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Washington And Slavery

In Henry Wiencek's latest historical analysis, "An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America," the author tries to unravel the question as to why Washington was the only founding father to free his slaves.

Wiencek discusses the book on his Tuesday visit to The Early Show and he tells co-anchor Harry Smith, the founding founders all had a sense that slavery was wrong, but they also knew there were great profits to be made from the slave business.

He says, "The interesting thing I found in my research is that it wasn't so much the value of slaves as laborers that they were concerned about, but the value of slaves as people. They had turned slaves into money and so they could bequeath slaves to their children and sell slaves to pay off debts. It was almost like having a stock account. This was the appalling thing."

Wiencek, who wrote "The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White" (winner of the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award), says studying the founding fathers' relationship to slavery, though rarely attempted by scholars, is significant because Washington's conflict over race and slavery was a microcosm of the national struggle, which still exists.

He notes, "The interesting thing is when Washington died, 60 percent of his slaves were children or teenagers. He looked around him and he saw what the future meant."

The author's narrative is based on private papers, court records, Washington's archives and interviews.

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