The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

More than 1,700 Congressmen Owned Slaves

Jan 31, 2022

The Washington Post has created a database that lists members of Congress who owned slaves. It shows that more than 1,700 Congressmen (only one of them is a woman) owned slaves at some point in their lives.

This database is the first of its kind. It took long hours of painstaking work to put it together. The journalists who did the research investigated all of the 5,558 members of Congress born before 1840, meaning they were 21 or older before the Civil War. The researchers had to go through thousands of documents of all kinds, including handwritten birth certificates of slaves, newspaper ads placed by slaveowners looking for escaped slaves, or letters written home from Civil War battlefields. And the list is not conclusive—since the list’s first publication, for example, information provided by readers has added nearly three dozen names to the 1,715 that Washington Post researchers initially came up with.

This result should not be surprising. Until it was abolished, slavery was, directly and indirectly, the major source of the wealth owned by the richest families in this country. And not only have politicians elected to Congress, overwhelmingly, represented the interests of these wealthy families, often times these families have also sent some of their members into Congress and other governing bodies of the country.

And these same families have not stopped running the country after the Civil War either. To this day, the wealth created thanks to slavery continues to be the basis on which wealth in the U.S. rests, and multiplies. In fact, slavery remains the foundation of American capitalism.

The people who have ruled this country have had no interest in having this fact be publicly discussed. So, it’s also not surprising that, in this country, where very detailed statistics are kept in all kinds of areas of life—in sports, for example—no one had apparently published the kind of research that the Washington Post did.

But the descendants of former slaves did not need a database of slaveowners to know that wealth in this country was stolen, through violence, from those who created it—above all legally enslaved workers. And they also know that the theft—that is, the exploitation of the labor of Black people—did not stop with the abolition of slavery.