Abstract

This article investigates how slavery tours on the former estates of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison negotiate memories of the presidents as historically revered figures and prominent slaveholders. I argue that these tours recirculate benevolent memories of the presidents that work to sanitize the sites’ slave history and venerate the founders’ legacy. My analysis demonstrates that these tours do not just work to recirculate artifacts and narratives that speak to the presidents’ lives, but they revive a republican culture of remembrance from the nineteenth century through which to justify presidential actions and beliefs. In short, I suggest that this rhetorical negotiation helps craft new narratives of historical U.S. slavery and the early presidents’ lives that appear both more credible and less disturbing.

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