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 in the United States was legal from its beginning as a nation, having been practiced in British North America from early colonial days. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution formally abolished slavery, though the practice effectively ended with 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 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. James Buchanan is said to have purchased two slaves but immediately made them into servants.

Presidents who owned slaves

No. President Approximate number
of slaves held
While in office? Notes
1 George Washington 317 Yes (1789–97) 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 200 Yes (1801–09) Jefferson was a major slaveholder but opposed the institution throughout his life and promoted legislation to free slaves. Because of overwhelming debt he only freed a few of his slaves in his will. Most historians believe Jefferson fathered multiple children with his slave Sally Hemings, the half-sister of late wife Martha Wayles Skelton. See Thomas Jefferson and slavery for more details.
4 James Madison 100+ Yes (1809–17) Madison proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise, which counted slaves as three fifths of a person 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 (1817–25) Monroe was critical of slavery despite owning slaves himself. He 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 (1829–37) 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 No 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 No Harrison inherited several slaves. As the first governor of the Indiana Territory, he unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to legalize slavery in Indiana. President Jefferson opposed these efforts despite being himself a slave owner.
10 John Tyler 70 Yes (1841–45) Tyler considered slavery evil, but he 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 (1845–49) Polk became the Democratic nominee for president in 1844 partially because of his tolerance of slavery, in contrast to Van Buren. He generally supported slavery 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 5 No Although he later served as a general in the Union Army, Grant had control of slaves owned by his wife. He owned a slave, William Jones, from 1857 to 1859. Grant freed Jones rather than sell him, despite financial need. During the Civil War, he enlisted displaced slaves into the Union war effort and had them paid for their service.

Other cases

Besides the twelve presidents above, James Buchanan could technically be counted as owning a slave at one point. According to Buchanan biographer Philip Shriver Klein, Buchanan learned, prior to his presidency, that his brother-in-law owned two slaves in Virginia. Buchanan purchased the slaves and made them his own indentured servants. Lists of slaveholding presidents typically exclude him.

See also


  • Lopresti, Rob (22 February 2011). Lewis, Rudolph (ed.). "Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?". ChickenBones. Retrieved 29 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "List of Slave-holding Presidents". Jubilo! The Emancipation Century. 18 February 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Slaveholding Presidents". Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, Grand Valley State University. 29 May 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>