Part 42 out of 52
Mr. President, I have been compelled to enter into this discussion
from the course pursued by the Senate on the resolutions I submitted a
few days since. The cry of abolitionist has been raised against me. If
those resolutions are abolitionism, then I am an abolitionist from the
sole of my feet to the crown of my head. If to maintain the rights of
the States, the security of the citizen from violence and outrage; if
to preserve the supremacy of the laws; if insisting on the right of
petition, a medium through which _every person_ subject to the laws
has an undoubted right to approach the constitutional authorities of
the country, be the doctrines of abolitionists, it finds a response in
every beating pulse in my veins. Neither power, nor favor, nor want,
nor misery, shall deter me from its support while the vital current
continues to flow.
Condemned at home for my opposition to slavery, alone and singlehanded
here, well may I feel tremor and emotion in bearding this lion of
slavery in his very _den_ and upon his own ground. I should shrink,
sir, at once, from this fearful and unequal contest, was I not
thoroughly convinced that I am sustained by the power of truth and the
best interests of the country.
I listened to the Senator of Kentucky with undivided attention. I was
disappointed, sadly disappointed. I had heard of the Senator's tact in
making compromises and agreements on this floor, and though opposed in
principle to all such proceedings, yet I hoped to hear something upon
which we could hang a hope that peace would be restored to the borders
of our own States, and all future aggression upon our citizens from
the free States be prevented. Now, sir, he offers us nothing but
unconditional submission to political death; and not political alone,
but absolute _death_. We have counted the cost in this matter, and are
determined to live or die free. Let the slaveholder hug his system to
his bosom in his own State, we will not go there to disturb him; but,
sir, within our own borders we claim to enjoy the same privileges.
Even, sir, here in this District, this ten miles square of common
property and common right, the slave power has the assurance to come
into this very Hall, and request that we--yes, Mr. President, that my
constituents--be denied the right of petition on the subject of
slavery in this District. This most extraordinary petition against the
right of others to petition on the same subject of theirs, is
graciously received and ordered to be printed; paeans sung to it by the
slave power, while the petitions I offer, from as honorable, free,
high-minded and patriotic American citizens as any in this District,
are spit upon, and turned out of doors as an _unclean thing_! Genius
of liberty! how long will you sleep under this iron power of
oppression? Not content with ruling over their own slaves, they claim
the power to instruct Congress on the question of receiving petitions;
and yet we are tauntingly and sneeringly told that we have nothing to
do with the existence of slavery in the country, a suggestion as
absurd as it is ridiculous. We are called upon to make laws in favor
of slavery in the District, but it is denied that we can make laws
against it; and at last the right of petition on the subject, by the
people of the free States, is complained of as an improper
interference. I leave it to the Senator to reconcile all these
difficulties, absurdities, claims and requests of the people of this
District, to the country at large; and I venture the opinion that he
will find as much difficulty in producing the belief that he is
correct now, that he has found in obtaining the same belief that he
was before correct in his views and political course on the subject of
banks, internal improvements, protective tariffs, &c., and the
regulation, by acts of Congress, of the productive industry of the
country, together with all the compromises and coalitions he has
entered into for the attainment of those objects. I rejoice, however,
that the Senator has made the display he has on this occasion. It is a
powerful shake to awaken the sleeping energies of liberty, and his
voice, like a trumpet, will call from their slumbers millions of
freemen to defend their rights; and the overthrow of his theory now,
is as sure and certain, by the force of public opinion, as was the
overthrow of all his former schemes, by the same mighty power.
I feel, Mr. President, as if I had wearied your patience, while I am
sure my own bodily powers admonish me to close; but I cannot do so
without again reminding my constituents of the greetings that have
taken place on the consummation and ratification of the treaty,
offensive and defensive, between the slaveholding and bank powers, in
order to carry on a war against the liberties of our country, and to
put down the present administration. Yes, there is no voice heard from
New England now. Boston and Faneuil Hall are silent as death. The free
day-laborer is, in prospect, reduced to the political, if not moral
condition of the slave; an ideal line is to divide them in their
labor; yes, the same principle is to govern on both sides. Even the
farmer, too, will soon be brought into the same fold. It will be again
said, with regard to the government of the country, "The farmer with
his huge paws upon the statute book, what can he do?" I have
endeavored to warn my fellow-citizens of the present and approaching
danger, but the dark cloud of slavery is before their eyes, and
prevents many of them from seeing the condition of things as they are.
That cloud, like the cloud of summer, will soon pass away, and its
thunders cease to be heard. Slavery will come to an end, and the
sunshine of prosperity warm, invigorate and bless our whole country.
I do not know, Mr. President, that my voice will ever again be heard
on this floor. I now willingly, yes, gladly, return to my
constituents, to the people of my own State. I have spent my life
amongst them, and the greater portion of it in their service, and they
have bestowed upon me their confidence in numerous instances. I feel
perfectly conscious that, in the discharge of every trust which they
have committed to me, I have, to the best of my abilities, acted
solely with a view to the general good, not suffering myself to be
influenced by any particular or private interest whatever; and I now
challenge those who think I have done otherwise, to lay their finger
upon any public act of mine, and prove to the country its injustice or
anti-republican tendency. That I have often erred in the selection of
means to accomplish important ends I have no doubt, but my belief in
the truth of the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence, the
political creed of President Jefferson, remains unshaken and
unsubdued. My greatest regret is that I have not been more zealous,
and done more for the cause of individual and political liberty than I
have done. I hope, on returning to my home and my friends, to join
them again in rekindling the beacon-fires of liberty upon every hill
in our State, until their broad glare shall enlighten every valley,
and the song of triumph will soon be heard, for the hearts of our
people are in the hands of a just and holy being, (who can not look
upon oppression but with abhorrence.) and he can turn them
whithersoever he will, as the rivers of water are turned. Though our
national sins are many and grievous, yet repentance, like that of
ancient Nineveh, may divert from us that impending danger which seems
to hang over our heads as by a single hair. That all may be safe, I
conclude that THE NEGRO WILL YET BE SET FREE.
* * * * *
A PRO-SLAVERY COMPACT.
THE MADISON PAPERS, &c.
* * * * *
AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY.
142 NASSAU STREET.
Debates in the Congress of the Confederation
Debates in the Federal Convention
List of Members of the Federal Convention
Speech of Luther Martin
DEBATES IN STATE CONVENTIONS
Extracts from the Federalist
Debates in First Congress
Address of the Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society
Letter from Francis Jackson to Gov. Briggs
Extract from Mr. Webster's Speech
Extracts from J.Q. Adams's Address, November, 1844
Every one knows that the "Madison papers" contain a Report, from the
pen of James Madison, of the Debates in the Old Congress of the
Confederation and in the Convention which formed the Constitution of
the United States. We have extracted from them, in these pages, all
the Debates on those clauses of the Constitution which relate to
slavery. To these we have added all that is found, on the same topic,
in the Debates of the several State Conventions which ratified the
Constitution: together with so much of the Speech of Luther Martin
before the Legislature of Maryland, and of the Federalist, as relate
to our subject; with some extracts, also, from the Debates of the
first Federal Congress on Slavery. These are all printed without
alteration, except that, in some instances, we have inserted in
brackets, after the name of a speaker, the name of the State from
which he came. The notes and italics are those of the original, but
the editor has added one note on page 30th, which is marked as his,
and we have taken the liberty of printing in capitals one sentiment of
Rufus King's, and two of James Madison's--a distinction which the
importance of the statements seemed to demand--otherwise we have
reprinted exactly from the originals.
These extracts develope most clearly all the details of that
"compromise," which was made between freedom and slavery, in 1787;
granting to the slaveholder distinct privileges and protection for his
slave property, in return for certain commercial concessions on his
part toward the North. They prove also that the Nation at large were
fully aware of this bargain at the time, and entered into it willingly
and with open eyes.
We have added the late "Address of the American Anti-Slavery Society,"
and the letter of Francis Jackson to Governor Briggs, resigning his
commission of Justice of the Peace--as bold and honorable protests
against the guilt and infamy of this National bargain, and as proving
most clearly the duty of each individual to trample it under his feet.
The clauses of the Constitution to which we refer as of a pro-slavery
character are the following:--
Art. 1, Sect. 2. 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_.
Art. 1, Sect. 8. Congress shall have power . . . to suppress
Art. 1, Sect. 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.
Art. 4. Sec. 2. 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.
Art. 4, Sect. 4. 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
The first of these clauses, relating to representation, confers on a
slaveholding community additional political power for every slave held
among them, and thus tempts them to continue to uphold the system: the
second and the last, relating to insurrection and domestic violence,
perfectly innocent in themselves--yet being made with the fact
directly in view that slavery exists among us, do deliberately pledge
the whole national force against the unhappy slave if he imitate our
fathers and resist oppression--thus making us partners in the guilt of
sustaining slavery: the third, relating to the slave trade, disgraces
the nation by a pledge not to abolish that traffic till after twenty
years, _without obliging Congress to do so even then_, and thus the
slave trade may be legalized to-morrow if Congress choose: the fourth
is a promise on the part of the whole Nation to return fugitive slaves
to their masters, a deed which God's law expressly condemns and which
every noble feeling of our nature repudiates with loathing and
These are the articles of the "Compromise," so much talked of, between
the North and South.
We do not produce the extracts which make up these pages to show what
is the meaning of the clauses above cited. For no man or party, of any
authority in such matters, has ever pretended to doubt to what subject
they all relate. If indeed they were ambiguous in their terms, a
resort to the history of those times would set the matter at rest for
ever. A few persons, to be sure, of late years, to serve the purposes
of a party, have tried to prove that the Constitution makes no
compromise with slavery. Notwithstanding the clear light of
history;--the unanimous decision of all the courts in the land,
both State and Federal;--the action of Congress and the State
Legislature;--the constant practice of the Executive in all its
branches;--and the deliberate acquiescence of the whole people for
half a century, still they contend that the Nation does not know its
own meaning, and that the Constitution does not tolerate slavery!
Every candid mind however must acknowledge that the language of the
Constitution is clear and explicit.
Its terms are so broad, it is said, that they include many others
beside slaves, and hence it is wisely (!) inferred that they cannot
include the slaves themselves! Many persons beside slaves in this
country doubtless are "held to service and labor under the laws of the
States," but that does not at all show that slaves are not "held to
service;" many persons beside the slaves may take part "in
insurrections," but that does not prove that when the slaves rise, the
National government is not bound to put them down by force. Such a
thing has been heard of before as one description including a great
variety of persons,--and this is the case in the present instance.
But granting that the terms of the Constitution are ambiguous--that
they are susceptible of two meanings, if the unanimous, concurrent,
unbroken practice of every department of the Government, judicial,
legislative, and executive, and the acquiescence of the whole people
for fifty years do not prove which is the true construction, then how
and where can such a question ever be settled? If the people and the
Courts of the land do not know what they themselves mean, who has
authority to settle their meaning for them?
If then the people and the Courts of a country are to be allowed to
determine what their own laws mean, it follows that at this time and
for the last half century, the Constitution of the United States, has
been, and still is, a pro-slavery instrument, and that any one who
swears to support it, swears to do pro-slavery acts, and violates his
duty both as a man and an abolitionist. What the Constitution may
become a century hence, we know not; we speak of it _as it is_, and
repudiate it _as it is_.
But the purpose, for which we have thrown these pages before the
community, is this. Some men, finding the nation unanimously deciding
that the Constitution tolerates slavery, have tried to prove that this
false construction, as they think it, has been foisted in upon the
instrument by the corrupting influence of slavery itself, tainting all
it touches. They assert that the known anti-slavery spirit of
revolutionary times never _could_ have consented to so infamous a
bargain as the Constitution is represented to be, and has in its
present hands become. Now these pages prove the melancholy fact that
willingly, with deliberate purpose, our fathers bartered honesty for
gain and became partners with tyrants that they might share in the
profits of their tyranny.
And in view of this fact, will it not require a very strong argument
to make any candid man believe, that the bargain which the fathers
tell us they meant to incorporate into the Constitution, and which the
sons have always thought they found there incorporated, does not exist
there after all? Forty of the shrewdest men and lawyers in the land
assemble to make a bargain, among other things, about slaves,--after
months of anxious deliberation they put it into writing and sign their
names to the instrument,--fifty years roll away, twenty millions at
least of their children pass over the stage of life,--courts sit and
pass judgment,--parties arise and struggle fiercely; still all concur
in finding in the Instrument just that meaning which the fathers tell
us they intended to express:--must not he be a desperate man, who,
after all this, sets out to prove that the fathers were bunglers and
the sons fools, and that slavery is not referred to at all?
Besides, the advocates of this new theory of the Anti-slavery
character of the Constitution, quote some portions of the Madison
Papers in support of their views,--and this makes it proper that the
community should hear all that these Debates have to say on the
subject. The further we explore them, the clearer becomes the fact
that the Constitution was meant to be, what it has always been
esteemed, a compromise between slavery and freedom.
If then the Constitution be, what these Debates show that our fathers
intended to make it, and what, too, their descendants, this nation,
say they did make it and agree to uphold,--then we affirm that it is a
"covenant with death and an agreement with hell," and ought to be
But if, on the contrary, our fathers failed in their purpose, and the
Constitution is all pure and untouched by slavery,--then, Union itself
is impossible, without guilt. For it is undeniable that the fifty
years passed under this (anti-slavery) Constitution, shew us the
slaves trebling in numbers;--slaveholders monopolizing the offices and
dictating the policy of the Government;--prostituting the strength and
influence of the Nation to the support of slavery here and
elsewhere;--trampling on the rights of the free States and making the
courts of the country their tools. To continue this disastrous
alliance longer is madness. The trial of fifty years with the best of
men and the best of Constitutions, on this supposition, only proves
that it is impossible for free and slave States to unite on any terms,
without all becoming partners in the guilt and responsible for the
sin of slavery. We dare not prolong the experiment, and with double
earnestness we repeat our demand upon every honest man to join in the
outcry of the American Anti-Slavery Society,
NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS.
A PRO-SLAVERY COMPACT.
* * * * *
_Extracts from Debates in the Congress of Confederation, preserved by
Thomas Jefferson, 1776_.
On Friday, the twelfth of July, 1776, the committee appointed to draw
the articles of Confederation reported them, and on the twenty-second,
the House resolved themselves into a committee to take them into
consideration. On the thirtieth and thirty-first of that month, and
the first of the ensuing, those articles were debated which determined
the proportion or quota of money which each State should furnish to
the common treasury, and the manner of voting in Congress. The first
of these articles was expressed in the original draught in these
"Article 11. All charges of war and all other expenses that shall be
incurred for the common defence, or general welfare, and allowed by
the United States assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common
treasury, which shall be supplied by the several colonies in
proportion to the number of inhabitants of every age, sex and quality,
except Indians not paying taxes, in each colony, a true account of
which, distinguishing the white inhabitants, shall be triennially
taken and transmitted to the assembly of the United States."
Mr. Chase (of Maryland) moved, that the quotas should be paid, not by
the number of inhabitants of every condition but by that of the "white
inhabitants." He admitted that taxation should be always in proportion
to property; that this was in theory the true rule, but that from a
variety of difficulties it was a rule which could never be adopted in
practice. The value of the property in every State could never be
estimated justly and equally. Some other measure for the wealth of the
State must therefore be devised, some standard referred to which would
be more simple. He considered the number of inhabitants as a tolerably
good criterion of property, and that this might always be obtained. He
therefore thought it the best mode we could adopt, with one exception
only. He observed that negroes are property, and as such cannot be
distinguished from the lands or personalities held in those States
where there are few slaves. That the surplus of profit which a
Northern farmer is able to lay by, he invests in cattle, horses, &c.;
whereas, a Southern farmer lays out that same surplus in slaves. There
is no more reason therefore for taxing the Southern States on the
farmer's head and on his slave's head, than the Northern ones on their
farmer's heads and the heads of their cattle. That the method proposed
would therefore tax the Southern States according to their numbers and
their wealth conjunctly, while the Northern would be taxed on numbers
only: that negroes in fact should not be considered as members of the
State, more than cattle, and that they have no more interest in it.
Mr. John Adams (of Massachusetts) observed, that the numbers of people
were taken by this article as an index of the wealth of the State, and
not as subjects of taxation. That as to this matter, it was of no
consequence by what name you called your people, whether by that of
freemen or of slaves. That in some countries the laboring poor were
called freemen, in others they were called slaves: but that the
difference as to the state was imaginary only. What matters it whether
a landlord employing ten laborers on his farm gives them annually as
much money as will buy them the necessaries of life, or gives them
those necessaries at short hand? The ten laborers add as much wealth,
annually to the State, increase its exports as much, in the one case
as the other. Certainly five hundred freemen produce no more profits,
no greater surplus for the payment of taxes, than five hundred slaves.
Therefore the State in which are the laborers called freemen, should
be taxed no more than that in which are those called slaves. Suppose,
by any extraordinary operation of nature or of law, one half the
laborers of a State could in the course of one night be transformed
into slaves,--would the State be made the poorer, or the less able to
pay taxes? That the condition of the laboring poor in most
countries,--that of the fishermen, particularly, of the Northern
States,--is as abject as that of slaves. It is the number of laborers
which produces the surplus for taxation; and numbers, therefore,
indiscriminately, are the fair index of wealth. That it is the use of
the word "property" here, and its application to some of the people of
the State, which produces the fallacy. How does the Southern farmer
procure slaves? Either by importation or by purchase from his
neighbor. If he imports a slave, he adds one to the number of laborers
in his country, and proportionably to its profits and abilities to pay
taxes; if he buys from his neighbor, it is only a transfer of a
laborer from one firm to another, which does not change the annual
produce of the State, and therefore should not change its tax; that if
a Northern farmer works ten laborers on his farm, he can, it is true,
invest the surplus of ten men's labor in cattle; but so may the
Southern farmer working ten slaves. That a State of one hundred
thousand freemen can maintain no more cattle than one of one hundred
thousand slaves; therefore they have no more of that kind of property.
That a slave may, indeed, from the custom of speech, be more properly
called the wealth of his master, than the free laborer might be called
the wealth of his employer: but as to the State, both were equally its
wealth, and should therefore equally add to the quota of its tax.
Mr. Harrison (of Virginia) proposed, as a compromise, that two slaves
should be counted as one freeman. He affirmed that slaves did not do
as much work as freemen, and doubted if two affected more than one.
That this was proved by the price of labor, the hire of a laborer in
the Southern colonies being from L9 to L12, while in the Northern it
was generally L24.
Mr. Wilson (of Pennsylvania) said, that if this amendment should take
place, the Southern colonies would have all the benefit of slaves,
whilst the Northern ones would bear the burthen. That slaves increase
the profits of a State, which the Southern States mean to take to
themselves; that they also increase the burthen of defence, which
would of course fall so much the heavier on the Northern; that slaves
occupy the places of freemen and eat their food. Dismiss your slaves,
and freemen will take their places. It is our duty to lay every
discouragement on the importation of slaves; but this amendment would
give thee _jus trium liberorum_ to him who would import slaves. That
other kinds of property were pretty equally distributed through all
the colonies: there were as many cattle, horses, and sheep, in the
North as the South, and South as the North; but not so as to slaves:
that experience has shown that those colonies have been always able to
pay most, which have the most inhabitants, whether they be black or
white; and the practice of the Southern colonies has always been to
make every farmer pay poll taxes upon all his laborers, whether they
be black or white. He acknowledged indeed that freemen worked the
most; but they consume the most also. They do not produce a greater
surplus for taxation. The slave is neither fed nor clothed so
expensively as a freeman. Again, white women are exempted from labor
generally, which negro women are not. In this then the Southern States
have an advantage as the article now stands. It has sometimes been
said that slavery was necessary, because the commodities they raise
would be too dear for market if cultivated by freemen; but now it is
said that the labor of the slave is the dearest.
Mr. Payne (of Massachusetts) urged the original resolution of Congress,
to proportion the quotas of the States to the number of souls.
Mr. Witherspoon (of New-Jersey) was of opinion, that the value of
lands and houses was the best estimate of the wealth of a nation, and
that it was practicable to obtain such a valuation. This is the true
barometer of wealth. The one now proposed is imperfect in itself, and
unequal between the States. It has been objected that negroes eat the
food of freemen, and therefore should be taxed. Horses also eat the
food of freemen; therefore they also should be taxed. It has been said
too, that in carrying slaves into the estimate of the taxes the State
is to pay, we do no more than those States themselves do, who always
take slaves into the estimate of the taxes the individual is to pay.
But the cases are not parallel. In the Southern Colonies, slaves
pervade the whole colony; but they do not pervade the whole continent.
That as to the original resolution of Congress, it was temporary only,
and related to the moneys heretofore emitted: whereas we are now
entering into a new compact, and therefore stand on original ground.
AUGUST 1st. The question being put, the amendment proposed was
rejected by the votes of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island,
Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey and Pennsylvania, against those of
Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North, and South Carolina. Georgia was
divided. _Vol. I. pp_. 27-8-9, 30-1-2.
_Extracts from Madison's Report of Debates in the Congress of the
TUESDAY, Feb. 11, 1783.
Mr. Wolcott declares his opinion that the Confederation ought to be
amended by substituting numbers of inhabitants as the rule; admits the
difference between freemen and blacks; and suggests a compromise, by
including in the numeration such blacks only as were within sixteen
and sixty years of age. _p_. 331.
TUESDAY, March 27, 1783.
The eleventh and twelfth paragraphs:
Mr. Wilson (of Pennsylvania) was strenuous in their favor; said he was
in Congress when the Articles of Confederation directing a valuation
of land were agreed to; that it was the effect of the impossibility of
compromising the different ideas of the Eastern and Southern States,
as to the value of slaves compared with the whites, the alternative in
Mr. Clark (of New Jersey) was in favor of them. He said that he was
also in Congress when this article was decided; that the Southern
States would have agreed to numbers in preference to the value of
land, if half their slaves only should be included; but that the
Eastern States would not concur in that proposition.
It was agreed, on all sides, that, instead of fixing the proportion by
ages, as the, report proposed, it would be best to fix the proportion
in absolute numbers. With this view, and that the blank might be
filled up, the clause was recommitted. _p._ 421-2.
FRIDAY, March 28, 1783.
The committee last mentioned, reported that two blacks be rated as one
Mr. Wolcott (of Connecticut) was for rating them as four to three. Mr.
Carroll as four to one. Mr. Williamson (of North Carolina) said he was
principled against slavery; and that he thought slaves an incumbrance
to society, instead of increasing its ability to pay taxes. Mr.
Higginson (of Massachusetts) as four to three. Mr. Rutledge (of South
Carolina) said, for the sake of the object, he would agree to rate
slaves as two to one, but he sincerely thought three to one would he a
juster proportion. Mr. Holton as four to three.--Mr. Osgood said he
did not go beyond four to three. On a question for rating them as
three to two, the votes were. New Hampshire, aye; Massachusetts, no;
Rhode Island, divided; Connecticut, aye; New Jersey, aye;
Pennsylvania, aye; Delaware, aye; Maryland, no; Virginia, no; North
Carolina, no; South Carolina, no. The paragraph was then proposed, by
general consent, some wishing for further time to deliberate on it;
but it appearing to be the general opinion that no compromise would be
After some further discussions on the Report, in which the necessity
of some simple and practicable rule of apportionment came fully into
view, Mr. Madison (of Virginia) said that, in order to give a proof of
the sincerity of his professions of liberality, he would propose that
slaves should be rated as five to three. Mr. Rutledge (of South
Carolina) seconded the motion. Mr. Wilson (of Pennsylvania) said he
would sacrifice his opinion on this compromise.
Mr. Lee was against changing the rule, but gave it as his opinion that
two slaves were not equal to one freeman.
On the question for five to three, it passed in the affirmative; New
Hampshire, aye; Massachusetts, divided; Rhode Island, no;
Connecticut, no; New Jersey, aye; Pennsylvania, aye; Maryland, aye;
Virginia, aye; North Carolina, aye: South Carolina, aye.
A motion was then made by Mr. Bland, seconded by Mr. Lee, to strike
out the clause so amended, and, on the question "Shall it stand," it
passed in the negative; New Hampshire, aye; Massachusetts, no; Rhode
Island, no; Connecticut, no; New Jersey, aye; Pennsylvania, aye;
Delaware, no; Maryland, aye; Virginia, aye; North Carolina, aye; South
Carolina, no; so the clause was struck out.
The arguments used by those who were for rating slaves high were, that
the expense of feeding and clothing them was as far below that
incident to freemen as their industry and ingenuity were below those
of freemen; and that the warm climate within which the States having
slaves lay, compared with the rigorous climate and inferior fertility
of the others, ought to have greater weight in the case; and that the
exports of the former States were greater than of the latter. On the
other side, it was said, that slaves were not put to labor as young as
the children of laboring families; that, having no interest in their
labor, they did as little as possible and omitted every exertion of
thought requisite to facilitate and expedite it: that if the exports
of the States having slaves exceeded those of the others, their
imports were in proportion, slaves being employed wholly in
agriculture, not in manufacturers; and that, in fact, the balance of
trade formerly was much more against the Southern States than the
On the main question, New Hampshire, aye; Massachusetts, no; Rhode
Island, no; Connecticut, no; New York (Mr. Lloyd, aye); New Jersey,
aye; Delaware, no; Maryland, aye; Virginia, aye; North Carolina, aye;
South Carolina, no. _pp._ 423-4-5.
Tuesday, April 1, 1783.
Congress resumed the Report on Revenue, &c. Mr. Hamilton, who had been
absent when the last question was taken for substituting numbers in
place of the value of land, moved to reconsider that vote. He was
seconded by Mr. Osgood. Those who voted differently from their former
votes were influenced by the conviction of the necessity of the
change, and despair on both sides of a more favorable rate of the
slaves. The rate of three-fifths was agreed to without opposition.
Monday, May 26.
The Resolutions on the Journal, instructing the ministers in Europe to
remonstrate against the carrying off the negroes--also those for
furloughing the troops--passed _unanimously_. _p_. 456.
* * * * *
_Extract from "Debates in the Federal Convention" of 1787, for the
formation of the Constitution of the United States_.
Monday, June 11, 1787.
It was then moved by Mr. Rutledge, seconded by Mr. Butler, to add to
the words, "equitable ratio of representation," at the end of the
motion just agreed to, the words, "according to the quotas of
contribution." On motion of Mr. Wilson, seconded by Mr. Pinckney, this
was postponed, in order to add, after the words, "equitable rates of
representation," the words following: "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"--this being the rule in the act of Congress, agreed to by
eleven States, for apportioning quotas of revenue on the States, and
requiring a census only every five, seven, or ten years.
Mr. Gerry (of Massachusetts) thought property not the rule of
representation. Why, then, should the blacks, who were property in the
South, be in the rule of representation more than, the cattle and
horses of the North?
On the question,--Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania,
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye--9;
New jersey, Delaware, no--2. _Vol. II. pp._ 842-3.
Saturday, June 30, 1787.
He (Mr. Madison) admitted that every peculiar interest, whether in any
class of citizens, or any description of states, ought to be secured
as far as possible. Wherever there is danger of attack, there ought to
be given a constitutional power of defence. But he contended that the
States were divided into different interests, not by their difference
of size, but by other circumstances; the most material of which
resulted partly from climate, but principally from the effects of
their having or not having slaves. These two causes concurred in
forming the great division of interests in the United States. It did
not lie between the large and small States. IT LAY BETWEEN THE
NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN; and if any defensive power were necessary, it
ought to be mutually given to these two interests. He was so strongly
impressed with this important truth, that he had been casting about in
his mind for some expedient that would answer the purpose. The one
which had occurred was, that instead of proportioning the votes of the
States in both branches to their respective numbers of inhabitants,
computing the slaves in the ratio of five to three, they should he
represented in one branch according to the number of free inhabitants
only; and in the other, according to the whole number, counting the
slaves us free. By this arrangement the Southern scale would have the
advantage in one House, and the Northern in the other. He had been
restrained from proposing this expedient by two considerations; one
was his unwillingness to urge any diversity of interests on an
occasion where it is but too apt to arise of itself; the other was,
the inequality of powers that must be vested in the two branches, and
which would destroy the equilibrium of interests. _pp._ 1006-7.
Monday, July 9, 1787.
Mr. Patterson considered the proposed estimate for the future
according to the combined rules of numbers and wealth, as too vague.
For this reason New Jersey was against it. He could regard negro
slaves in no light but as property. They are no free agents, have no
personal liberty, no faculty of acquiring property, but on the
contrary are themselves property, and like other property, entirely at
the will of the master. Has a man in Virginia a number of votes in
proportion to the number of his slaves? And if negroes are not
represented in the States to which they belong, why should they be
represented in the General Government. What is the true principle of
representation? It is an experiment by which an assembly of certain
individuals, chosen, by the people, is substituted in place of the
inconvenient meeting of the people themselves. If such a meeting of
the people was actually to take place, would the slaves vote? They
would not. Why then should they be represented? He was also against
such an indirect encouragement of the slave trade; observing that
Congress, in their act relating to the change of the eighth article of
Confederation, had been assigned to use the term "slaves," and had
substituted a description.
Mr. Madison reminded Mr. Patterson that his doctrine of
representation, which was in its principle the genuine one, must for
ever silence the pretensions of the small States to an equality of
votes with the large ones. They ought to vote in the same proportion
in which their citizens would do if the people of all the States were
collectively met. He suggested, as a proper ground of compromise, that
in the first branch the States should be represented according to
their number of free inhabitants; and in the second, which has for one
of its primary objects, the guardianship of property, according to the
whole number, including slaves.
Mr. Butler urged warmly the justice and necessity of regarding wealth
in the apportionment of representation.
Mr. King had always expected, that, as the Southern States are the
richest, they would not league themselves with the Northern, unless
some respect was paid to their superior wealth. If the latter expect
those preferential distinctions in commerce, and other advantages
which they will derive from the connexion, they must not expect to
receive them without allowing some advantages in return. Eleven out of
thirteen of the States had agreed to consider slaves in the
apportionment of taxation; and taxation and representation ought to go
together. _pp_. 1054-5-6.
Tuesday, July 10; 1787.
Mr. King remarked that the four Eastern States, having 800,000 souls,
have one-third fewer representatives than the four Southern States,
having not more than 700,000 souls, rating the blacks as five for
three. The Eastern people will advert to these circumstances, and be
dissatisfied. He believed them to be very desirous of uniting with
their Southern brethren, but did not think it prudent to rely so far
on that disposition, as to subject them to any gross inequality. He
was fully convinced that THE QUESTION CONCERNING A DIFFERENCE OF
INTERESTS DID NOT LIE WHERE IT HAD HITHERTO BEEN DISCUSSED, BETWEEN
THE GREAT AND SMALL STATES: BUT BETWEEN THE SOUTHERN AND EASTERN. _p_.
Wednesday, July 11, 1787.
Mr. Butler and General Pinckney insisted that blacks be included in
rule of representation _equally_ with the whites; and for that purpose
moved that the words "three-fifths" be struck out.
Mr. Gerry thought that three fifths of them was, to say the least, the
full proportion that could be admitted.
Mr. Gorham. This ratio was fixed by Congress as a rule of taxation.
Then, it was urged, by the delegates representing the States having
slaves, that the blacks were still more inferior to freemen. At
present, when the ratio of representation is to be established, we are
assured that they are equal to freemen. The arguments on the former
occasion had convinced them that three fifths was pretty near the just
proportion, he should vote according to the same opinion now.
Mr. Butler insisted that the labor of a slave in South Carolina was as
productive and valuable as that of a freeman in Massachusetts; that as
wealth was the greatest means of defence and utility to the nation,
they were equally valuable to it with freemen; and that consequently
an equal representation ought to be allowed for them in a government
which was instituted principally, for the protection of property, and
was itself to be supported by property.
Mr. Mason could not agree to the motion, notwithstanding it was
favorable to Virginia, because he thought it unjust. It was certain
that the slaves were valuable, as they raised the value of land,
increased the exports and imports, and of course the revenue, would
supply the means of feeding and supporting an army, and might in cases
of emergency become themselves soldiers. As in these important
respects they were useful to the community at large, they ought not to
be excluded from the estimate of representation. He could not,
however, regard them as equal to freemen, and could not vote for them
as such. He added, as worthy of remark, that the Southern States have
this peculiar species of property, over and above the other species of
property common to all the States.
Mr. Williamson reminded Mr. Gorham, that if the Southern States
contended for the inferiority of blacks to whites, when taxation was
in view, the Eastern States, on the same occasion, contended for their
equality. He did not, however, either then or now, concur in either
extreme, but approved of the ratio of three-fifths.
On Mr. Butler's motion, for considering blacks as equal to whites in
the apportionment of representation,--Delaware, South Carolina,
Georgia, aye--3; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, no--7. New York not on the floor.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris said he had several objections to the
proposition of Mr. Williamson. In the first place it fettered the
Legislature too much. In the second place, it would exclude some
States altogether who would not have a sufficient number to entitle
them to a single representation. In the third place, it will not
consist with the resolution passed on Saturday last, authorizing the
Legislature to adjust the representation, from time to time on the
principles of population and wealth; nor with the principles of
equity. If slaves were to be considered as inhabitants, not as wealth,
then the said resolution would not be pursued; if as wealth, then why
is no other wealth but slaves included? These objections may perhaps
be removed by amendments.... Another objection with him, against
admitting the blacks into the census, was, that the people of
Pennsylvania would revolt at the idea of being put on a footing with
slaves. They would reject any plan that was to have such an effect.
pp. 1067-8-9 & 1072.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 11, 1787.
The next clause as to three-fifths of the negroes being considered:
Mr. King, being much opposed to fixing numbers as the rule of
representation, was particularly so on account of the blacks. He
thought the admission of them along with whites at all, would excite
great discontents among the States having no slaves. He had never
said, as to any particular point, that he would in no event acquiesce
in and support it; but he would say that if in any case such a
declaration was to be made by him, it would be in this.
He remarked that in the temporary allotment of representatives made by
the Committee, the Southern States had received more than the number
of their white and three-fifths of their black inhabitants entitled
Mr. Sherman. South Carolina had not more beyond her proportion than
New York and New Hampshire; nor either of them more than was necessary
in order to avoid fractions, or reducing them below their proportion.
Georgia had more; but the rapid growth of that State seemed to justify
it. In general the allotment might not be just, but considering all
circumstances he was satisfied with it.
Mr. Gorham was aware that there might be some weight in what had
fallen from his colleague, as to the umbrage which might be taken by
the people of the Eastern States. But he recollected that when the
proposition of Congress for changing the eighth Article of the
Confederation was before the Legislature of Massachusetts, the only
difficulty then was, to satisfy them that the negroes ought not to
have been counted equally with the whites, instead of being counted in
the ratio of three-fifths only.
[Footnote 1: They were then to have been a rule of taxation only.]
Mr. Wilson did not well see, on what principle the admission of blacks
in the proportion of three fifths could be explained. Are they
admitted as citizens--then why are they not admitted on an equality
with white citizens? Are they admitted as property--then why is not
other property admitted into the computation? These were difficulties,
however, which he thought must be overruled by the necessity of
compromise. He had some apprehensions also, from the tendency of the
blending of the blacks with the whites, to give disgust to the people
of Pennsylvania, as had been intimated by his colleague (Mr.
Mr. Gouvemeur Morris was compelled to declare himself reduced to the
dilemma of doing injustice to the Southern States, or to human nature;
and he must therefore do it to the former. For he could never agree to
give such encouragement to the slave trade, as would be given by
allowing them a representation for their negroes; and he did not
believe those States would ever confederate on terms that would
deprive them of that trade.
On the question for agreeing to include three-fifths of the
blacks,--Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina. Georgia, aye--4;
Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, South
Carolina, no--6. pp. 1076-7-8.
[Footnote 2: Mr. Carroll said, in explanation of the vote of Maryland,
that he wished the _phraseology_ to be altered as to obviate, if
possible, the danger which had been expressed of giving umbrage to the
Eastern and Middle States.]
THURSDAY, July 12, 1787.
Mr. Butler contended that representation should be according to the
full number of inhabitants, including all the blacks.
General Pinckney was alarmed at what was said yesterday, [by
Gouverneur Morris,] concerning the negroes. He was now again alarmed
at what had been thrown out concerning the taxing of exports. South
Carolina has in one year exported to the amount of 600,000L. sterling,
all which was the fruit of the labor of her blacks. Will she be
represented in proportion to this amount? She will not. Neither ought
she then be subject to a tax on it. He hoped a clause would be
inserted in the system, restraining the Legislature from taxing
Mr. Gouverneur Morris having so varied his motion by inserting the
word "direct," it passed, _nem. con._, as follows: "provided always
that direct taxation ought to be proportioned to representation."
Mr. Davie said it was high time now to speak out. He saw that it was
meant by some gentlemen to deprive the Southern States of any share of
representation for their blacks. He was sure that North Carolina would
never confederate on any terms that did not rate them at least as
three-fifths. If the Eastern States meant, therefore, to exclude them
altogether, the business was at an end.
Dr. Johnson thought that wealth and population were the true,
equitable rules of representation; but he conceived that these two
principles resolved themselves into one, population being the best
measure of wealth. He concluded, therefore, that the number of people
ought to be established as the rule, and that all descriptions,
including blacks _equally_ with the whites, ought to fall within the
computation. As various opinions had been expressed on the subject, he
would move that a committee might be appointed to take them into
consideration, and report them.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris. It had been said that it is high time to speak
out. As one member, he would candidly do so. He came here to form a
compact for the good of America. He was ready to do so with all the
States. He hoped, and believed, that all would enter into such
compact. If they would not, he was ready to join with any States that
would. But as the compact was to be voluntary, it is in vain for the
Eastern States to insist on what the Southern States will never agree
to. It is equally vain for the latter to require, what the other
States can never admit; and he verily believed the people of
Pennsylvania will never agree to a representation of negroes. What can
be desired by these States more then has been already proposed--that
the legislature shall from time to time regulate representation
according to population and wealth?
General Pinckney desired that the rule of wealth should be
ascertained, and not left to the pleasure of the legislature; and that
property in slaves should not be exposed to danger, under a government
instituted for the protection of property.
The first clause in the Report of the first Grand Committee was
Mr. Ellsworth, in order to carry into effect the principle
established, moved to add to the last clause adopted by the House, the
words following, "and that the rule of contribution for direct
taxation, for the support of the government of the United States,
shall be the number of white inhabitants, and three-fifths of every
other description in the several States, until some other use rule
that shall more accurately ascertain the wealth of the several States,
can be devised and adopted by the Legislature."
Mr. Butler seconded the motion, in order that it might be committed.
Mr. Randolph was not satisfied with the motion. The danger will be
revived, that the ingenuity of the Legislature may evade or pervert
the rule, so as to perpetuate the power where it shall be lodged in
the first instance. He proposed, in lieu of Mr. Ellsworth's motion,
"that in order to ascertain the alterations in representation that may
be required, from time to time, by changes in the relative
circumstances of the States, a census shall be taken within two years
from the first meeting of the General Legislature of the United
States, and once within the term of every ---- years afterwards, of
all the inhabitants, in the manner and according to the ratio
recommended by Congress in their Resolution of the eighteenth day of
April, 1783, (rating the blacks at three-fifths of their number;) and
that the Legislature of the United States shall arrange the
representation accordingly." He urged strenuously that express
security ought to be provided for including slaves in the ratio of
representation. He lamented that such a species of property existed.
But as it did exist, the holders of it would require this security. It
was perceived that the design was entertained by some of excluding
slaves altogether; the Legislature therefore ought not to be left at
Mr. Ellsworth withdraws his motion, and seconds that of Mr. Randolph.
Mr. Wilson observed, that less umbrage would perhaps be taken against
an admission of the slaves into the rule of representation, if it
should be so expressed as to make them indirectly only an ingredient
in the rule, by saying that they should enter into the rule of
taxation; and as representation was to be according to taxation, the
end would be equally attained.
Mr. Pinckney moved to amend Mr. Randolph's motion, so as to make
"blacks equal to the whites in the ratio of representation." This, he
urged, was nothing more than justice. The blacks are the laborers, the
peasants, of the Southern States. They are as productive of pecuniary
resources as those of the northern states. They add equally to the
wealth, and, considering money as the sinew of war, to the strength,
of the nation. It will also be politic with regard to the Northern
States, as taxation is to keep pace with representation.
On Mr. Pinckney's (of S. Carolina) motion, for rating blacks as equal
to whites, instead of as three-fifths,--South Carolina, Georgia, aye
--2; Massachusetts, Connecticut (Doctor Johnson, aye), New Jersey,
Pennsylvania (three against two), Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North
Mr. Randolph's (of Virginia) proposition, as varied by Mr. Wilson (of
Pennsylvania) being read for taking the question on the whole,--
Mr. Gerry (of Massachusetts) urged that the principle of it could not
be carried into execution, as the States were not to be taxed as
States. With regard to taxes on imposts, he conceived they would be
more productive when there were no slaves, than where there were; the
consumption being greater.
Mr. Ellsworth (of Connecticut.) In the case of a poll-tax there would
be no difficulty. But there would probably be none. The sum allotted
to a State may be levied without difficulty, according to the plan
used by the State in raising its own supplies.
On the question on the whole proposition, as proportioning
representation to direct taxation, and both to the white and
three-fifths of the black inhabitants, and requiring a census within
six years, and within every ten years afterwards,--Connecticut,
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye--6;
New-Jersey, Delaware, no--2; Massachusetts, South Carolina, divided.
_pp._ 1079 to 1087.
Friday, July 13, 1787.
On the motion of Mr. Randolph (of Virginia), the vote of Monday last,
authorizing the Legislature to adjust, from time to time, the
representation upon the principles of _wealth_ and numbers of
inhabitants, was reconsidered by common consent, in order to strike
out _wealth_ and adjust the resolution to that requiring periodical
revisions according to the number of whites and three-fifths of the
Mr. Gouverneur Morris (of Pennsylvania) opposed the alteration, as
leaving still an incoherence. If negroes were to be viewed as
inhabitants, and the revision was to proceed on the principle of
numbers of inhabitants, they ought to be added in their entire number,
and not in the proportion of three-fifths. If as property, the word
wealth was right; and striking it out would produce the very
inconsistency which it was meant to get rid of. The train of
business, and the late turn which it had taken, had led him, he said,
into deep meditation on it, and he would candidly state the result. A
distinction has been set up, and urged, between the Northern and
Southern States. He had hitherto considered this doctrine as
heretical. He still thought the distinction groundless. He sees,
however, that it is persisted in; and the Southern gentlemen will not
be satisfied unless they see the way open to their gaining a majority
in the public councils. The consequence of such a transfer of power
from the maritime to the interior and landed interest, will, he
foresees, be such an oppression to commerce, that he shall be obliged
to vote for the vicious principle of equality in the second branch, in
order to provide some defence for the Northern States against it. But
to come more to the point, either this distinction is fictitious or
real; if fictitious, let it be dismissed, and let us proceed with due
confidence. If it be real, instead of attempting to blend
incompatible things, let us at once take a friendly leave of each
other. There can be no end of demands for security, if every
particular interest is to be entitled to it. The Eastern States may
claim it for their fishery, and for other objects, as the Southern
States claim it for their peculiar objects. In this struggle between
the two ends of the Union, what part ought the Middle States, in point
of policy, to take? To join their Eastern brethren, according to his
ideas. If the Southern States get the power into their hands, and be
joined, as they will be, with the interior country, they will
inevitably bring on a war with Spain for the Mississippi. This
language is already held. The interior country, leaving no property
nor interest exposed to the sea, will be little affected by such a
war. He wished to know what security the Northern and Middle States
will have against this danger. It has been said that North Carolina,
South Carolina, and Georgia only, will in a little time have a
majority of the people of America. They must in that case include the
great interior country, and every thing was to be apprehended from
their getting the power into their hands.
Mr. Butler (of South Carolina). The security the Southern States want
is, that their negroes may not be taken from them, which some
gentlemen within or without doors have a very good mind to do. It was
not supposed that North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, would
have more people than all the other States, but many more relatively
to the other States, than they now have. The people and strength of
America are evidently bearing southwardly, and southwestwardly.
On the question to strike out _wealth_, and to make the change as
moved by Mr. Randoph (of Virginia), it passed in the affirmative,--
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland,
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye--9; Delaware,
divided. _pp_. 1090-1-2-3-4.
SATURDAY, July 14, 1787.
Mr. Madison (of Virginia). it seemed now pretty well understood, that
the real difference of interests lay, not between the large and small,
but between the Northern and Southern States. THE INSTITUTION OF
SLAVERY, AND ITS CONSEQUENCES, FORMED THE LINE OF DISCRIMINATION. _p_.
MONDAY, July 23, 1787.
General Pinckney reminded the Convention, that if the Committee should
fail to insert some security to the Southern States against an
emancipation of slaves, and taxes on exports, he should be bound by
duty to his State to vote against their report. _p_. 1187.
TUESDAY, July 24, 1787.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris hoped the Committee would strike out the whole
of the clause proportioning direct taxation to representation. He had
only meant it as a bridge to assist us over a certain gulf; having
passed the gulf, the bridge may be removed. He thought the principle
laid down with so much strictness liable to strong objections. _p_.
[Footnote 3: The object was to lessen the eagerness, on one side, for,
and the opposition, on the other, to the share of representation
claimed by the Southern States on account of the negroes.]
WEDNESDAY, August 8, 1787.
Mr. King 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, if it was to prevent objections to the latter
part. The admission of slaves was a most grating circumstance to his
mind, and he believed would be so to a great part of the people of
America. He had not made a strenuous opposition to it heretofore,
because he had hope that this concession would have produced a
readiness, which had not been manifested, to strengthen the General
Government, and to mark a full confidence in it. The Report under
consideration had, by the tenor of it, put an end to all those 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, defence against foreign invasion; secondly,
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 defence 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 the
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? There was so
much inequality and unreasonableness in all this, that the people of
the Northern States could never be reconciled to it. No candid man
could undertake to justify it to them. He had hoped that some
accommodation would have taken place on this subject; that at least a
time would have been limited for the importation of slaves. 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 he could assent to it under any circumstances. At all events,
either slaves should not be represented, or exports should be taxable.
Mr. Sherman 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 of the report.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris moved to insert "free" before the word
"inhabitants." Much, he said, would depend on this point. He never
would 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 overspread 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. The moment
you leave the Eastern States, and enter New-York, the effects of the
institution become visible. Passing through the Jerseys and entering
Pennsylvania, every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the
change. Proceed southwardly, and every step you take, through the
great regions of slaves, presents a desert increasing with the
increasing proportion of these wretched beings. 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 who 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 and South Carolina, who goes to the coast of
Africa, and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears
away his fellow-creatures from their dearest connections, and damns
them to the most cruel bondage, shall have more votes in a government
instituted for 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. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite
offspring of aristocracy. And what is the proposed compensation to the
Northern States, for a sacrifice of every principle of right, of every
impulse of humanity? They are to bind themselves to march their
militia for the defence of the Southern States, for their defence
against those very slaves of whom they complain. They must supply
vessels and seamen, in case of foreign attack. The Legislature will
have indefinite power to tax them by excises, and duties on imports;
both of which will fall heavier on them than on the Southern
inhabitants; for the bohea tea used by a Northern freeman will pay
more tax than the whole consumption of the miserable slave, which
consists of nothing more than his physical subsistence and the rag
that covers his nakedness. On the other side, the Southern States are
not to be restrained from importing fresh supplies of wretched
Africans, at once to increase the danger of attack, and the difficulty
of defence; nay, they are to be encouraged to it, by an assurance of
having their votes in the National Government increased in proportion;
and are, at the same time, to have their exports and their slaves
exempt from all contributions for the public service. 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 for paying for all the negroes in
the United States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution.
Mr. Dayton seconded the motion. He did it, he said, that his
sentiments on the subject might appear, whatever might be the fate of
Mr. Sherman did not regard the admission of the negroes into the ratio
of representation, as liable to such insuperable objections. It was
the freemen of the Southern States who were, in fact, to be
represented according to the taxes paid by them, and the negroes are
only included in the estimate of the taxes. This was his idea of the
Mr. Pinckney considered the fisheries, and the western frontier, as
more burthensome to the United States than the slaves. He thought this
could be demonstrated, if the occasion were a proper one.
Mr. Wilson thought the motion premature. An agreement to the clause
would be no bar to the object of it.
On the question, on the motion to insert "free" before "inhabitants,"
New-Jersey, aye--1; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut,
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Georgia, no--10. pp. 1261-2-3-4-5-6.
TUESDAY, August 21, 1787.
Mr. L. Martin proposed to vary Article 7, 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 them 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 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. The true question at present is, whether the Southern
States shall or shall not be parties to the Union. If the Northern
States consult their interest, they will not oppose the increase of
slaves, which will increase the commodities of which they will become
Mr. Ellsworth was for leaving the clause as it stands. Let every State
import what it pleases. The morality or wisdom of slavery are
considerations belonging to the States themselves. What enriches a
part enriches the whole, and the States are the best judges of their
particular interest. The Old Confederation had not meddled with this
point; and he did not see any greater necessity for bringing it within
the policy of the new one.
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 has expressly and watchfully excepted that of
meddling with the importation of negroes. If the States be all left at
liberty on this subject, South Carolina may perhaps, by degrees, do of
herself what is wished, as Virginia and Maryland already have done.
Adjourned. _pp_. 1388-9.
WEDNESDAY, August 22, 1787.
Article 7, Section 4, was resumed.
Mr. Sherman was for leaving the clause as it stands. He disapproved of
the slave trade; yet as the States were now possessed of the right to
import slaves, as the public good did not require it to be taken from
them, and as it was expedient to have as few objections as possible to
the proposed scheme of government, he thought it best to leave the
matter as we find it. He observed that the abolition of slavery seemed
to be going on in the United States, and that the good sense of the
several States would probably by degrees complete it. He urged on the
Convention the necessity of despatching its business.
Col. Mason. This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British
merchants. The British Government constantly checked the attempts of
Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerns not the
importing States alone, but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves
was experienced during the late war. Had slaves been treated as they
might have been by the enemy, they would have proved dangerous
instruments in their hands. But their folly dealt by the slaves as it
did by the tories. He mentioned the dangerous insurrections of the
slaves in Greece and Sicily; and the instructions given by Cromwell to
the commissioners sent to Virginia, to arm the servants and slaves, in
case other means of obtaining its submission should fail. Maryland and
Virginia he said had already prohibited the importation of slaves
expressly. North Carolina had done the same in substance. All this
would be in vain, if South Carolina and Georgia be at liberty to
import. The Western people are already calling out 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 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 cannot be rewarded or
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 lamented that some of our Eastern brethren
had, from a lust of gain, embarked in the nefarious traffic. As to the
States being in possession of the right to import, this was the case
with many other rights, now to be properly given up. He held it
essential in every point of view, that the General Government should
have power to prevent the increase of slavery.
Mr. Ellsworth, as he had never owned a slave, could not judge of the
effects of slavery on character. He said, however, that if it was to
be considered in a moral light, we ought to go further and free those
already in the country. As slaves also multiply so fast in Virginia
and Maryland that it is cheaper to raise than import them, whilst in
the sickly rice swamps foreign supplies are necessary, if we go no
further than is urged, we shall be unjust towards South Carolina and
Georgia. Let us not intermeddle. As population increases, poor
laborers will be so plenty as to render slaves useless. Slavery, in
time, will not be a speck in our country. Provision is already made in
Connecticut for abolishing it. And the abolition has already taken
place in Massachusetts. As to the danger of insurrections from foreign
influence, that will become a motive to kind treatment of the slaves.
Mr. Pinckney. If slavery be wrong, it is justified by the example of
all the world. He cited the case of Greece, Rome and other ancient
States; the sanction given by France, England, Holland and other
modern States. In all ages, one half of mankind have been slaves. If
the Southern States were let alone, they will probably of themselves
stop importations. He would himself, as a citizen of South Carolina,
vote for it. An attempt to take away the right, as proposed, will
produce serious objections to the Constitution, which he wished to see
Gen. Pinckney declared it to be his firm opinion that if himself and
all his colleagues were to sign the Constitution and use their
personal influence, it would be of no avail towards obtaining the
assent of their constituents. South Carolina and Georgia cannot do
without slaves. As to Virginia, she will gain by stopping the
importations. Her slaves will rise in value, and she has more than she
wants. It would be unequal, to require South Carolina and Georgia, to
confederate on such unequal terms. He said the Royal assent, before
the Revolution, had never been refused to South Carolina, as to
Virginia. He contended that the importation of slaves would be for the
interest of the whole Union. The more slaves, the more produce 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 had conceived national objects alone to be before the
Convention; not such as, like the present, were of a local nature.
Georgia was decided on this point. That State has always hitherto
supposed a General Government to be the pursuit of the central States,
who wished to have a vortex for every thing; that her distance would
preclude her, from equal advantage; and that she could not prudently
purchase it by yielding national powers. From this it might be
understood, in what light she would view an attempt to abridge one of
her favorite prerogatives. If left to herself, she may probably put a
stop to the evil. As one ground for this conjecture, he took notice of
the sect of ----; which he said was a respectable class of people,
who carried their ethics beyond the mere _equality of men_, extending
their humanity to the claims of the whole animal creation.
Mr. Wilson observed that if South Carolina and Georgia were themselves
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. Gerry thought we had nothing to do with the conduct of the States
as to slaves, but ought to be careful not to give any sanction to it.
Mr. Dickinson considered it as inadmissible, on every principle of
honor and safety, that the importation of slaves should be authorized
to the States by the Constitution. The true question was, whether the
national happiness would be promoted or impeded by the importation;
and this question ought to be left to the National Government, not to
the States particularly interested. If England and France permit
slavery, slaves are, at the same time, excluded from both those
kingdoms. Greece and Rome were made unhappy by their slaves. He could
not believe that the Southern States would refuse to confederate on
the account apprehended; especially as the power was not likely to be
immediately exercised by the General Government.
Mr. Williamson stated the law of North Carolina on the subject, to
wit, that it did not directly prohibit the importation of slaves. It
imposed a duty of L5 on each slave imported from Africa; L10 on each
from elsewhere; and L50 on each from a State licensing manumission. He
thought the Southern States could not be members of the Union, if the
clause should be rejected; and that it was wrong to force any thing
down not absolutely necessary, and which any State must disagree to.
Mr. King thought the subject should be considered in a political light
only. If two states will not agree to the Constitution, as stated on
one side, he could affirm with equal belief, on the other, that great
and equal opposition would be experienced from the other States. He
remarked on the exemption of slaves from duty, whilst every other
import was subjected to it, as an inequality that could not fail to
strike the commercial sagacity of the Northern and Middle States.
Mr. Langdon was strenuous for giving the power to the General
Government. He could not, with a good conscience, have it with the
States, who could then go on with the traffic, without being
restrained by the opinions here given, that they will themselves cease
to import slaves.
Gen. 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. If the Convention thinks that North Carolina, South
Carolina, and Georgia, will ever agree to the plan, unless their right
to import slaves be untouched, the expectation is vain. The people of
those States will never be such fools, as to give up so important an
interest. He was strenuous against striking out the section, and
seconded the motion of Gen. Pinckney for a commitment.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris wished the whole subject to be committed
including the clauses relating to taxes on exports and to a navigation
act. These things may form a bargain among the Northern and Southern
Mr. Butler declared that he never would agree to the power of taxing
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_. He
was opposed to a tax on slaves imported, as making the matter worse,
because it implied they were _property_. He acknowledged that if the
power of prohibiting the importation should be given to the General
Government, that it would be exercised. He thought it would be its
duty to exercise the power.
Mr. Read was for the commitment, provided the clause concerning taxes
on experts should also be committed.
Mr. Sherman observed that that clause had been agreed to, and
therefore could not be committed.
Mr. Randolph was for committing, in order that some middle ground
might, if possible, be found. He could never agree to the clause as it
stands. He would sooner risk the Constitution. He dwelt on the dilemma
to which the Convention was exposed. By agreeing to the clause, it
would revolt the Quakers, the Methodists, and many others in the
States having no slaves. On the other hand, two States might be lost
to the Union. Let us then, he said, try the chance of a commitment.
On the question for committing the remaining part of Sections 4 and 5,
of Article 7,--Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye--7; New Hampshire,
Pennsylvania, Delaware, no--3; Massachusetts absent. p. 1390-97.
Friday, August 24, 1787.
_In Convention_,--Governor Livingston, from the committee of eleven,
to whom were referred the two remaining clauses of the fourth section,
and the fifth and sixth sections, of the seventh Article, delivered in
the following Report:
"Strike out so much of the fourth section as was referred to the
Committee, and insert, 'The migration or importation of such persons
as the several States, now existing, shall think proper to admit,
shall not be prohibited by the Legislature prior to the year 1800; but
a tax or duty may be imposed on such migration or importation, at a
rate not exceeding the average of the duties laid on imports.'
"The fifth Section to remain as in the Report.
"The sixth Section to be stricken out." p. 1415.
[Footnote 4: This sixth Section was, "No Navigation act shall be passed
without the assent of two-thirds of the members present in each
Saturday, August 25, 1787.
The Report of the Committee of eleven (see Friday, the twenty-fourth)
being taken up,--
Gen. Pinckney moved to strike out the words, "the year eighteen
hundred," as the year limiting the importation of slaves; and to
insert the words, "the year eighteen hundred and eight."
Mr. Gorham seconded the motion.
Mr. Madison. 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.
On the motion, which passed in the affirmative,--New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, aye--7; New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, no--4.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris was for making the clause read at once, "the
importation of slaves in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia,
shall not be prohibited, &c." This he said, would be most fair, and
would avoid the ambiguity by which, under the power with regard to
naturalization, the liberty reserved to the States might be defeated.
He wished it to be known, also, that this part of the Constitution was
a compliance with those States. If the change of language, however,
should be objected to, by the members from those States, he should not
Col. Mason was not against using the term "slaves," but against naming
North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, lest it should give
offence to the people of those States.
Mr. Sherman liked a description better than the terms proposed, which
had been declined by the old Congress, and were not pleasing to some
M. Clymer concurred with Mr. Sherman.
Mr. Williamson said, that both in opinion and practice he was against
slavery; but thought it more in favor of humanity, from a view of all
circumstances, to let in South Carolina and Georgia on those terms,
than to exclude them from the Union.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris withdrew his motion.
Mr. Dickinson wished the clause to be confined to the States which had
not themselves prohibited the importation of slaves; and for that
purpose moved to amend the clause, so as to read: "The importation of
slaves into such of the States as shall permit the same, shall not be
prohibited by the Legislature of the United States, until the year
1808;" which was disagreed to, _nem. con._
[Footnote 5: In the printed Journals, Connecticut, Virginia, and
Georgia, voted in the affirmative.]
The first part of the Report was then agreed to, amended as follows:
"The migration or importation of such persons as the several States
now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by
the Legislature prior to the year 1808,"--
New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina,
South Carolina, Georgia, aye--7; New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware,
Mr. Baldwin, in order to restrain and more explicitly define, "the
average duty," moved to strike out of the second part the words,
"average of the duties and on imports," and insert "common impost on
articles not enumerated;" which was agreed to, _nem. con._
Mr. Sherman was against this second part, as acknowledging men to be
property, by taxing them as such under the character of slaves.
Mr. King and Mr. Langdon considered this as the price of the first
Gen. Pinckney admitted that it was so.
Col. Mason. Not to tax, will be equivalent to a bounty on, the
importation of slaves.
Mr. Gorham thought that Mr. Sherman should consider the duty, not as
implying that slaves are property, but as a discouragement to the
importation of them.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris remarked, that, as the clause now stands, it
implies that the Legislature may tax freemen imported.
Mr. Sherman, in answer to Mr. Gorham, observed, that the smallness of
the duty showed revenue to be the object, not the discouragement of
Mr. Madison thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea
that there could be property in men. The reason of duties did not
hold, as slaves are not, like merchandise, consumed, &c.
Col. Mason, in answer to Mr. Gouverneur Morris. The provision as it
stands, was necessary for the case of convicts; in order to prevent
the introduction of them.
It was finally agreed, _nem. con_., to make the clause read: "but a
tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten
dollars for each person;" and then the second part, as amended, was
agreed to. _pp_. 1427 to 30.
Tuesday, August 28, 1787.
Article 14, was then taken up.
General Pinckney was not satisfied with it. He seemed to wish some
provision should be included in favor of property in slaves.
On the question on Article 14,--
New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, aye--9; South Carolina,
no--1; Georgia, divided.
Article 15, being then taken up, the words, "high misdemeanor," were
struck out, and the words, "other crime," inserted, in order to
comprehend all proper cases; it being doubtful whether "high
misdemeanor" had not a technical meaning too limited.
Mr. Butler and Mr. Pinckney moved to require "fugitive slaves and
servants to be delivered up like criminals."
Mr. Wilson. This would oblige the Executive of the State to do it, at
the public expense.
Mr. Sherman saw no more propriety in the public seizing and
surrendering a slave or servant, than a horse.
Mr. Butler withdrew his proposition, in order that some particular
provision might be made, apart from this article.
Article 15, as amended, was then agreed to, _nem. con_. _pp_. 1447-8.
Wednesday, August 29, 1787.
General Pinckney said it was the true interest of the Southern States
to have no regulation of commerce; but considering the loss brought on
the commerce of the Eastern States by the Revolution, their liberal
conduct towards the views of South Carolina, and the interest the
weak Southern States had in being united with the strong Eastern
States, he thought it proper that no fetters should be imposed on the
power of making commercial regulations, and that his constituents,
though prejudiced against the Eastern States, would be reconciled to
this liberality. He had, himself, he said, prejudices against the
Eastern States before he came here, but would acknowledge that he had
found them as liberal and candid as any men whatever. _p_. 1451.
[Footnote 6: He meant the permission to import slaves. An understanding
on the two subjects of _navigation_ and _slavery_, had taken place
between those parts of the Union, which explains the vote on the
motion depending, as well as the language of General Pinckney and
Mr. Butler moved to insert after Article 15, "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 subsisting in the State to
which they escape, but shall be delivered up to the person justly
claiming their service or labor,"--which was agreed to, _nem. con_.
Monday, September 10, 1787.
Mr. Rutledge said he never could agree to give a power by which the
articles relating to slaves might be altered by the States not
interested in that property, and prejudiced against it. In order to
obviate this objection, these words were added to the proposition:
"provided that no amendments, which may be made prior to the year 1808
shall in any manner affect the fourth and fifth sections of the
seventh Article." _p_. 1536.
Thursday, September 13, 1787.
Article 1, Section 2. On motion of Mr. Randolph, the word "servitude"
was struck out, and "service" unanimously inserted, the former
being thought to express the condition of slaves, and the latter the
obligations of free persons.
[Footnote 7: See page 372 of the printed journal.]
Mr. Dickinson and Mr. Wilson moved to strike out, "and direct taxes,"
from Article 1, Section 2, as improperly placed in a clause relating
merely to the Constitution of the House of Representatives.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris. The insertion here was in consequence of what
had passed on this point; in order to exclude the appearance of
counting the negroes in the _representation_. The including of them
may now be referred to the object of direct taxes, and incidentally
only to that representation.
On the motion to strike out, "and direct taxes," from this place,--New
Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, aye--3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts,
Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, no--8. _pp_. 1569-70.
Saturday, September 15, 1787.
Article 4, Section 2, (the third paragraph,) the term "legally" was
struck out; and the words, "under the laws thereof," inserted after
the word "State," in compliance with the wish of some who thought the
term _legal_ equivocal, and favoring the idea that slavery was legal
in a moral view. _p_. 1589.
Mr. Gerry stated the objections which determined him to withhold his
name from the Constitution: 1--2--3--4--5--6, that three fifths of
the blacks are to be represented, as if they were freemen. _p_. 1595.
* * * * *
LIST OF MEMBERS
OF THE FEDERAL CONVENTION WHO FORMED THE CONSTITUTION OF
THE UNITED STATES.
New Hampshire, 1 John Langdon, July 23, 1787.
2 Nicholas Gilman, " 23.
Massachusetts, _Francis Dana_,
Elbridge Gerry, May 29.
3 Nath'l Gorham, " 25.
4 Rufus King, " 25.
Caleb Strong, " 28.
Rhode Island, (No appointment.)
Connecticut, 5 W.S. Johnson, June 2.
6 Roger Sherman, May 30.
Oliver Ellsworth, " 29.
New York, Robert Yates, " 25.
7 Alex'r Hamilton, " 25.
John Lansing, June 2.
New Jersey, 8 Wm. Livingston, " 5.
9 David Brearly, May 5.
Wm. C. Houston, do.
10 Wm. Patterson, do.
11 Jonathan Dayton, June 21.
Pennsylvania, 12 Benj. Franklin, May 28.
13 Thos. Miffin, do.
Pennsylvania. 14 Robert Morris, May 25.
15 Gen. Clymer, " 28.
16 Thos. Fitzsimmons, " 25.
17 Jared Ingersoll, " 28.
18 James Wilson, " 25.
19 Gouv'r Morris, " 25.
Delaware, 20 Geo. Reed, " 25.
21 G. Bedford, Jr. " 28.
22 John Dickinson, " 28.
23 Richard Bassett, " 25.
24 Jacob Broom, " 25.
Maryland, 25 James M'Henry, " 29.
26 Daniel of St. Tho. Jenifer, June 2.
27 Daniel Carroll, July 9.
John F. Mercer, Aug. 6.
Luther Martin, June 9.
Virginia, 28 G. Washington, May 25.
_Patrick Henry_, (declined.)
Edmund Randolph, " 25.
29 John Blair, " 25.
30 Jas. Madison, Jr. " 25.
George Mason, " 25.
George Wythe, " 25.
James McClurg, (in
room P. Henry) " 25.
North Carolina, _Rich'd Caswell_ (resigned).
Alex'r Martin, May 25.
Wm. R. Davie, " 25.
31 Wm. Blount (in room
of R. Caswell), June 20.
_Willie Jones_ (declined).
32 R. D. Spaight, May 25.
33 Hugh Williamson, (in
room of W. Jones,) May 25.
South Carolina, 34 John Rutledge, " 25.
35 Chas. C. Pinckney, " 25.
36 Chas. Pinckney, " 25.
37 Peirce Butler, " 25.
Georgia, 38 William Few, " 25.
39 Abr'm Baldwin, June 11.
William Pierce, May 31.
Wm. Houston, June 1.
Those with numbers before their names signed the Constitution. 39
Those in italics never attended. 10
Members who attended, but did not sign the Constitution, 16
Extract from a Speech of Luther Martin, (delivered before the
Legislature of Maryland,) one of the delegates from Maryland to the
Convention that formed the Constitution of the United States.
With respect to that part of the _second_ section of the _first_
Article, which relates to the apportionment of representation and
direct taxation, there were considerable objections made to it,
besides the great objection of inequality--It was urged, that no
principle could justify taking _slaves_ into computation in
apportioning the number of _representatives_ a state should have in
the government--That it involved the absurdity of increasing the power
of a state in making laws for _free men_ 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 adopted or continued 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: and why _slaves_ should, as
property, be taken into account rather than horses, cattle, mules, or
any other species; and it was observed by an honorable member from
Massachusetts, that he considered it as dishonorable and humiliating
to enter into compact with the _slaves_ of the _southern states_, as
it would with the _horses_ and _mules_ of the _eastern_.
By the ninth section of this Article, the importation of such persons
as any of the States now existing, shall think proper to admit, shall
not be prohibited prior to the year 1808, but a duty may be imposed on
such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.
The design of this clause is to prevent the general government from
prohibiting the importation of slaves; but the same reasons which
caused them to strike out the word "national," and not admit the word
"stamps," influenced them here to guard against the word "_slaves_."
They anxiously sought to avoid the admission of expressions which
might be odious in the ears of Americans, although they were willing
to admit into their system those _things_ which the expression
signified; and hence it is that the clause is so worded as really to
authorize the general government to impose a duty of ten dollars on
every foreigner who comes into a State to become a citizen, whether he
comes absolutely free, or qualifiedly so as a servant; although this
is contrary to the design of the framers, and the duty was only meant
to extend to the importation of slaves.
This clause was the subject of a great diversity of sentiment in the
Convention. As the system was reported by the committee of detail, the
provision was general, that such importation should not be prohibited,
without confining it to any particular period. This was rejected by
eight States--Georgia, South Carolina, and, I think, North Carolina,
voting for it.
We were then told by the delegates of the two first of those states,
that their states would never agree to a system, which put it in the
power of the general government to prevent the importation of slaves,
and that they, as delegates from those states, must withhold their
assent from such a system.
A committee of one member from each State was chosen by ballot, to
take this part of the system under their consideration, and to
endeavor to agree upon some report, which should reconcile those
States. To this committee also was referred the following proposition,
which had been reported by the committee of detail, to wit: "No
navigation act shall be passed without the assent of two-thirds of the
members present in each house;" a proposition which the staple and
commercial States were solicitous to retain, lest their commerce
should be placed too much under the power of the Eastern States; but
which these last States were as anxious to reject. This committee, of
which also I had the honor to be a member, met and took under their
consideration the subjects committed to them. I found the _eastern_
States, notwithstanding their _aversion to slavery_, were very willing
to indulge the southern States, at least with a temporary liberty to
prosecute the _slave trade_, provided the southern states would in
their turn gratify them, by laying no restriction on navigation acts;
and after a very little time, the committee, by a great majority,
agreed on a report, by which the general government was to be
prohibited from preventing the importation of slaves for a limited
time, and the restricted clause relative to navigation acts was to be
This report was adopted by a majority of the Convention, but not
without considerable opposition.
It was said, we had just assumed a place among independent nations in
consequence of our opposition to the attempts of Great Britain to
_enslave us_; that this opposition was grounded upon the preservation
of those, rights to which God and nature had entitled us, not in
_particular_, but in _common_ with all the rest of mankind; that we
had 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 mercy and
protection in forming our government over a free people, a government
formed pretendedly on the principles of liberty, and for its
preservation,--in that government to have a provision not only
putting it out of its power to restrain and prevent the slave trade,
even encouraging that most infamous traffic, by giving the States the
power and influence in the Union in proportion as they cruelly and
wantonly sported with the rights of their fellow-creatures, ought to
be considered as a solemn mockery of, and an insult to, that God whose
protection we had then implored, and could not fail to hold us up in
detestation, and render us contemptible to every true friend of
liberty in the world. It was said, it ought to be considered that
national crimes can only be, and frequently are, punished in this
world by national punishments; and that the continuance of the slave
trade, and thus giving it a national sanction, and encouragement,
ought to be considered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and
vengeance of him who is equally Lord of all, and who views with equal
eye the poor African slave and his American master!
It was urged that by this system, we were giving the general
government full and absolute power to regulate commerce, under which
general power it would have a right to restrain, or totally prohibit,
the slave trade: it must, therefore, appear to the world absurd and
disgraceful to the last degree, that we should except from the
exercise of that power, the only branch of commerce which is
unjustifiable in its nature, and contrary to the rights of mankind.
That, on the contrary, we ought rather to prohibit expressly in our
Constitution, the further importation of slaves, and to authorize the
general government, from time to time, to make such regulations as
should be thought most advantageous for the gradual abolition of
slavery, and the emancipation of the slaves which are already in the
States. 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 and oppression. It was further urged, that,
by this system of government, every State is to be protected both from
foreign invasion and from domestic insurrections; from this
consideration, it was of the utmost importance it should have a power
to restrain the importation of slaves, since, in proportion as the
number of slaves are increased in any State, in the same proportion
the State is weakened and exposed to foreign invasion or domestic
insurrection, and by so much less will it be able to protect itself
against either, and therefore will by so the much want aid from, and
be a burden to, the Union.
It was further said, that, as in this system we were giving the
general government a power, under the idea of national character, or
national interest, to regulate even our weights and measures, and have
prohibited all possibility of emitting paper money, and passing
insolvent laws, &c., it must appear still more extraordinary, that we
should prohibit the government from interfering with the slave trade,
than which nothing could so materially affect both our national honor
These reasons influenced me, both on the committee and in convention,
most decidedly to oppose and vote against the clause, as it now makes
part of the system.
You will perceive, sir, not only that the general government is
prohibited from interfering in the slave-trade before the year
eighteen hundred and eight, but that there is no provision in the
Constitution that it shall afterwards be prohibited, nor any security
that such prohibition will ever take place; and I think there is great
reason to believe, that, if the importation of slaves is permitted
until the year eighteen hundred and eight, it will not be prohibited
afterwards. At this time, we do not generally hold this commerce in so
great abhorrence as we have done. When our liberties were at stake, we
warmly felt for the common rights of men. The danger being thought to
be past, which threatened ourselves, we are daily growing more
insensible to those rights. In those States which have restrained or
prohibited the importation of slaves, it is only done by legislative
acts, which may be repealed. When those States find that they must, in
their national character and connexion, suffer in the disgrace, and
share in the inconveniences attendant upon that detestable and
iniquitous traffic, they may be desirous also to share in the benefits
arising from it; and the odium attending it will be greatly effaced by
the sanction which is given to it in the general government.
By the next paragraph, the general government is to have a power of
suspending the _habeas corpus act_, in cases of _rebellion_ or
As the State governments have a power of suspending the habeas corpus
act in those cases, it was said, there could be no reason for giving
such a power to the general government; since, whenever the State
which is invaded, or in which an insurrection takes place, finds its
safety requires it, it will make use of that power. And it was urged,
that if we gave this power to the general government, it would be an
engine of oppression in its hands; since whenever a State should