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Background: The Slavery Issue in Washington


Garry Wills writes in "Seat of Bondage" (American Heritage, November/December, 2003) that "as the debate over slavery deepened and sharpened in the early 1830s, it increasingly focused on the District of Columbia." Small wonder, Wills argues, because the nation's capital was deliberately established in slave territory through the immense influence of southern slaveholders, among them Jefferson, Madison, and George Washington.

As the the national division over slavery grew, James Talmadge, a congressman, was moved to observe in that "he and his colleagues could see from the windows of their building 'a trafficer in human flesh' moving among chained men and some women and children 'under the guidance of the driver's whip'."

Ad for slave dealer James Birch, eventually a member of Missouri's
Supreme Court, from the Washington Globe, February 23, 1837


Ad from the Globe courtesy of Kevin Dier-Zimmel.