During Michelle Obama’s speech on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, the first lady offered a powerful, personal reminder of America’s dark racial history and just how far the country has come.
“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said. “And I watch my daughters two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
Fox News host and resident historian Bill O’Reilly decided to fact-check that line for viewers of his primetime show on Tuesday night.
“Michelle Obama referenced slaves building the White House in referring to the evolution of America in a positive way. It was a positive comment,” O’Reilly said. “Slaves did participate in the construction of the White House. Records show about 400 payments made to slave masters between 1795 and 1801. In addition, free blacks, whites, and immigrants also worked on the massive building. There were no illegal immigrants at that time. If you could make it here, you could stay here.”
He didn’t stop there.
“Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government,” O’Reilly said, noting that the White House stopped hiring slave labor in 1802 but “did not forbid subcontractors” from using them.
“So Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House,” O’Reilly concluded. “But there were others working as well.”