George Washington, in a letter to William Morris (April 12, 1786)
In this letter, written nearly five years after the surrender of the British at Yorktown in October 1781, Washington wrote to William Morris, his friend and wealthy financier of the Revolution, about the problems caused by an Abolition society in the city of Philadelphia.
Washington objected to the society attempting to free the enslaved people brought to the city. He expressed his belief that there should be a plan to abolish slavery, but that taking “property” –meaning enslaved people– from their owners was “oppression.”
“I hope it will not be conceived from these observations, that it is my wish to hold the unhappy people who are the subject of this letter, in slavery. I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it—but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, & that is by Legislative authority: and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting.
But when slaves who are happy & content to remain with their present masters, are tampered with & seduced to leave them; when masters are taken at unawar[e]s by these practices; when a conduct of this sort begets discontent on one side and resentment on the other, & when it happens to fall on a man whose purse will not measure with that of the Society, & he looses his property for want of means to defend it—it is oppression in the latter case, & not humanity in any; because it introduces more evils than it can cure.”
For more on Washington at Yorktown, read my post “What did Washington get when the British surrendered at Yorktown?