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George Washington: On the Wrong Side of the Slavery Issue?

  • William B. Allen

Posted on April 07, 2004

George Washington's legacy has endured "like a majestic oak in the middle of an orchard of cherry trees," says Dr. William B. Allen, professor of political science at Michigan State University. But questions have arisen about Washington's ethical consistency when it comes to slavery.

Grand Valley State University's Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies is bringing Allen to Grand Rapids to discuss the controversies surrounding our 1st president.

"George Washington: On the Wrong Side of the Slavery Issue?" featuring William B. Allen will be held Thursday, April 15 at 8 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Museum Auditorium in Grand Rapids.

"We Americans have always had to grapple with the fact that slavery occurred on our shores and the fact that many of our founding fathers were slave owners," said Gleaves Whitney, director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. "William B. Allen understands the 18th-century world and knows how tricky it is to judge the past by the standards of the present."

Allen's talk takes place amid much debate surrounding George Washington and our nation's other founders, particularly when it comes to the existence of slavery.

"The debate goes to the heart of the American experience. Take a famous leader like George Washington, add extremely combustible material - slavery - and fairly or unfairly you have a potential explosion of the way Americans think about the father of our country," said Whitney.

Few scholars have written more insightfully about Washington than Allen. He was the editor of a book, "George Washington: A Collection," and contributing writer to "Patriot Sage: George Washington and the American Political Tradition."

Allen is the former dean of James Madison College at Michigan State University and has served as a member of the National Council for the Humanities and as a member and chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He has written or edited 12 books.

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