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The Constitution Was Never Pro-Slavery | National Review
The new Congress created by the Constitution was in a constant ferment from petitions “teasing and pestering them with something about slavery,” and one Georgia representative grumbled that “it was the fashion of the day to favor the liberty of slaves.” In its first three decades, Congress received proposals to tax slave imports, impose regulations (including prohibitions on the use of American ports or shipyards for equipping slave ships) on the slave trade, extend the Northwest Ordinance’s ban on slavery to the Mississippi territory, and impose gradual emancipation on the Louisiana territory (after its acquisition under Thomas Jefferson in 1803), as well as petitions to “undo the heavy burthens, and prepare the way for the oppressed to go free, that every yoke may be broken.” When truculent slaveowners tried to insist that “slaves are property . . . by the Constitution guaranteed,” John Quincy Adams just as truculently replied that “the Constitution does not recognize slavery — it contains no such word.” In fact, “a great circumlocution of words is used merely to avoid the term slaves.” Any argument that would make the Constitution a pro-slavery document has, on the evidence of the Framers’ generation, quite a boulder to roll up the hill.

To read the Constitution as pro-slavery, in the manner of Finkelman, Waldstreicher, and even Sanders, requires a suspension of disbelief that only playwrights and morticians could admire. Yes, the Constitution reduced slaves to the hated three-fifths; but that was to keep slaveholders from claiming them for five-fifths in determining representation, which would have increased the power of the slaveholding states. Yes, the Constitution permitted the slave trade to continue; but it also permitted Congress to shut it off, which it did in 1808. Yes, the Constitution banned export taxes, required “full faith and credit,” and limited “privileges and immunities” to citizens. But the debates over those provisions betrayed no inkling that the hidden subject was slavery. And the accusation that the militia clause was meant to suppress slave insurrections was actually only a speculation tossed off at one moment of energetic accusation by Gouverneur Morris, not a deliberately conceived strategy by scheming slaveholders.
constitution  History  NRO  Guelzo 
may 2019 by HispanicPundit

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