PDF Slaverys Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification

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The approval of nine states was needed to put the new government into operation, but as a practical matter the large states of Virginia and New York were crucial if the new scheme were to have any hope of success. However, such was not necessarily the case during and The public appears to have been about evenly split at the beginning of the ratification debate, and such notable figures as Samuel Adams , Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry were vocal opponents. The contest in New York appeared to be dominated by the Anti-Federalist forces under George Clinton that were opposed to ratification of the Constitution.

The pro-ratification forces, the Federalists , were led by Alexander Hamilton. In a masterful display of political skill, Hamilton overcame a two-to-one advantage by the Anti-Federalists. The final vote was for approval in the New York convention. During the debate in New York, Hamilton joined with James Madison and John Jay in writing The Federalist , a series of essays that analyzed the Constitution and countered the arguments against it.

The contest was also spirited in Virginia, where the anti-Federalist side was taken up by Patrick Henry and the Federalist side by James Madison, the Father of the Constitution. Ratification was achieved in Virginia only after it was decided to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution. Perhaps nothing was more helpful to the Federalist cause than the support of the two most prominent Americans, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. In December , Delaware became the first state to ratify the document. On June 21, , New Hampshire ratified the constitution, giving it the theoretically sufficient endorsement of nine states, but New York and Virginia had yet to agree.

Without them, the federal government couldn't function. Once three-fifths existed as the rule of apportionment, any power given to the House of Representatives would work to the relative benefit of slaveholders and the states that had more slaves. Some considered these the most important powers of all. The first clause of Section 7 specifies that All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives, rather than in the Senate.

Raising revenue meant, in effect, taxes, and taxes had been the issue that catalyzed the Revolution itself. Putting the popular body in charge of raising money may have been more democratic, as far as citizens of the Republic were concerned. But it also meant that the three-fifths-of-the-slaves bonus would be felt in how money was raised, when it would be raised, and how it would be raised by the federal government. The three-fifths clause, in other words, gave slaveholders that much more power to regulate, or even eliminate, the three-fifths more taxes they would pay.

In the new American order, taxation with representation and slavery were joined at the hip. Clauses in the eighth section of Article I reinforced the power of the Congress as a whole to levy taxes and import and export duties, and to regulate Commerce between the states and with other nations.

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Since it was very well-known that most slaves in the United States grew staple crops which were marketed abroad, like tobacco and indigo, this meant that their owners would have the power to make sure that their particular economic interests would not be overridden by senators from states with fewer slaves. Another clause fed slaveholder power directly by allowing the Congress to mobilize the Militia, the state-based citizen armed forces, to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions. African slaves had not been the only insurrectionists in eighteenth-century America, but their rebellions and the threat of them had been important.

From now on any slave rebellions would be a federal matter rather than just a local or regional issue.

Slavery's Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification

The next part of the first article, still laying out congressional powers but now also specifying their limits, began with as explicit an acknowledgment of slavery as the Constitution contains. Most contemporaries would have understood that it referred primarily to slavery. The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress for twenty years, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

The only importation of persons that had been temporarily prohibited or taxed by the North American colonies had been the slave trade. The Congress had been denied a power that the colonies had been denied by the Crown—the power to forbid the slave trade—but then given it back after Another clause in Section 9 explicitly forbade any Tax or Duty. Combined with the revenue clause that gave power to tax imports to the House of Representatives, the ban on export taxes made it obvious that slavery would not be taxed out of existence in the United States any more than it would be strangled by a restriction of the trade in slaves, at that time a largely international trade.

The Constitution and Slavery - Constitutional Rights Foundation

On the other hand, things might be different after if the three-fifths bonus could be overcome in a congressional vote ending the slave trade. It is the provision, later much criticized, for electors who will meet to actually elect the president.

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Though the manner of choosing electors was left up to the states, their number is to be equal to the number of representatives and senators—a middle ground of sorts, but still one affected by the logic of three-fifths of the slaves, and more so when the number of representatives grew larger with population. The even shorter Article III, setting up the federal judiciary, did not really resolve the nature and powers of the federal courts, much less their role in adjudicating the differences that slavery would, in the future, bring. While the executive and judicial branches did develop into mutually regulating branches, no checks and balances between parts of the government were envisioned with regard to slavery.

In requiring each state to give Full Faith and Credit to the laws, official records, and courts of the other states, the Constitution made it necessary for states that did not hold slaves to recognize that other states did so legally. If a human being was property in Virginia, no Pennsylvania law could free her unless her master had taken up permanent residency in Pennsylvania. The full-faith-and-credit doctrine appears to have been formed with property and contracts and criminal proceedings like prosecutions for theft, rather than slavery, in mind.

And yet slaves were property, and fugitive runaway slaves were, by law, criminals who had stolen themselves. By making rules to protect property across state lines, as any federal government had to do, the framers could not help but regulate slavery. Perhaps this has something to do with why the very next clause addresses fugitives explicitly: No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

Still another clause offered the U. This new constitutional doctrine separated domestic threats from such foreign Invasion, but the legacy remained. States joining in a stronger union raised basic issues of security as well as property and power, issues that unavoidably raised the matter of slavery, which the Declaration had brought up only as an example of British tyranny. Debates over representation and taxation—the basic constitutional issues that led to the American Revolution—also led directly back to the problem of slavery. Electing a president and creating mechanisms for security led to slavery.


The relationships of the states and their laws to each other implied slavery. All this suggests a proslavery constitution, in intention and effect. And yet we have that curious silence to explain: the refusal to mention the word. There is also the twenty-year limit to the ban on anti-slave-trade legislation. If the federal constitution was fashioned by the slaveholders, for the slaveholders, why is it there? Why not ban federal interference with slavery forever?

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Even the three-fifths-of-the-slaves clause is open to question as a proslavery device. Sixty percent is not one hundred percent, after all. What do these contradictions, ambiguities, and silences mean?

Constitutional Compromises: Crash Course Government and Politics #5

This book is a work of narrative history. As in all works of narrative history, the interpretation builds on the order of significant events. Narrative history, like every other mode of discussing reality, must rely on definitions of real-life phenomena, definitions that generalize and even theorize the nature of dynamic institutions like slavery and American constitutions. The current scholarly consensus on the nature of the grand federal discussion of —88 stresses the exercise of creative statecraft by well-informed political thinkers like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.

In the crucible of debate, they advanced practical, constitutional solutions to problems in republican government—government by representatives of the people.

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  • According to the historians Bernard Bailyn and Gordon S. Wood, the Constitution was a fulfillment of the American Revolution because the Revolution was itself most centrally a rebellion in favor of better, more representative government—a backlash by provincial Britons angry about threats to their traditional liberties.

    The Constitution culminated a realistic turn, away from the idealism, crowd actions, popular committees, and legislative activism of the Revolutionary years, toward more practical ways of ensuring the survival of the Republic on the national as well as state and local levels—such as constitution making itself. Ideology gave way to reason. The American Revolution did not explode out of unrealistic expectations, spiraling radicalism, or counterrevolution.

    The Constitution, which Bailyn calls the ideological fulfillment of the American Revolution, proves that the Revolution was reasonable, its violence defensible, its limits necessary. The republican or ideological school tends to see slavery as at most a side issue—a distraction that nearly derailed the Constitution. This is true even though the same historians are sometimes willing to discuss the issue of slavery in other contexts.