Is The Constitution A Slave Document?
Slavery was a horrific practice. But there has been a lot of confusion about what the Constitution actually says about slavery (the 3/5 clause). Therefore, I decided to read the early documents rather than recent assumptions. I share that with you here.
Does the Constitution say “slaves are three fifths of a person”?
You will not find the word slave or slavery in the Constitution anywhere. However, Article I Section 2 is known as the Three Fifths Clause. Here is what it actually says:
Article I Section 2 of the Constitution states:
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.
When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.
The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Slavery and the Constitution?
One can easily make some false conclusions from Article I Section 2. So, it is important to know where that Article is located within the Constitution. The Constitution has subheadings. Furthermore, it is important to know a little history. I will provide both below.
- Check it out: it is all about State’s representation in the House of Representatives. You will find that clause is under the subheading: “State’s Representatives”.
- Slavery only entered the discussion as a result of an attempted
- State Representatives were in a very heated discussion over this issue. Their arguing almost destroyed the Union, before it was even created. It was the Slave states that wanted slaves counted (as whole persons…free or not). But the non-slave States wanted representation according to the number of free persons only. The latter did not want any slave counted. Non-slave states argued that if you can count your slaves, we can count our horses.
- So the former version would have given the slave holding States a big advantage, and encouraged more slavery. A slave state could have easily increased their representation, and power in the House Of Representatives by simply importing more slaves. The disagreement was so volatile that it nearly ended the creation of the Constitution of these United States. Delegates were ready to walk out.
- They finally begrudgingly reached a compromise. Three fifths of slaves were to be counted as the basis of the appointment of Representatives.
- Public schools use to teach these facts. But not today.
- Interesting note: The Founders purposely did not use the word slaves for reasons to be explained below. However “other persons” did refer to the slave population.
Why the word slavery is not in the Constitution:
You will not find the word “slavery” anywhere in the original Constitution. There is a reason for that. You see, the framers did not want the Constitution to enforce or endorse slavery. In fact, George Mason said:
“[Slavery is a] slow Poison, which is daily contaminating the Minds & Morals of our People. Every Gentleman here is born a petty Tyrant…. And in such an infernal School are to be educated our future Legislators & Rulers.”
So some founders argued to preserve slavery in the colonies, but others strongly opposed it. ”
Did you know?
The Constitution Was Written To End The Slave Trade in 1808
Article I Section 9: “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 prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.”
However that Article had unintended consequences. Central planning usually has consequences. Article I Section 9 made importing slaves, after 1801 illegal. As a Result, slave owners began using slaves as breeders. Thus it created even more cruelty and suffering for the slaves. Furthermore, it drove prices and profits up for slave owners.
Some Founders Opposed Slavery?
“James Madison is sometimes referred to as the “architect of the Constitution“. He said,
“Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the American character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution”
What Justice Joseph Story Had To Say About Slavery And The Constitution.
Justice Joseph Story, In his book “The Familiar Exposition Of The American Constitution”, writes:
“This clause (Article I section 9) as is manifest from its language, was designed solely to reserve to the Southern states, for a limited period, the right to import slaves. It is to the honor of America, that she should have set the first example on interdicting and abolishing the slave trade, in modern times.” (pg 185).
He further writes (on page 186): “And it ought be considered as a great point gained, in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years should enable Congress to terminate, in America (as Congress in fact has terminated the African slave trade) a traffic, which has so long and so loudly upbraided the morals and justice of modern nations.” (It is interesting to note: that his book was written well before the Civil War. )
Who Was Justice Joseph Story? Why should he should he be an authority on slavery and the Constitution?
Joseph Story was Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845. He was a child of the American Revolution, born three years after the Declaration of Independence. His book was once required reading in our schools. But not anymore…unless you home school.
Note: Slaves were smuggled into the U.S. after 1808. However it was unconstitutional to do so. It was illegal. Any group that becomes too big and powerful attracts oppressors, especially government. That is why it is so very important to have a Limited government. The colonists, having freed themselves form British oppression, understood that.
No Reading Among Slaves
Now one can easily understand why the slave owners did not want blacks taught to read. They would have understood what Martin Luther King understood: The Constitution does not enforce itself.
“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… America has given the nxxxo people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.” ….Martin Luther King
(Note: Martin Luther King used the N word in this speech. So, I replaced the N word with nxxxo to avoid rewriting history, and getting censored by tech companies.)
The Underground Railroad and the Founders:
Ben Franklin was profoundly impressed by his visit to a black college. As a result ,He joined an abolition Society. Franklin came to believe that slavery should be ended. He eventually freed his own two slaves.
American history is not perfect. We had Founding Fathers who practiced slavery. But why do we no longer hear about those who opposed it? Why do we not hear about those who participated in the “Underground Railroad” to free the slaves? Why do public schools no longer teach the Constitution?
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