WI: George Washington Speaks Out Against Slavery While President

Okay, so as an American, I have always considered our country's greatest foundational hypocrisy to be slavery. I consider the Native American Genocide to be the greater crime, but slavery is our greatest hypocrisy.

Now, I don't want to go into a rant about it, but I don't really feel like I have to. Not only does it speak for itself, this opinion was also held by many of the Founding Fathers - even some of those that owned slaves held similar views about the matter.

One of those people was George Washington. For years before his presidency, he privately talked about his distaste for the institution of slavery and desire to eventually see it end. He refused to speak out publicly about this because he worried that if he freed his slaves it would spell financial ruin for him.

Now, I will opt to hold my tongue on this... particular instance of Founding Father hypocrisy. To his credit, he did eventually free his slaves in his will. However, I think we can all agree that it would be really cool if he did more.

So... that's what this scenario is about. In this scenario, Washington frees his slaves while he is in office and begins openly speaking out against slavery. He doesn't do any executive orders about it, but he comes out as an opponent of the institution while still in office.

What happens?
 
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Southern states might are even more worried about their property and perhaps even try secede earlier and probably suceed on that. Washington speaking against slavery just would boost abolotionists.

Perhaps even Thomas Jefferson, another one who was pretty hypocrise with slavery, would decide to free his slaves.
 
Southern states might are even more worried about their property and perhaps even try secede earlier and probably suceed on that. Washington speaking against slavery just would boost abolotionists.

Perhaps even Thomas Jefferson, another one who was pretty hypocrise with slavery, would decide to free his slaves.
...would it cause an earlier civil war though?

Most people thought slavery was on its way out until the invention of the Cotton Gin in the 1830s...
 

Concerned Brazilian

Gone Fishin'
The Slave Power would revolt and form an earlier CSA. Due to the United States barely existing yet, they would probably be successful and both countries would part ways.
 
The Slave Power would revolt and form an earlier CSA. Due to the United States barely existing yet, they would probably be successful and both countries would part ways.

There probably would be earlier southern revolt but hardly yet during Washington's term. But since abolotionism probably would be now stronger moral basis Southern states might try secession some decades earlier.
 
Perhaps if New York abolishes slavery (Aaron Burr introduced a bill to this effect in the 1780s) earlier, and Washington, while living in New York City, gets into the spirit of things, it can happen. I do not think it would necessarily trigger an early secession--there were many planters who freed their slaves in their wills at the time, and Washington would only be slightly more avant-garde than them. In the first two decades after the revolution, such ideals were more widely held. Only later did the American South develop the economic and cultural monomania toward slavery that would characterize them in the 1850s-1860s.

But I wonder...if a deep southern state like South Carolina or Georgia did try to pull secession during Washington's presidency, in place of the Whiskey Rebellion, how would he handle that?
 

Concerned Brazilian

Gone Fishin'
There probably would be earlier southern revolt but hardly yet during Washington's term. But since abolotionism probably would be now stronger moral basis Southern states might try secession some decades earlier.
This. The election of a president more ambivalent towards slavery (in let's say, 1824) could be the casus belli like in OTL.
 
But I wonder...if a deep southern state like South Carolina or Georgia did try to pull secession during Washington's presidency, in place of the Whiskey Rebellion, how would he handle that?
This is an interesting possibility. I would speculate it gets handled the same way as the Whiskey Rebellion, though I imagine it may get closer to going heated. If it does though, I can't see it being successful, unless it turns into an early Civil War, which I personally find very unlikely.
 
This is an interesting possibility. I would speculate it gets handled the same way as the Whiskey Rebellion, though I imagine it may get closer to going heated. If it does though, I can't see it being successful, unless it turns into an early Civil War, which I personally find very unlikely.
The question I have is, would Washington be as dedicated to preserving the Union as Lincoln (or even Andrew Jackson, given his rage against nullification) was?

Or would he just let them go if they went through the legal niceties of secession?

As a practical matter, he kind of has to put his foot down or the whole American project is screwed out of the gate. But...well, how do you go arguing against a war of independence when you just led a war of independence?

And in a time when New England and New York were also quite regularly talking about going their own way, would the northern states bother backing him up?
 
The question I have is, would Washington be as dedicated to preserving the Union as Lincoln (or even Andrew Jackson, given his rage against nullification) was?

Or would he just let them go if they went through the legal niceties of secession?

As a practical matter, he kind of has to put his foot down or the whole American project is screwed out of the gate. But...well, how do you go arguing against a war of independence when you just led a war of independence?
I can't say for certain, my knowledge of American history at this time is a little fuzzy, it's been a while since I've done some digging on the subject, but I seriously doubt he would just let them go. I think he would be just as inclined to preserving the Union as Lincoln and Jackson, maybe even more so, considering the amount of effort he had put into creating it. And like you said, if he doesn't put his foot down and put an end to it, the American project is absolutely screwed, it's not so much that he wouldn't want them leaving as much as he can't let them leave.
Although, not sure exactly how you go about justifying said war should it get to that point.
And in a time when New England and New York were also quite regularly talking about going their own way, would the northern states bother backing him up?
At first, it would definitely be difficult to get them to go along with it, but I think if anyone would be capable of getting the country to back him up, it would be Washington. Though I would be shocked if it comes to anything where there support would be absolutely essential (the only case I can think of would be a civil war, which I doubt)
 
Okay, so as an American, I have always considered our country's greatest foundational hypocrisy to be slavery. I consider the Native American Genocide to be the greater crime, but slavery is our greatest hypocrisy.

Now, I don't want to go into a rant about it, but I don't really feel like I have to. Not only does it speak for itself, this opinion was also held by many of the Founding Fathers - even those that owned slaves - held similar views about the matter.

One of those people was George Washington. For years before his presidency, he privately talked about his distaste for the institution of slavery and desire to eventually see it end. He refused to speak out publicly about this because he worried that if he freed his slaves it would spell financial ruin for him.

Now, I will opt to hold my tongue on this... particular instance of Founding Father hypocrisy. To his credit, he did eventually free his slaves in his will. However, I think we can all agree that it would be really cool if he did more.

So... that's what this scenario is about. In this scenario, Washington frees his slaves while he is in office and begins openly speaking out against slavery. He doesn't do any executive orders about it, but he comes out as an opponent of the institution while still in office.

What happens?
Yet he still owned slaves and never enmacipated it, I think Washington could see a federal level that slavery would be a clusterfuck yet he never did anything against it otl
 
To be honest thought, every other country abolished slavery without a civil war or a secession of the slaveholding parts, so it definitely should be doable for the USA to do so. If Russia can keep serfdom running up till 1861 with 40% of its population as slaves and end it without an instance of political violence, then surely, there must be a path for the USA can get out of slavery without major political violence.
 
I would propose what I see as a possible (if unlikely scenario). At the end of his presidency, Washington has concluded that slavery is a great moral evil. Perhaps his "son" the Marquis de Lafayette writes a few more letters to him on this topic. In 1796 most of the founding fathers did believe slavery would slowly wither away in the South as it was in the North. Therefore as part of his farewell address, Washington writes that it is his fervent hope the evil of slavery will be will be on the road to extinction from the country within his lifetime or shortly after his death. In other words, he is suggesting the same type of gradual abolition as occurred in NY and PA and was effectively complete by the 1820s-1830. Washington's statement provides support for attempts in KY to abolish slavery in 1799 (there was a failed attempt IOTL). Washington's surprisingly early death provides impetus to Virgina to adopt gradual abolition as a tribute to Washington. This in turn causes Maryland and Delaware to also adopt gradual abolition. In further tribute to Washington Congress passes a law that slavery shall be excluded from all territories as it had been from the Northwest Territory. This ensures that Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama come in as non-slave states. Assuming no (relevant) butterflies (e.g. the Louisiana purchase still happens; the war of 1812 goes about like IOTL etc) there will be 25-30 free states and 3-4 slave states. At this point either these states abolish slavery on their own or there is a constitutional amendment to abolish it.
 
From what I've heard about the matter, if Washington had publicly denounced slavery and somebody tried to counter-point him on the grounds of his being a slave owner, he might've made an attempt to set an example but was frustrated by his wife's refusal to do without slaves.
 
From what I've heard about the matter, if Washington had publicly denounced slavery and somebody tried to counter-point him on the grounds of his being a slave owner, he might've made an attempt to set an example but was frustrated by his wife's refusal to do without slaves.
I would be interested in seeing your source. In his will George Washington stated that all of his slaves should be free upon Martha's death. She freed all of these slaves about year after his death (perhaps freeing this provision gave the slaves an incentive to kill her). https://www.mountvernon.org/george-...aving been an enslaver,owned in his 1799 will.
 
I would be interested in seeing your source. In his will George Washington stated that all of his slaves should be free upon Martha's death. She freed all of these slaves about year after his death (perhaps freeing this provision gave the slaves an incentive to kill her). https://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/slavery/ten-facts-about-washington-slavery/#:~:text=Despite having been an enslaver,owned in his 1799 will.
Huh, it seems the exact opposite it stipulated in most sources, but I could've sworn I heard a US history teacher affirm that she was against the manumission.
 
...would it cause an earlier civil war though?

Most people thought slavery was on its way out until the invention of the Cotton Gin in the 1830s...
This is something that I'd highlight (but maybe not for the entirety of the South) -- Washington's hypothetical public denunciation of slavery might sway enough people in his home state, at the very least, to see Virginia come out in favor of some gradual manumission program, maybe followed by North Carolina.

Thing is, a lot of the Deep South really put all their eggs in the agriculture-powered-by-slavery basket. As the second sons of the original colonists headed west, they set up plantations across the new lands that they found (indeed, the Cherokee and other indigenous nations of this area were doing pretty similar things, slavery-wise) -- how fast would they have moved, how many new states would they have established? By the time that slavery gets to be an issue of national conscience, what does the balance look like?
 
This is an interesting scenario to consider. Washington's presidency falls in a very particular window of time in which slavery was relatively fragile. Three important things have yet to happen:

-Much of the Deep South is uncolonized, still in the hands of Native Americans. While those states would go on to form the backbone of Slave Power in the decades to follow, in Washington's day it was the Upper South, a much less ideologically entrenched region, that maintained the institution.
-The bloody crescendo of the Haitian Revolution has yet to be reached. The massacre of the French population there would permanently instill fear in the slaveholding class of the United States, an example of what a black population not held in bondage might do.
-Plantation agriculture wasn't as lucrative as it would later become following the invention of the cotton gin. Additionally, I've read that the soil conditions in Virginia and South Carolina were deteriorating around this time frame, which created an incentive to move plantation agriculture, and the slaves that relied on, farther west.

Perhaps had Washington made some persuasive argument against slavery, or at least in favor of its gradual abolition, you might see some acceleration of the process in New York and New Jersey and conceivably states like Virginia that flirted with the idea might actually begin the process. It'd only take one of two more states to tip the balance and make slavery politically untenable at a federal level.
 
One factor that needs to be considered in any 'end slavery' discussion in the US is that the slave trade in general represented about 1/3 of the 'triangle trade' for US merchants at this time. While European powers already had trading posts in Africa, the US (until Liberia that is) did not. The trade triangle was seen as 'sound business' at the time so... How would ending the slave trade in the US impact American trade and economy? Would it inspire Transatlantic colonial ambitions in a manner similar to how the Missouri Compromise inspired slave-state inspired actions in Latin America OTL? Would it promote faster industrialization in the South? On an uglier note, would 'slaves' simply be replaced by debtors prison forced labor, indentured servitude for immigrants, or 'domestication' laws that turn Native Americans into slaves instead? Also would changing the South's traditionally agricultural focus OTL disrupt technological inventions derived from the needs of the time (Cotton Gin for example) There's a lot to work with here. Interesting how changing the right mind, at the right time, can make a world of difference.
 
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