Ira Stoll riffs on Barack Obama’s reference to America’s Founders in the New York Daily News.
Barack Obama began his Election Night victory speech with a phrase that may have stopped short anyone educated with history textbooks written anytime in the past 30 years. “If there is anyone out there who still . . . wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time . . . tonight is your answer,” he said.
“The dream of the founders”? Which founders could Obama have been talking about? Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, was a slaveholder. George Washington, our first President, was a slaveholder, though his will dictated that his slaves would be freed upon his death. James Madison, the drafter of the Constitution, was a third slaveholding founder. He believed that freed slaves should be sent back to Africa.
The Constitution with which these founders created America counted slaves as three-fifths of a person and included a 20-year prohibition on Congress banning the slave trade. The only dream these founders would have had of a black President would have been a nightmare.
There’s no record of Samuel Adams dreaming of a black President, either. But of all our founding fathers, he is the one perhaps most likely to have done so. In researching my biography of Adams, I discovered that Adams refused to accept a slave he had been offered as a gift – and never himself held a slave.
Stoll is emerging as the nation’s expert on the least well known of America’s revolutionary leaders. He has written a new book, Samuel Adams: A Life, which has already received a favorable review in the Wall Street Journal.