James Madison And The Slavery Issue

.. d result from the act of manumission. This is rendered impossible by the prejudice of the whites, prejudices which must be considered as permanent and inseparable. It only remains then that some proper external receptacle be provided for the slaves who obtain their liberty, (Hutchinson, 14:163). Madison was concerned with slave labor and his involvement with the institution.

HE was quoted as writing Edmund Randolph and saying that he wished to depend as little as possible on the labor of slaves, (Madison II, 2:154). Madison’s marriage to Dolly Payne Todd, a Quaker widow, is thought to have had had a considerable amount of influence on his thoughts towards slavery. Upon moving to Philadelphia, her family freed their slaves allowing her to grow up in an anti-slave environment. There is no concrete evidence of such but she may have helped Madison clarify his own plan. Madison showed a reluctance to accept African Americans in the country after they were freed in 1800.

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He did however allow Christopher McPherson to visit with an introduction letter from Thomas Jefferson. A gap can be found in his letters from 1790’s to 1808 in which there is no mention of the slave trade or slavery, Historian Matthew T. Mellon explains this on the grounds that no problems existed at this time. The Constitution had made the slave trade illegal in Georgia and the Carolinas, and the rest of the states were awaiting it to be done away with all together (Melon, p129). The slave trade was done away with in 1808 but abuses were still common.

In 1816, Madison, as president, petitioned Congress to make a total suppression of the slave trade. Edward Coles, Madison’s private secretary, prodded Madison to take a tougher stand against slavery. One day ‘seeing a gang of Negroes, some in irons, on their way to a southern market,’ Coles taunted the president, ‘by congratulating him as the chief of our great republic, that he was not then accompanied by a Foreign Minister and thus saved the deep mortification of witnessing such a revolting sight in the presence of the representative of a nation, less boastful perhaps of its regard for the rights of men, but more observant of them, (Ketchum, p.551). Coles freed his slaves after Madison’s retirement from the presidency. He prepared them for emancipation by giving them each some land in Illinois. Their future freedom depended on Madison who wished Coles could change the color of the skin of his freed slaves; for without that they seemed destined to a privation of that moral ranks and those social participation which gives to freedom more than half its value, (Madison, 8:455). Even after his presidency, Madison continued to give advice about bringing slavery to an end.

The Missouri crisis of 1819-1821 put his convictions on slavery to a test. In a letter to the president, Madison denied that Congress had power to attach an antislavery condition on a new state or control migration of slaves within the several states. Madison tries to reveal the founding fathers intentions in the Constitution’s clause that states, the migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, (Constitution, art. sec.9). Madison says as a matter of compromise the northern states agreed to extend the slave trade for twenty years, because the southern states never would have agreed to ratify the plan that ended importation.

Madison felt that the term migration meant exclusively from other countries and not within the states. He reiterated this point to his successor, James Monroe. Madison and Jefferson surmised that the real issue in the Missouri debates was not the spread of slavery across the Mississippi, but rather the creation of a sectional party by disguised Federalist who wanted to appeal to northern antislavery sentiments in order to divide and conquer the Republicans. Madison and Jefferson both warned the ultimate price of injecting slavery into national politics would be the eventual disruption of the union, (Meyers, p.319-320). Though numerous visitors came to Montpelier for advice about the slavery issue and the Missouri Compromise, Madison refused to be drawn into the issue.

Before Madison’s death, he was concerned with a workable plan that would slowly emancipate slaves. He felt that the slaves were not able to handle neither freedom all at once nor the owners willing to surrender their property. The American Colonization Society offered a means for the colonization of the free blacks. Madison saw a major problem in that it did not provide any means of emancipating and colonizing the enslaved blacks. He expressed these concerns in a letter to General Marquis de Laffyette saying, The Negro slavery is as you justly complain, a sad blot on our free country, though a very ungracious subject of reproaches from the quarter which has been the most lavish of them.

No satisfactory plan has yet been devised for taking out the stain, (Negro history, p.85). Madison worked with the Colonization Society of Virginia but he saw no hope of any state action to abolish slavery because Virginia turned down a request for public money to aid the Colony of Liberia. The Nat Turner revolt cast a shadow on most abolitionist movement. Four months later, new hopes of colonization were announced that pleased Madison. They were presented before the fifthteenth anniversary of the American Colonization Society. Much confusion was over the cause of the south’s financial woes.

Madison felt that this was due to slavery. It led to poor farming practices and the exploitative development of the land. Madison saw northern abolitionist and others who thought the south’s problems were being caused by other sources as the reason for southerners defense of slaver. As Madison drew up his will, he pondered the fate of his slaves. He offered no clause for his slave’s emancipation; it read: I give and bequeath my ownership in the Negroes and people of color held by me to my dear wife but it is my desire that none of them should be sold without his or her consent or in case of their misbehavior except that the infant children may be sold with their parent who consents for them to be sold, (McCoy, p.318).

Following Madison’s death in 1836, Dolly Madison returned to Washington to live her last years. Financial reasons forced her to sell Montpelier in two parts. She sold the slave families together but retained some of them for her use in Washington. They were freed upon her death (Slaughter, p.73). James Madison worked throughout his life to end the peculiar institution of slavery. Once he found a plan that suited him, he stayed with it only to see it fail because it was impractical. Madison often refereed to African-Americans as being peculiar and being peculiar was the reason that they could not be emancipated without being removed to territory beyond white inhabitation. Although Madison’s plan failed, it set up the beginnings of an improved effort to end slavery gradually in the states.

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