Michelle Obama recently gave a graduation address in which she said.

every single day ... I wake up in a house that was built by slaves

While slave labor was used in building the white house, that house was burned by the British during the war of 1812. I'm curious whether the subsequent reconstruction involved slave labor.

As the original structure was built at least in part by slave labor, the First Lady's comments seem appropriate regardless of the answer. I'm simply curious whether the current White House in which she wakes up every morning was actually built by slaves.

  • For the original construction see whitehousehistory.org/questions/… Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 15:28
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    For a more in-depth report, with further references: politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/jan/19/… Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 15:30
  • @PeterDiehr That link was in the original question.
    – Joseph
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 1:02
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    then you will have noticed that slave labor was recorded on the US Capitol thru 1826. The references will point you to the sources used, which should confirm slave labor was used on the reconstruction of the White House, which was completed prior to 1826. Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 12:51
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    The source said the Capitol was under construction from 1793 to 1826 during a time when slave labor was common in all the building trades. However, the article also states, "slaves were only part of the work force, but they were involved with almost every aspect of construction for at least the first several years." I'm asking about the last several years.
    – Joseph
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 14:19

2 Answers 2


The British intentionally set fire to the Whitehouse in 1814; it was seriously damaged, but not destroyed.

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Whitehouse in 1814 after the fire.

The Burning of Washington describes the background, the events, and the aftermath in detail. The restoration took several years. This book may provide the details you are looking for; but based on the records for other projects undertaken previous and subsequent to the restoration of the Whitehouse, slave labor was almost certainly applied to this project as well.

After all, many slaves were skilled workmen, whose services were sold by their owners.


There is a serious flaw in the logic. Most people have no idea that Eisenhower moved out of the White House to completely rebuild the structure ADDING a subbasement and removing nearly all (if not all) the original foundation. They saved the front facade and most of the two side facades and zero of the back of the structure. So, technically, she wakes up in a house that saved most of three facades that was partly constructed by slaves. We know the original was partly constructed by slaves because of Abigail Adams own diary containing the admonishment that she would not live a house constructed by the sweat of those enslaved. I don't remember complete accuracy, but she may never have slept in the original structure at all -- partly because of this fact. But the structure in which Ms Obama awakes has zero slave content with the partial exception of most of three facades.

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    A correction to the last statement. It was Harry Truman who moved out of and then completely gutted the interior of the White House down to the original walls. He moved into the Blair House across the street during this time.
    – user19634
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 21:59
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    ...in other words, yes, slaves worked on building some of it.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 6:28
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    You're alluding to the Ship of Theseus paradox which doesn't have a definitive resolution. But that's not what OP is asking anyway, which is whether the house rebuilt after 1814 involved slave labour. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 1:23

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