List of presidents of the United States who owned slaves

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This is a list of presidents of the United States who owned slaves. Slavery was legal in the United States 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 in 1865, immediately after the end of the American Civil War.

In total, twelve U.S. presidents owned slaves at some point in their lives; of these, eight owned slaves while in office. Ten of the first twelve American Presidents were slave owners, with the only exceptions being John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, who both did not approve of slavery. George Washington was the first president who owned slaves, including while he was president. Zachary Taylor was the last who owned slaves during his presidency, and Ulysses S. Grant was the last president to have owned a slave at some point in his life. Of those presidents who were slaveholders, Thomas Jefferson owned the most, with 600+ slaves, followed closely by George Washington.

Woodrow Wilson was the last president born into a household with slave labor, though the Civil War concluded during his childhood.[1]

Presidents who owned slaves[edit]

No. President Approximate number
of slaves held[2]
While in office? Notes
1 George Washington 600+[3] 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 them within a year of her husband's death. See George Washington and slavery for more details.
3 Thomas Jefferson 600+[4] Yes (1801–1809) Most historians believe Jefferson fathered multiple slave children with the enslaved woman Sally Hemings, the likely half-sister of his late wife Martha Wayles Skelton. Despite being a lifelong slave owner, Jefferson routinely condemned the institution of slavery, attempted to restrict its expansion, and advocated gradual emancipation. As President, he oversaw the abolition of the international slave trade. See Thomas Jefferson and slavery for more details.
4 James Madison 100+[5] Yes (1809–1817) Madison 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[5] Yes (1817–1825) Monroe supported sending freed slaves to the new country of Liberia; its capital, Monrovia, is named after him. See James Monroe for more details.
7 Andrew Jackson 200[5] Yes (1829–1837) Jackson owned many slaves. One controversy during his presidency was his reaction to anti-slavery tracts. 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[6][5] No (1837–1841) 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 immediate abolition.
9 William Henry Harrison 11[5] No (1841) Harrison inherited several slaves. As the first governor of the Indiana Territory, he unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to legalize slavery in Indiana.
10 John Tyler 29[7] Yes (1841–1845) Tyler never freed any of his slaves and consistently supported the slaveholder's rights and the expansion of slavery during his time in political office.
11 James K. Polk 56[8] Yes (1845–1849) Polk became the Democratic nominee for president in 1844 partially because of his tolerance of slavery, in contrast to Van Buren. As president, he generally supported the rights of slave owners. 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 300[9] 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 9[10] No (1865–1869) 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. However, Johnson went on to free all his personal slaves on August 8th, 1863.[11] On October 24th, 1864, Johnson officially freed all slaves in Tennessee.[12]
18 Ulysses S. Grant 1[13] No (1869–1877) Although he later served as a general in the Union Army, his wife Julia had control of four slaves during the American Civil War, given to her by her father. However, it is unclear if she actually was granted legal ownership of them or merely temporary custody.[14] 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).[15] Grant personally owned one slave, William Jones, given to him by his father-in-law and manumitted by Grant on March 29, 1859.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ewen, Lara (January–February 2021). "Tarnished legacies: Presidential libraries grapple with the histories of their subjects". American Libraries. Chicago: American Library Association.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  2. ^
  3. ^ Irwin, James. "George Washington's Tangled Relationship With Slavery". GWToday. George Washington University. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  4. ^ "Thomas Jefferson: Liberty & Slavery". Monticello. Smithsonian. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e Whitney, Gleaves. "Slaveholding Presidents". Ask Gleaves. Grand Valley State University. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  6. ^ Adamack, Joe (2008). "Politics versus Convictions: Martin Van Buren, Roger Sherman Baldwin, and the Trials of Mutinous Slaves" (PDF): 25. Retrieved 14 October 2020. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Leahy, Christopher Joseph. "John Tyler Before the Presidency: Principles and Politics of a Southern Planter". Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College: 193. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  8. ^ Ownby, Ted. "James K. Polk". Mississippi Encyclopedia. Center for Study of Southern Culture. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  9. ^ "Zachary Taylor". 64 Parishes. Tulane University. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  10. ^ Fling, Sarah. "The Formerly Enslaved Households of President Andrew Johnson". The White House Historical Association. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Slavery at White Haven". Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site. National Park Service. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Slavery at White Haven – Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 2020-06-20.