Schultz “is neither a constitutional lawyer, nor is he schooled in history, nor is he a political scientist, nor is he thoughtful. Other than that, he’s a great historian and prescient talk show host, I want you to know that.”

This post originally appeared on October 27, 2009, on NewsRealblog.