You Won’t Believe How Many Presidents Owned Slaves at the White House

The White House is full of interesting secrets: Weird pets, hidden rooms, and strict decorating rules. More widely known is the White House’s unsavory history, including being built by slaves. Yes, you read that correctly. Slaves built the most famous home in the United States, but that’s not the most shocking part. You’ll never believe how many American presidents owned slaves at the White House.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

One of the best known slave owning presidents. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Years in office: 1801-09

Our third president was one of the smartest leaders we’ve ever had, but his slave ownership doesn’t look too bright when viewed through the lens of history. Though Jefferson eventually wanted to free all slaves, he had hundreds of slaves at the White House during his terms.

Next: This president didn’t have children, but he did own slaves.

James Madison

James Madison

One of his slaves wrote a memoir. | GeorgiosArt/iStock/Getty Images

Years in office: 1809-17

Aside from the War of 1812 and Francis Scott Key writing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ Madison’s time in office was largely uneventful. Yet there was another notable piece of side history. Paul Jennings, one of Madison’s many slaves at the White House, wrote a detailed memoir about his time in Washington, D.C.

Next: A presidential paradox

James Monroe

James Monroe portrait

He owned slaves, but outlawed slavery. | The White House Historical Association

Years in office: 1817-25

James Monroe is something of a presidential paradox. The fifth president was a slave owner from Virginia and had slaves at the White House. Yet he outlawed slavery in the northern states in 1820, which was the same year he won his second term.

Next: As controversial as our current president?

Andrew Jackson

7th President Andrew Jackson

Slaves built his estate. | Wikimedia Commons

Years in office: 1829-37

Are you astounded at all the family members and sycophants working for the Trump administration? If so, then blame Andrew Jackson. The seventh president handed out thousands of government jobs to his friends, but that’s not the only reason he’s one of the most controversial presidents ever. Slaves built his Hermitage estate in Tennessee, and he had hundreds of slaves at the White House while in office.

Next: The most pro-slavery president on the list

John Tyler

John Tyler portrait

He defended slavery. | The White House Historical Association

Years in office: 1841-45

John Tyler owned slaves throughout his life, and he loved slavery more than any other president on this list. He defended slavery, opposed the anti-slavery measures of James Monroe’s presidency, and appointed pro-slavery John C. Calhoun as his Secretary of State, according to Presidential History Geeks. So yes, there were plenty of slaves at the White House during his term.

Next: His presidential salary helped him buy more slaves.

James K. Polk

James Polk portrait

James Polk owned slaves his whole life. | The White House Historical Association

Years in office: 1845-49

As the Civil War got closer, slavery was an ever more political topic. Abolitionists were not fans of Polk because he was a big fan of slavery. He owned slaves his whole life, and Presidential History Geeks write he purchased more when became president.

Next: The president who vowed to fights secessionists.

Zachary Taylor

President Zachary Taylor

He wasn’t a big defender. | National Archive/Getty Images

Years in office: 1849-50

During his brief stint in office, Zachary Taylor relied on slaves at the White House to help keep the place running. Despite being a slave owner, he wasn’t a big slavery defender and he vowed to start a war with southern secessionists over his slavery policies.

Next: A founding father who was torn on the subject of slavery.

The other presidents who owned slaves

The men we just discussed had slaves at the White House, but they weren’t the only slave-owning presidents.

George Washington

George-Washington

He freed all his slaves when he died. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Years in office: 1789-97

There is just one reason why our first president didn’t have slaves at the White House — the White House wasn’t built yet. He owned slaves for decades, but he was torn on the practice and freed all his slaves when he died.

Next: He owned one slave in his life.

Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren

He owned one slave during his lifetime. | National Archives/Getty Images

Years in office: 1837-41

Van Buren didn’t have any slaves at the White House, but he owned one slave in his life. However, he was opposed to slavery despite being vice president for Andrew Jackson, who favored the practice.

Next: A slavery lover who didn’t have slaves at the White House

William Henry Harrison

William H Harrison

He died before he got the chance. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Years in office: 1841

slave owner and slavery lover, William Henry Harrison didn’t have any slaves at the White  House. He barely had a chance to move in. He was inaugurated on March 4, 1841, and died a month later.

Next: The man who didn’t do freed slaves many favors.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, seventeenth President of the United States

He let the South get away with a lot. | National Archive/Newsmakers

Years in office: 1865-69

Though he was a slave owner Andrew Johnson didn’t have any slaves at the White House, and he definitely didn’t do much to help freed slaves. He became president after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, but he didn’t have the same humanitarian outlook. Wanting to quickly rebuild the nation after the Civil War, his lenient Reconstructionist policies let the southern states oppress the newly freed slaves.

Next: A shocking entry on the list.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

He freed his slave before the war started. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Years in office: 1869-77

It’s shocking seeing Grant on a list of presidential slave owners considering he was a Union general during the Civil War. He controlled slaves owned by his wife Julia, but Grant only owned one slave, whom he freed in 1859 before the Civil War started.

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