This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
It may perhaps be thought superfluous to offer arguments to prove the utility of the Union--a point, no doubt deeply engraven on the hearts of the great body of the people in every State, and one which, it may be imagined, has no adversaries. * * * But the fact is that we already hear it whispered in the private circles of those who oppose the new Constitution, that the thirteen States are of too great extent for any general system, and that we must of necessity resort to separate confederacies of distinct portions of the whole. This doctrine will, in all probability, be gradually propagated, till it has votaries enough to countenance its open avowal. For nothing can be more evident to those who are able to take an enlarged view of the subject, than the alternative of an adoption of the Constitution or a dismemberment of the Union. --The Federalist, N. Y. edition of 1802, vol. i., p. 5.“The melancholy story of the Federation showed the stern necessity of a compulsory power in the General Government to execute the duties confided to it; and the history of the present government itself has, on more than one occasion, manifested that the power of the Union is barely adequate to compel the execution of its laws, when resisted even by a single State.” --Oliver Wolcott, vol. II., p. 323.
2 In the debate of Wednesday, August 8, on the adoption of the report of the Committee,
Mr. Rufus King [then of Massachusetts, afterward an eminent Senator from New York] wished to know what influence the vote just passed was meant to have on the succeeding part of the report concerning the admission of slaves into the rule of representation. He could not reconcile his mind to the Article (Art. VII., Sect. 3), if it was to prevent objections to the latter part. The admission of slaves was a most grating circumstance to his mind, because he had hoped that this concession would have produced a readiness, which had not been manifested, to strengthen the General Government, and to make a full confidence in it. The report under consideration had, by the tenor of it, put an end to all his hopes. In two great points, the hands of the Legislature were absolutely tied. The importation of slaves could not be prohibited. Exports could not be taxed. Is this reasonable? What are the great objects of the general system? First, defense against foreign invasion; second, against internal sedition. Shall all the States, then, be bound to defend each, and shall each be at liberty to introduce a weakness which will render defense more difficult? Shall one part of the United States be bound to defend another part, and that other part be at liberty, not only to increase its own danger, but to withhold a compensation for the burden? If slaves are to be imported, shall not the exports produced by their labor supply a revenue, the better to enable the General Government to defend their masters? * * * He never could agree to let them be imported without limitation, and then be represented in the National Legislature. Indeed, he could so little persuade himself of the rectitude of such a practice, that he was not sure that he could assent to it under any circumstances. Mr. Sherman [Roger, of Connecticut] regarded the Slave-Trade as iniquitous; but, the point of representation having been settled after much difficulty and deliberation, he did not think himself bound to make opposition; especially as the present article, as amended, did not preclude any arrangement whatever on that point in another place reported. Mr. Madison objected to one for every forty thousand inhabitants as a perpetual rule. The future increase of population, if the Union should be permanent, will render the number of representatives excessive. Mr. Sherman and Mr. Madison moved to insert the words “not exceeding” before the words “one for every forty thousand inhabitants.” which was agreed to nem. con. Mr. Gouverneur Morris moved to insert “free” before the word “inhabitants.” Much, he said, would depend on this point. lie never could concur in upholding Domestic Slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of heaven on the States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich and noble cultivation marks the prosperity and happiness of the people, with the misery and poverty which overspreads the barren wastes of Virginia, Maryland, and the other States having slaves. Travel through the whole continent, and you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance and disappearance of Slavery. * * * Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? The houses in this city [Philadelphia] are worth more than all the wretched slaves that cover the rice-swamps of South Carolina. The admission of slaves into the representation, when fairly explained, comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia or South Carolina, who goes to the coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellowcreatures from their dearest connections, and dooms them to the most cruel bondage, shall have more votes in a government instituted for the protection of the rights of mankind than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, who views with a laudable horror so nefarious a practice. He would add, that Domestic Slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. * * * Let it not be said that Direct Taxation is to be proportioned to Representation. It is idle to suppose that the General Government can stretch its hand directly into the pockets of the people, scattered over so vast a country. They can only do it through the medium of exports, imports, and excises. For what, then, are all the sacrifices to be made? He would sooner submit himself to a tax, paying for all the negroes in the United States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution. Mr. Dayton [of New Jersey] seconded the motion. He did it, he said, that his sentiments on the subject might appear, whatever might be the fate of the amendment. Mr. Sherman did not regard the admission of negroes into the ratio of representation as liable to such insuperable objections, etc., etc. Mr. Pinckney [C. C., of South Carolina] considered the Fisheries and the Western Frontier as more burdensome to the United States than the slaves. He thought this could be demonstrated, if the occasion were a proper one.On the question on the motion to insert “free” before “inhabitants,” it was disagreed to; New Jersey alone voting in the affirmative.--Madison's Papers, vol. III., p. 1261. Tuesday, August 21st:
Mr. Luther Martin [of Maryland] proposed to vary Article VII., Section 4, so as to allow a prohibition or tax on the importation of slaves. In the first place, as five slaves are to be counted as three freemen in the apportionment of representatives, such a clause would leave an encouragement to this traffic. In the second place, slaves weakened one part of the Union, which the other parts were bound to protect. The privilege of importing was therefore unreasonable. And in the third place, it was inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution, and dishonorable to the American character, to have such a feature in the Constitution. Mr. Rutledge [of. South Carolina] did not see how the importation of slaves could be encouraged by this section. He was not apprehensive of insurrections, and would readily exempt the other States from the obligation to protect the Southern against them. Religion and humanity had nothing to do with this question. Interest alone is the governing principle with nations, etc. Mr. Ellsworth [of Connecticut] was for leaving the clause as it stands, etc. Mr. Pinckney.--South Carolina can never receive the plan if it prohibits the Slave-Trade. In every proposed extension of the powers of Congress, that State expressly and watchfully excepted that of meddling with the importation of negroes. If the States should be all left at liberty on this subject, South Carolina may, perhaps, by degrees, do of herself what is wished, as Virginia and Maryland have already done.“Adjourned. ”--Ibid., p. 1388. Again: in the debate of the following day — the consideration of Article VII., Section 4, being resumed--Colonel Mason [George, grandfather of James M., late United States Senator, and late Confederate emissary to England] gave utterance to the following sentiments:
This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British government has constantly checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerned not the importing of slaves alone, but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves was experienced during the late war. Had slaves been treated as they might hare been by the enemy, they would have proved dangerous instruments in their hands. But their folly dealt by the slaves as it did by tile Tories. * * * Maryland and Virginia, ho said, had already prohibited the importation of slaves. North Carolina had done the same in substance. All this would be vain, if South Carolina and Georgia be at liberty to import. The Western people are already calling for slaves for their new lands; and will fill that country with slaves, if they can be got through South Carolina and Georgia. Slavery discourages the arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They prevent the emigration of whites, who really enrich and strengthen a country. They produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country. As nations can not be punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities. * * *He held it essential, in every point of view, that the General Government should have power to prevent the increase of Slavery. --Ibid., p. 1390.
3 In the debate of the same day, “ General Pinckney declared it to be his firm conviction that, if himself and all his colleagues were to sign the Constitution, and use their personal influence, it would be of no avail toward obtaining the consent of their constituents. South Carolina and Georgia can not do without slaves. * * He contended that the importation of slaves would be for the interest of the whole Union. The more slaves, the more products to employ the carrying trade; the more consumption also; and the more of this, the more revenue for the common treasury. He admitted it to be reasonable, that slaves should be dutied, like other imports, but should consider a rejection of the clause as an exclusion of South Carolina from the Union.Mr. Baldwin has similar conceptions in the case of Georgia. Mr. Wilson (of Pennsylvania) observed, that, if South Carolina and Georgia were thus disposed to get rid of the importation of slaves in a short time, as had been suggested, they would never refuse to unite, because the importation might be prohibited. As the section now stands, all articles imported are to be taxed. Slaves alone are exempt. This is, in fact, a bounty on that article. Mr. Dickinson [of Delaware] expressed his sentiments as of a similar character. And Messrs. King and Langdon [of New Hampshire] were also in favor of giving the power to the General Government. General Pinckney thought himself bound to declare candidly, that he did not think South Carolina would stop her importations of slaves in any short time; but only stop them occasionally, as she now does. He moved to commit the clause, that slaves might be made liable to an equal tax with other imports; which he thought right, and which would remove one difficulty that had been started. Mr. Rutledge seconded the motion of General Pinckney. Mr. Gouverneur Morris wished the whole subject to be committed, including the clause relating to taxes on exports, and the navigation act. These things may form a bargain among the Northern and Southern States. Mr. Butler [of South Carolina] declared that he would never agree to the power of taxing exports. Mr. Sherman said it was better to let the Southern States import slaves than to part with them, if they made that a sine qua non.” On the question for committing the remaining part of Sections 4 and 5, of Article VII., the vote was 7 in the affirmative; 3 in the negative; Massachusetts absent.--Ibid., p. 1392.
4 An instance of this quieting influence, as exerted by The Federalist, a series of letters, urging upon the Northern people the adoption of the new Constitution, as framed and presented to their several legislatures for ratification by the Federal Convention, may be shown in the following:
It were, doubtless, to be wished that the power of prohibiting the importation of slaves had not been postponed until the year 1808; or rather, that it had been suffered to have immediate operation. But it is not difficult to account either for this restriction on the General Government, or for the manner in which the whole clause is expressed. It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate forever, within these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the barbarism of modern policy; that within that period it will receive a considerable discouragement from the Federal Government, and may be totally abolished by the concurrence of the few States which continue the unnatural traffic, in the prohibitory example which is given by so large a majority of the Union. Happy would it be for the unfortunate Africans if an equal prospect lay before them of being redeemed from the oppression of their European brethren. --The Federalist, vol. i., p. 276.
5 The Encyclopoedia Britannica (latest edition — Art., Slavery) states that the African Slave-Trade was abolished by Great Britain, after years of ineffectual struggle under the lead of Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, Wilberforce, etc., on the 25th of March, 1807; and most inaccurately and unjustly adds:
The great measure of the British legislature was imitated, in the first instance, by the United States.To say nothing of acts prohibiting the importation of slaves by several of our States, Virginia and Maryland inclusive, prior to the framing of our Federal Constitution, and the provisions incorporated in that instrument looking to a complete suppression of the Slave-Trade after twenty years, our Congress, on the 22d day of March, 1794, passed an act forbidding and punishing any participation by our citizens in the Slave-Trade to foreign countries, which had long been very zealously pursued and protected by Great Britain as a large and lucrative branch of her foreign commerce and navigation. In 1800, our Congress passed a further act, to the same effect, but more sweeping in its provisions and severe in its penalties. On the 2d of March, 1807--twenty-three days before the passage of the British act — Congress passed one which prohibits the African Slave-Trade utterly — to our own country as well as to foreign lands. True, this act did not take effect till the 1st of January ensuing, because of the constitutional inhibition aforesaid; but we submit that this does not invalidate our claim for our country and her Revolutionary Statesmen of the honor of having pioneered thus far the advance of Justice and Humanity, to the overthrow of a giant iniquity. The Encyclopoedia aforesaid, in noting the fact that the African Slave-Trade was abolished by Great Britain under the brief Whig ministry of Fox and Grenville, after such abolition had been boldly urged for twenty years under the all but dictatorial Tory rule of Pitt, who was professedly its friend, forcibly and truly adds:
The proud son of Chatham loved truth and justice not a little, but he loved power and place greatly more; and he was resolved that Negro Emancipation should not lose him either a shred of political influence or a beam of [royal] favor.The particular individual of whom this is said is now some sixty years dead; but the breed was not extinct, in either hemisphere, at the date of our latest advices.
6 “We subscribe to the doctrine, might one of our Southern brethren observe, that Representation relates more immediately to persons, and Taxation more immediately to property; and we join in the application of this distinction to the case of our slaves. But we deny the fact, that slaves are considered merely as property, and in no respect whatever as persons. The true state of the case is, that they partake of both these qualities, being considered by our laws in some respects as persons, and in other respects as property. In being compelled to labor, not merely for himself, but for a master — in being vendible by one master to another master, and being subject, at all times, to being restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body by the capricious will of his owner, the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with that of the irrational animals, which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty, and in being punished himself for all violence committed against others, the slave is no less regarded by the law as a member of society, not as a part of the irrational creation — as a moral person, not a mere object of property. The Federal Constitution, therefore, decides, with great propriety, on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and property. This is, in fact, their true character. It is the character bestowed on them by the laws under which they live; and it will not be disputed that these are the proper criterion, because it is only under the pretext that the laws have transformed negroes into subjects of property, that a place is denied to them in the computation of numbers; and it is admitted that, if the laws were to restore the rights which have been taken away, the negroes would no longer be refused an equal share of representation with the other inhabitants.” --The Federalist, vol. II., p. 46.
7 In Convention, Wednesday, August 29, 1787.
Mr. Butler moved to insert, after Article XV., ‘if any person bound — to service or labor in any of the United States shall escape into another State, he or she shall not be discharged from such service or labor in consequence of any regulations existing in the State to which they escape, but shall be delivered up to the person justly claiming their service or labor’ --which, after some verbal modification, was agreed to, nem. con. --Madison's Papers, vol. III., p. 145, 6.
Mr. Iredell begged leave to explain the reason of this clause (last clause, Section 2, Article IV.). In some of the Northern States, they have emancipated all their slaves. If any of our slaves, said he, go there and remain there a certain time, they would, by the present laws, be entitled to their freedom, so that their masters could not get them again. This would be extremely prejudicial to the inhabitants of the Southern States; and to prevent it, this clause is inserted in the Constitution. Though the word slave is not mentioned, this is the meaning of it. The Northern delegates, owing to their peculiar scruples on the subject of Slavery, did not choose the word slave to be mentioned. --Elliot's Debates, vol. IV., p. 176.
The law of nations disavows such compacts; the law of nature, written on the hearts and consciences of freemen, repudiates them. I know that there are laws, of various sorts, which regulate the conduct of men. There are constitutions and statutes, codes mercantile and codes civil; but when we are legislating for States, especially when we are founding States, all these laws must be brought to the standard of the law of God, must be tried by that standard, and must stand or fall by it. To conclude on this point: We are not slaveholders. We can not, in our judgment, be either true Christians or real freemen, if we impose on another a chain that we defy all human power to fasten on ourselves. --Seward's Works, vol. i., p. 66.
I am of the same opinion now as I was two years ago — that, while there remained one acre of swamp land uncleared in South Carolina, I would raise my voice against restricting the importation of negroes. * * * * The Middle States and Virginia were for an immediate and total prohibition. We endeavored to obviate the objections which were urged in the best manner we could, and assigned reasons for our insisting on the importation, which there is no occasion to repeat, as they must occur to every gentleman in the House: a committee of the States was appointed in order to accommodate this matter; and, after a great deal of difficulty, it was settled, on the footing of the Constitution. By this settlement, we have secured an unlimited importation of negroes for twenty years. Nor is it declared when that importation shall be stopped; it may be continued. We have a right to recover our slaves in whatever part of America they may take refuge. In short, considering all circumstances, we have made the best terms for the security of this species of property it was in our power to make. We would have made better if we could; but, on the whole, I do not think them bad. --Elliot's Debates, vol. IV., p. 285.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.