Which President Bought Slaves in Order to Free Them?

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The Pennsylvania Historical Museum and Commission reports that President James Buchanan, who served as the 15th U.S. president beginning in 1856, would personally purchase slaves in order to free them. As a politician, however, Buchanan believed that the practice of enslaving human beings was protected by the Constitution, and he looked down on some actions that abolitionists took. He adhered to the same philosophy as Thomas Jefferson, which was that slavery would naturally come to an end without any sort of intervention.

While James Buchanan is known as being the president who personally bought and freed slaves, George Washington's will stipulated that his slaves should be freed upon the death of his wife, Martha Washington. However, Mrs. Washington ordered that her husband's slaves be freed before her death, leading to a quicker escape from servitude for the Washington family's slaves. Because his will stipulated that the slaves be freed, Washington is also sometimes credited as a president who was personally responsible for freeing slaves he had purchased. Like Buchanan, Washington was personally opposed to slavery but did not take steps to outlaw or end the practice in his capacity as president of the United States.