List of presidents of the United States who owned slaves

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This is a list of presidents of the United States who owned slaves. Slavery in the United States was legal from its beginning as a nation, having been practiced in North America from early colonial days. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution formally abolished slavery, though the practice effectively ended only after the end of the American Civil War. In total, twelve presidents owned slaves at some point in their lives, eight of whom owned slaves while serving as president. George Washington was the first president to own slaves, including while he was president. Zachary Taylor was the last president to own slaves during his presidency, and Ulysses S. Grant was the last president to have owned a slave at some point in his life.

Slave owning was common among early presidents; of the first twelve, only John Adams (2) and his son John Quincy Adams (6) never owned slaves, although two of the others (Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison) did not own slaves while serving as president.

The U.S. president who owned the most slaves was Thomas Jefferson, with 600+ slaves,[1] followed by George Washington, with 200 slaves. The presidents who owned the fewest slaves were Martin van Buren and Ulysses S. Grant, with one slave each.

Presidents who owned slaves[edit]

No. President Approximate number
of slaves held
While in office? Notes
1 George Washington 317 Yes (1789–1797) Washington was a major slaveholder before, during, and after his presidency. His will freed his slaves pending the death of his widow, though she freed his slaves within a year of his death. See George Washington and slavery for more details.
3 Thomas Jefferson 600+ Yes (1801–1809) Most historians believe Jefferson fathered multiple slave children with his quadroon slave Sally Hemings, the half-sister of his late wife Martha Wayles Skelton. See Thomas Jefferson and slavery for more details.
4 James Madison 100+ Yes (1809–1817) Madison proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise, which counted three out of every five slaves for the purposes of taxation and legislative representation. He did not free his slaves in his will. Paul Jennings, one of Madison's slaves, served him during his presidency and later published the first memoir of life in the White House.
5 James Monroe 75 Yes (1817–1825) Monroe supported sending freed slaves to the new country of Liberia; its capital, Monrovia, is named after him. See James Monroe#Slavery for more details.
7 Andrew Jackson 200 Yes (1829–1837) Jackson owned many slaves and faced several controversies related to slavery during his presidency. During his campaign for the presidency, he faced criticism for being a slave trader. He did not free his slaves in his will.
8 Martin Van Buren 1 Yes Van Buren's father owned six slaves. The only slave he personally owned, Tom, escaped in 1814. When Tom was found in Massachusetts, Van Buren tentatively agreed to sell him to the finder, but terms were not agreed and Tom remained free. Later in life, Van Buren belonged to the Free Soil Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery into the Western territories without advocating for abolitionism outright.
9 William Henry Harrison 11 Yes Harrison inherited several slaves. As the first governor of the Indiana Territory, he unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to legalize slavery in Indiana.
10 John Tyler 70 Yes (1841–1845) Tyler never freed any of his slaves and consistently supported slavery and its expansion during his time in political office.
11 James K. Polk 25 Yes (1845–1849) Polk became the Democratic nominee for president in 1844 partially because of his tolerance of slavery, in contrast to Van Buren. He generally supported slaveholding rights as president. His will provided for the freeing of his slaves after the death of his wife, though the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended up freeing them long before her death in 1891.
12 Zachary Taylor <150 Yes (1849–50) Although Taylor owned slaves throughout his life, he generally resisted attempts to expand slavery in the territories. After his death, there were rumors that slavery advocates had poisoned him; tests of his body over 100 years later have been inconclusive.
17 Andrew Johnson 8 No Johnson owned a few slaves and was supportive of James K. Polk's slavery policies. As military governor of Tennessee, he convinced Abraham Lincoln to exempt that area from the Emancipation Proclamation.
18 Ulysses S. Grant 1 No Although he later served as a general in the Union Army, his wife Julia had control of four slaves during the war, given to her by her father. However, it is unclear if she actually was granted legal ownership of them or merely temporary custody.[2] All would be freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 (she chose to free them at that time even though the proclamation did not apply to her state of Missouri).[3] Grant personally owned one slave, William Jones, given to him in 1857 by his father-in-law and manumitted by Grant on March 29, 1859.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See: Thomas Jefferson and slavery, for more details.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Slavery at White Haven - Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 2016-12-20.