Slavery in the Constitutional Convention
Slavery is an inevitable part of the long history of the United States. It has been existing for thousands of years in different cultures across the globe. By the time of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, slavery was a harsh reality because the census revealed that there were slaves in every state except in Massachusetts and some districts of Vermont and Maine. In the 1780s, there was no relevant move to abolish slavery in the United States because in the nation??™s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, slavery was not even mentioned.
However, there were certainly opponents of slavery on a philosophical level. But the movement to abolish slavery only came up in 1830s when the American Anti-Slavery Society was established by William Lloyd Garrison. It should also be noted that even before the Constitutional Convention of 1787, there were many who expressed their resentment on slavery like John Jay who was a supporter of the Constitution and said, ???It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honor of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.”
The second major argument in the Constitutional Convention came to an end with a historic compromise. Even if the word slave did not actively appear in any part of the United States Constitution, it surely played a critical role during the Convention. Participants from the South raised the point that any attempt to ban slavery will provoke the Southern states to leave the convention because slavery is the backbone of the primary industry of the South which is agriculture. Even if slaves were not cheap, it was way cheaper than to hire another person to do the same job. ???The cultivation of rice, cotton, and tobacco required slaves to work the fields from dawn to dusk. If the nation did not guarantee the continuation of slavery to the South, it was questioned whether they would form their own nation.??? Although many delegates innately disapprove slavery in their own personal beliefs, the convention avoided the issue of slavery in its deliberations.
Sadly, slavery is not an issue that should be set aside and ignored. It surely did affect several proposals in the system of government that the delegates attempted to withheld and forge. The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, believed and wrote that “All men are created equal. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him.”
Regardless of the freedoms demanded in the Declaration and the freedoms reserved in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, slavery was not only accepted in the Constitution, but it was codified. The Constitution has often been called a ???living tribute to the art of compromise.??? Slavery was evident in the Constitution in a few parts. The first can be seen in the Enumeration Clause where representatives are divided. Every state is awarded a specific number of representatives according to its population, and in that population, slaves were called “other persons,” and were counted only as three-fifths of a whole person. This compromise was debated because the Northerners wanted slaves to be uncounted just as horses and mules were uncounted. Southerners, on the other hand, wanted the slaves to be counted as a whole person because of the high percentage of slaves to the total population in their states. The three-fifths number was a ratio used by the Congress in contemporary legislation and was agreed upon with little debate.
Constitutional Topic: Slavery. U.S. Constitution Online. 2007. 28 June 2009.
Zaide, Sonia. World History Third Edition. Manila: All Nations Publishing, 1994.?