In 1776, the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that “all men are created equal,” but that really wasn’t the case in early American history, even among the country’s most prominent statesmen. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, owning slaves was common among the men who served as U.S. president -- at least 12 presidents were slave owners at some point during their lifetimes. Eight of those men held slaves while serving in the presidency -- including Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson.
Living in the house that slaves built:
- Slave laborers helped build the White House, and all of the early presidents -- except for John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams -- were slave owners during their lives.
- Thomas Jefferson, who once called slavery an “assemblage of horrors,” owned about 175 slaves. Zachary Taylor, who served from 1849 to 1850, was the last president to own slaves while living in the White House.
- Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, during the U.S. Civil War, declaring that all slaves in Confederate states would henceforth be free.