A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Presidents Who Owned Slaves


Q: Who was the last U.S. president to own slaves?

A: Zachary Taylor owned slaves while in office. U.S. Grant owned a slave he freed in 1859, long before becoming president.

FULL QUESTION

Perhaps you can help me. I have inquired all over to no avail, but: Which president of the United States of America was the last one to own slaves?

FULL ANSWER

A list of presidents who owned slaves, both while in office or at other times during their lives, has been compiled by Robert Lopresti, a librarian at Western Washington University. Based on his well-documented research, he says 12 of our presidents owned slaves and eight of them owned slaves while serving as president.

Zachary Taylor was the last sitting president to own slaves. Taylor owned 100 slaves and a Mississippi plantation, but he also opposed the extension of slavery to new territories. In 1850 the former Army general told a group of angry Southerners that if they seceded he would personally lead the Army and hang anyone taken in rebellion against the Union. Taylor died unexpectedly later that year.

The last president who ever owned slaves was, ironically, Ulysses S. Grant, elected in 1868 after he had commanded Union forces to victory over the Confederacy in the war that led to the abolition of slavery. Grant owned a slave named William Jones, whom he freed in 1859. Between 1854 and 1859 Grant worked and lived on an 850-acre farm in Missouri, near St. Louis, that was owned by his father-in-law. Grant’s wife, Julia, also owned slaves, and during Grant’s management of the farm he worked along with one of them, a man named Dan. The farm is now the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, part of the National Park Service.

Sources

Lopresti, Robert. “Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?” accessed 17 Dec. 2007.
White House Historical Association. “Zachary Taylor,” accessed 17 Dec. 2007.
Slavery at White Haven.” National Park Service Web site, accessed 17 Dec. 2007.