George Washington was a slave owner, a fact which he described as his "only unavoidable subject of regret." But regret it he did, and in his will Washington made the startling decision to set his slaves free.
Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, was not a particularly benign master and in fact fathered children by one of his slaves.
Author Henry Wiencek, who has written extensively about both men,examines the different views of these two Founding Fathers on the "peculiar institution" of slavery during a discussion of his book An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America on Wednesday, February 20, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
Wiencek's presentation kicks off the 2013 Hail to the Chiefs Series on the American Presidency co-presented by the Kansas City Public Library and the Truman Library Institute and co-sponsored by KCUR's Up to Date.
Washington was born and raised among blacks and mixed-race people; he and his wife Martha had blood ties to the slave community. Yet as a young man he bought and sold slaves without scruple, even raffled off slave children to collect debts.
Then, on the Revolutionary battlefields where he commanded both black and white troops, Washington's attitudes began to change. He and the other framers enshrined slavery in the Constitution but, Wiencek shows, even before he became president Washington had begun to doubt the system that was the source of his wealth.
Unlike Jefferson, Washington never said that African Americans were inferior or even different from whites. Unlike Jefferson, he believed that black people had a right to live in the United States as free people.
Wiencek will explore why Jefferson's racial policies won out and ask: How is it that we followed the wrong Founder?
Wiencek is the author of several books including Master Of The Mountain:Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves, which was the subject of his Hail to the Chiefs presentation in October 2012.
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event.RSVP at kclibrary.org
or call 816.701.3407.