Which US Congress Members Owned Enslaved People? New Database Lists 1,700 Elected Officials as Enslavers

Engraving of the United States Senate chamber in Washington, District of Columbia, from the book "The political history of the United States" by James Penny Boyd, 1888.
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The Washington Post has compiled the first database of members of Congress who enslaved Black people by examining thousands of pages of census records and historical documents.

A stunning report has revealed that more than 1,700 people who served in the U.S. Congress in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries enslaved Black people at some point in their lives, according to an exclusive report by The Washington Post.

“For the first seven decades of its existence, Congress returned again and again to one acrimonious topic: slavery,” The Washington Post wrote in their report. “Many of the lawmakers arguing in Washington were participants in the brutal institution at home.”

In what is the first comprehensive database of slaveholding members of congress, lawmakers from more than 60 political parties were identified as enslavers by reviewing thousands of census and historical records. The database identifies many members of Congress who owned enslaved persons and examines how slaveholding influenced early America. It also showed that some lawmakers revered throughout history as being progressive thinkers actually owned enslaved Black people.

It also revealed the most common political affiliation among enslavers was the Democratic Party, as more than 600 Democrats in Congress were slaveholders.

Democratic Sen. Edward Lloyd V of Maryland enslaved 468 people in 1832, on the same estate abolitionist Frederick Douglass was enslaved as a child, according to the database. Democratic Sen. Rufus King, who was reportedly an anti-slavery activist in the country’s early years, also owned an enslaved Black person. And Democrat Rebecca Latimer Felton, a suffragist and white supremacist who was the first woman ever to serve in the Senate, was an enslaver.

The Post reported that enslavers elected to Congress represented 37 states. These elected officials represented the South, every state in New England, much of the Midwest, and many Western states.

The Post's database comes as activists call for reparations for Black Americans today, saying “the institution of slavery has led to inequality that persists to this day,” People reported

Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat, has co-sponsored a bill that would establish a 15-member Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.

"It is important to right the wrongs of our nation's most discriminatory policies that halted the upward mobility of African American communities for generations," Booker said. "Our nation has not yet fully acknowledged and grappled with the painful legacy of slavery, white supremacy, and systemic racism that tainted this country's founding and continues to persist in deep racial disparities and inequalities today." 

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