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of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and the first two abolition-acts of the State of New York, were gradual, in the sense that they prevent the enslavement of the unborn, while they leave unaffected the condition of those already in existence. The last act of New York, and the constitutional provisions of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and the sixth article of the ordinance of congress of 1787, for the government of the territory northwest of the Ohio, were immediate, in the sense that they communicated freedom to those previous to, and at the time of the passage of the acts held as slaves, though the freedom was not in all cases conferred instantaneously. *
The introduction of negro slavery into the country, was a part of the colonial policy of Great Britain. It was considered to be the dictate of sound policy on the part of the first congress, to leave the whole subject untouched. · Accordingly, when the original draught of the Declaration of Independence was presented to that body, a portion of the instrument which reprobated in strong language the conduct of the mother country in relation to the slave population, was entirely stricken out.t
When the articles of confederation between the several States were adopted, the topic of slavery was again carefully excluded. At the meeting of the convention to form the constitution of the United States, in 1787, a number of questions connected with the subject of slavery came up for discussion. The most important were the four following. The ratio of representation; the time when the slave trade should cease; the disposal of fugitive slaves; and the aid which should be furnished by the United States in case of insurrections, &c.
1. The ratio of representation. On the 11th of June, it was moved by Mr. King, of Massachusetts, and seconded by Mr. Rutlege, of South Carolina, “ That the right of suffrage in the first branch of the national legislature, ought not to be according to the rule established in the articles of confederation, but according to some equitable ratio of representation.” The motion was adopted by a vote of seven States in the affirmative. Thereupon it was moved by Mr. Wilson, of Pennsylvania, and seconded by Mr. Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, that after the words “equitable representation,” there should be added the following words, “In proportion to the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants of every age, sex, and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three-fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, except Indians, not paying taxes in each State.” On this question Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, voted in the assirmative, and New Jersey, and Delaware, in the negative. New Hampshire was not at that time represented. The principal opponents to this mode of representation, were Mr. Gerry of Massachusetts, and Mr. Martin of Maryland. Mr. Gerry said that “the idea of property ought not to be the rule of representation. Blacks are property, and are used at the southward as horses and cattle are at the northward ; and why should their representation be increased at the southward on account of the number of slaves, any more than the representation of the north should be increased on account of their horses or oxen.” Mr. Martin gives the following synopsis of the objections to the measure ; "that taking slaves into the computation, involved the absurdity of increasing the power of a State in making laws for freemen, in proportion as that State violated the rights of freedom ; that it might be proper to take slaves into consideration when taxes were to be apportioned, because it had a tendency to discourage slavery ; but to take them into account in giving representation, tended to encourage the slave trade, and to make it the interest of the States to continue that infamous traffic ; that slaves could not be taken into account as men or citizens, because they were not admitted to the rights of citizens in the States which continued or adopted slavery. If they were to be taken into account as property, it was asked, what peculiar circumstance should render this property, of all others the most odious in its nature, entitled to the high privilege of conferring consequence and power in the government to its possessors rather than any other property ?” To these various allegations it was replied, that slaves are considered by our laws in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property. In
* For a part of the preceding statements, we are indebted to the very able “ sketch of the laws of slavery,” by George M. Stroud, Esq. 1828.
† Mr. Jefferson supposed that this clause was stricken out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who wished to continue the importation of slaves, and that the northern carriers also felt a little tender under that censure.
ble thens protected ination of pri
being compelled to labor for a master, in being vendible, &c. the slaves fall under the legal denomination of property. On the other hand in being protected in life and limbs, and in being punishable themselves for all violence committed against others, the slaves are clearly regarded as members of civil society ; not as a part of the irrational creation, but as moral persons. Moreover, would it be impartial or consistent to reject the slaves from the list of inhabitants, when the shares of representation were to be calculated, and insert them on the lists when the tariff of contributions was to be calculated. Might not some surprise also be expressed, that those who reproach the southern States with the barbarous policy of considering as property, a part of their human brethren, should themselves contend, that the government to which all the States are to be parties, ought to consider this unfortunate race more completely in the unnatural light of property, than the very laws of which they complain? To the objection that slaves are not included in the estimate of representatives in any of the States possessing them, it was replied that it was a fundamental principle of the constitution, that as the aggregate number of representatives allotted to the several States is to be determined by federal rule, founded on the aggregate number of inhabitants, so the right of choosing this allotted number in each State, is to be exercised by such part of the inhabitants, as the State itself may designate. Again, government is instituted no less for the protection of the property, than of the persons of individuals. In the constitution, the rights of property are committed into the same hands with personal rights. Some attention ought to be paid to property in the choice of those hands.*
2. The time when the slave trade should cease. In order to understand this subject fully, it is necessary to make a preliminary remark. At the time the constitution was formed, it was the interest of the northern States, that there should be no restraints on their navigation, and that they should have full power, by a majority in congress, to make commercial regulations in favor of their own, and in restraint of the navigation of foreigners. The southern States wished to impose à restraint on the northern, by requiring that two thirds in congress, should be requisite to pass an act in regulation of
* See the 54th number of the Federalist, and the speech of the Hon. Luther Martin, of Maryland, in the 4th volume of Elliot's Journal. VOL. I.
commerce ; they were apprehensive that the restraints of a navigation law would discourage foreigners, and by compelling them to employ the shipping of the northern States, would probably enhance their freight. This being the case, they insisted strenuously on having this provision engrafted in the constitution ; and the northern States were as anxious in opposing it. On the other hand, the small States, seeing themselves embraced by the confederation upon equal terms, wislied to retain the advantages which they possessed, on equal terms. The large States, on the contrary, thought it not right that Rhode Island and Delaware should enjoy an equal suffrage with themselves. From these circumstances a delicate and difficult contest arose. It became necessary therefore to compromise, or the convention would have been dissolved, without effecting any thing.* On the 22d of August, this subject was committed to a committee of eleven, one member from each State-Langdon of New Hampshire, King of Massachusetts, Johnson of Connecticut, Livingston of New Jersey, Clymer of Pennsylvania, Dickinson of Delaware, Martin of Maryland, Madison of Virginia, Williamson of North Carolina, C. C. Pinckney of South Carolina, and Baldwin of Georgia. On the 24th, the committee reported that the slave trade should not be prohibited in such States as permit the same prior to the year 1800, but a tax may be imposed at a rate not exceeding the average of the duties laid on imposts. On the 25th, it was moved to strike out 1800, and insert 1808, which passed; Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, voting in the affirmative, and New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, in the negative. The last part of the report was amended, so that a tax might be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person. This report met with considerable opposition. It was said that we had just appealed to the Supreme Being for his assistance as the God of freedom, who could not but approve our efforts to preserve the rights which he had thus imparted to his creatures; that now, when we had scarcely risen from our knees, from supplicating his aid and protection, we were placing in that free government which he had enabled us to establish, a provision to encourage the slave trade, wantonly sporting with the rights of our
* See the speeches of Alexander Hamilton, in the New York Convention.
fellow men, and insulting that Being whose protection we had implored. It was urged, that we ought expressly to prohibit, in the constitution, the further importation of slaves, and to authorise the general government to make such regulations from time to time, as should be thought most advantageous for the gradual abolition of slavery, and the emancipation of the slaves which are already in the States. It was contended that slavery is inconsistent with the genius of republicanism, and has a tendency to destroy those principles on which it is supported, as it lessens the sense of the equal rights of mankind, and habituates us to tyranny. South Carolina and Georgia were opposed to any restriction in respect to the time when the traffic should cease. Virginia had abolished it several years before as an independent State.
3. Fugitive Slaves. The following part of the fourth section of the second article of the constitution was adopted unanimously, on the 29th of August. “No person held to service or labor 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 labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due." By a decision of the supreme court of the United States, this provision does not extend to a slave voluntarily carried by his master into another State, and there left under the protection of a law declaring him free; but to slaves escaping from one State into another.
4. Suppression of insurrections. The fourth section of the fourth article has relation to this subject, and is as follows : “ The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion ; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive, when the legislature cannot be convened, against domestic violence.”
Such are the various provisions of the constitution in relation to this subject. It was soon found to be necessary for congress to act. In the convention of Virginia, called to ratify the constitution, governor Randolph said, “I hope there is none here, who, considering the subject in the calm light of philosophy, will make an objection dishonorable to Virginia, that at the moment they were securing the rights of their citizens, an objection is started, that there is a spark of hope, that those unfortunate men now held in bondage, may by the operation of the general government be made free."