President’s Day was created to recognize the birthday of the first U.S. President George Washington on February 22. Since then, the country celebrates both Washington and President Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12.
While the holiday marks a three-day weekend for some, for Black Americans, is today really a day of veneration for our founding fathers?
As Time Magazine aptly states, “you can’t tell the story of 1776 without talking about race,” and this year, ESSENCE delves into that topic, taking a look at 7 ways in which the legacies our founding fathers were especially problematic.
Washington had once instructed a general to attack the Iroquois Indians, stating “lay waste all the settlements around…that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed…[do not] listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected.”
Some Native Americans who survived his attacks would go on to refer to Washington as “Town Destroyer.”
Abigail Adams, former First Lady and wife to President John Adams wrote to her husband about women’s rights, and he was not having it.
“In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors,” she wrote.
John mocked Abigail in his reply, “I cannot but laugh…We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems.” “If women demanded representation, he suggested, maybe the Revolution had “‘loosened the bands of government everywhere.’”
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” but during his lifetime is recorded as having owned up to 600 slaves.
To add insult to injury, Jefferson even raped his underaged slave Sally Hemings (“[f]emale slaves had no legal right to refuse unwanted sexual advances”).
Hemings bore several of his children, who Jefferson ultimately freed in his will. But Jefferson never granted Hemings her freedom.
During Fillmore’s presidency, he signed the Fugitive Slave Act into law, which required the federal government to assist in returning fugitive slaves who had found freedom in the north to their masters, which was “the beginning of a reign of terror to the colored population.”
Worse, even freed Blacks, were in danger being without any legal rights to plead their case, and many were captured and sent down South to a life of slavery.
Lincoln did not want to free slaves, and it was only a means to an end to preserve the union.
He wrote in a published letter, “if I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union.”
When Andrew Johnson was governor of Tennessee he successfully persuaded President Lincoln to allow the state of Tennessee to be exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation.
Johnson would go on to succeed Lincoln after his assassination, as the 17th President.
As president, Andrew Jackson (who we know as the man on the $20 bill) signed the Indian Removal Act into law, which initiated “the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans,” from their homelands onto a treacherous and deadly journey, in now known as the Trail of Tears.