Massachusetts’ patriot and lawyer John Adams… America’s second president never owned slaves, and he refused to use slave labor. During colonial times, Adams’ wife Abigail Adams was a vocal critic of slavery. Before forging a relationship with slaveholding patriots, Adams had occasionally represented slaves in lawsuits for their freedom. And although Adams held the practice of slavery in abhorrence… once the Continental Congress was constituted and functioning, he became resolved to maintain unity to achieve independence. Seemingly, Adams adopted patriot Benjamin Franklin’s unity perspective… “we must all hang together, or most certainly, we shall hang separately.”
Although slavery was abolished in Massachusetts about 1780… when it was forbidden by implication in the Declaration of Rights that Adams wrote into the Massachusetts Constitution. Yet, he scrupulously restrained from advancing his liberal views upon his slaveholding colleagues and founders of America. However, in the late 1780s, Adams did have occasion to share his thoughts on the slavery question during the U. S. constitutional debates… when he stated, “[F]acts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Adams’ warning to the framers of the Constitution seems remarkably prescient, as specific stubborn facts had lingered, casting a shadow and does militate against America’s claim that colonial patriots legally owned blacks based upon colonial statutes, laws, and related regulations before the Declaration of Independence and the status and legal condition of Revolutionary War-era blacks was static after the Definitive Treaty of Peace in 1783 was ratified by Congress in 1784.
The dispositive stubborn fact is America’s claim that “colonial statutes” made black Englishmen the property of America’s founding generation. This claim of ownership of Revolutionary War-era blacks was first made by America’s Supreme Commander General George Washington to England’s General Guy Carleton in May 1783, who claimed blacks who’d suffered the unlawful condition of colonial slavery belonged to America’s slaveholding Patriots based upon “colonial statutes.” This position became America’s policy. However, English common law did not authorize slavery within the American colonies.
Further, the other stubborn facts are; (1) England by way of colonial charter never conferred plenary authority upon colonial legislative assemblies to enact slave laws; (2) it violated the Royal Assent by Commission Act of 1541 and the Sedition Act of 1661 for the colonial assemblies to enact slaves statutes and laws since none had the King’s permission; (3) Parliament recalibrated colonial legislatures proscribed role and status by passing the Declaratory Act of 1766, declared parliamentary sovereignty and legislatively abolished colonial slave statutes, laws, resolutions and related proceedings in “all cases whatsoever.”; (4) the Somerset Decision affirmed parliamentary sovereignty… then judicially struck down colonial slave statutes, laws and related regulations by ruling slavery was not “allowed and approved by the laws of this Kingdom”; (5) the U. S. Congress formally adopted English law after declaring themselves an independent nation in July 1776; (6) the Phillipsburg Proclamation, an executive writ of mercy and liberty issued June 1779 that liberated and restored the subjecthood of all enslaved blacks enlisted in the King’s Army and (7) the U. S. signed the Definitive Treaty of Peace in 1783 agreeing to release all prisoners and thereby conceded British rule extended until ratification which occurred May 1784… entitling the release of 500,000 Revolutionary War-era blacks who were otherwise free under English law.
Patrick Henry then clamored “Magna Carta” eight years after the Declaratory Act of 1766 was jubilantly received in America, and Thomas Jefferson would write, “By one Act they [Parliament] have suspended powers of American legislature and by another have declared they may legislate for us themselves in all cases whatsoever. These two acts alone form a basis broad enough whereon to erect a despotism of unlimited extent”. However, Henry and Jefferson’s attacks upon the Declaratory Act of 1766 do not alter the fact that it was a law that legislatively avoided colonial slave statutes and related regulations in 1766 or change the judicial ruling in the Somerset v. Stewart case that slavery was not “allowed and approved by the laws of this Kingdom” and could only be lawful by way of “positive law” in 1772.