Samuel Adams, The Founders and Barack Obama

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.

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One Response to “Samuel Adams, The Founders and Barack Obama”

  1. Bush Packs the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council « Dispatches from Seth Gitell Says:

    [...] memorial in Harpers. Jonathan Rosen critqued it in the New York Times the same year. And my friend Ira Stoll described the museum as a “a playpen for Clinton loyalists” in the Wall Street Journal [...]

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