Part 46 out of 52
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 everything; 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, leave 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 exports 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.
Mr. Pinckney and Mr. Langdon moved to commit Section 6, as to a
navigation act by two-thirds of each House.
Mr. Gorham did not see the propriety of it. Is it meant to require a
greater proportion of votes? He desired it to be remembered, that the
Eastern States had no motive to union but a commercial one. They were
able to protect themselves. They were not afraid of external danger,
and did not need the aid of the Southern States.
Mr. Wilson wished for a commitment, in order to reduce the proportion
of votes required.
Mr. Ellsworth was for taking the plan as it is. This widening of
opinions had a threatening aspect. If we do not agree on this middle
and moderate ground, he was afraid we should lose two States, with
such others as may be disposed to stand aloof; should fly into a
variety of shapes and directions, and most probably into several
confederations,--and not without bloodshed.
On the question for committing Section 6, as to a navigation act, to a
member from each State,--New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia,
aye--9; Connecticut, New Jersey, no--2.
The Committee appointed were Messrs. Langdon, King, Johnson,
Livingston, Clymer, Dickinson, L. Martin, Madison, Williamson, C.C.
Pinckney, and Baldwin.
To this Committee were referred also the two clauses above mentioned
of the fourth and fifth Sections of Article 7.--pp. 1390 to 1397.
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.
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
Mr. 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 4: 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 laid 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
part. 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 merchandize 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.
[Footnote 5: Article 14 was,--The citizens of each State shall be
entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several
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.
[Footnote 6: Article 15 was,--Any person charged with treason, felony
or high misdemeanor in any State, who shall flee from justice, and
shall be found in any other State, shall, on demand of the Executive
power of the State from which he fled, be delivered up and removed to
the State having jurisdiction of the offence.--EDITOR.]
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.
Article 7, Section 6, by the Committee of Eleven reported to be struck
out (see the twenty-fourth inst.) being now taken up,--
Mr. PINCKNEY moved to postpone the Report, in favor of the following
proposition: "That no act of the Legislature for the purpose of
regulating the Commerce of the United States with foreign powers,
among the several States, shall be passed without the assent of
two-thirds of the members of each House." He remarked that there were
five distinct commercial interests.
The power of regulating commerce was a pure concession on the part of
the Southern States. They did not need the protection of the Northern
States at present.--_p_. 1450.
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 7: 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 of the
motion depending, as well as the language of General Pinckney and
Mr. PINCKNEY replied, that his enumeration meant the five minute
interests. It still left the two great divisions of Northern and
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS opposed the object of the motion as highly
injurious.--A navy was essential to security, particularly of the
Mr. WILLIAMSON. As to the weakness of the Southern States, he was not
alarmed on that account. The sickliness of their climate for invaders
would prevent their being made an object. He acknowledged that he did
not think the motion requiring two-thirds necessary in itself; because
if a majority of the Northern States should push their regulations too
far, the Southern States would build ships for themselves; but he knew
the Southern people were apprehensive on this subject, and would be
pleased with the precaution.
Mr. SPAIGHT was against the motion. The Southern States could at any
time save themselves from oppression, by building ships for their own
Mr. BUTLER differed from those who considered the rejection of the
motion as no concession on the part of the Southern States. He
considered the interests of these and of the Eastern States to be as
different as the interests of Russia and Turkey. Being,
notwithstanding, desirous of conciliating the affections of the
Eastern States, he should vote against requiring two-thirds instead of
a majority.--_p_. 1453.
Mr. MADISON. He added, that the Southern States would derive an
essential advantage, in the general security afforded by the increase
of our maritime strength. He stated the vulnerable situation of them
all, and of Virginia in particular.
Mr. RUTLEDGE was against the motion of his colleague. At the worst, a
navigation act could bear hard a little while only on the Southern
States. As we are laying the foundation for a great empire, we ought
to take a permanent view of the subject, and not look at the present
Mr. GORMAN. The Eastern States were not led to strengthen the Union by
fear for their own safety.
He deprecated the consequences of disunion; but if it should take
place, it was the Southern part of the Continent that had most reason
to dread them.
On the question to postpone, in order to take up Mr. PINCKNEY's
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye--4; New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South
Carolina, no--7. The Report of the Committee for striking out Section
6, requiring two-thirds of each House to pass a navigation act, was
then agreed to, _nem. con_.
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.
THURSDAY, August 30, 1787.
Article 18, being taken up,
On a question for striking out "domestic violence," and inserting
"insurrections," it passed in the negative,--New Jersey, Virginia,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye--5; New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland,
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.
TUESDAY, 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 8: See page 372 of the printed journal.]
Mr. DICKENSON 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 of 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, " 28.
4 Rufus King, " 25.
Caleb Strong, May 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 25.
Wm. C. Houston, May 25.
10 Wm. Patterson, do.
11 Jonathan Dayton, June 21.
Pennsylvania, 12 Benj. Franklin, May 28.
13 Thos. Mifflin, do.
14 Robert Morris, May 25.
15 Geo. Clymer, " 28.
16 Thos. Fitzsimons, " 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 Dickenson, " 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 of P. Henry) " 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, May 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
Extracts 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 expressions
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 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 much the more 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 both 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
oppose its views, however arbitrary and unconstitutional, and refuse
submission to them, the general government may declare it to be an act
of rebellion, and, suspending the habeas corpus act, may seize upon
the persons of those advocates of freedom, who have had virtue and
resolution enough to excite the opposition, and may imprison them
during its pleasure in the remotest part of the Union; so that a
citizen of Georgia might be _bastiled_ in the furthest part of New
Hampshire; or a citizen of New Hampshire in the furthest extreme of
the South, cut off from their family, their friends, and their every
connexion. These considerations induced me, sir, to give my negative
also to this clause.
EXTRACTS FROM DEBATES IN THE SEVERAL STATE CONVENTIONS ON THE ADOPTION
OF THE UNITED STATES' CONSTITUTION.
* * * * *
The third paragraph of the 2d section being read,
Mr. KING rose to explain it. There has, says he, been much
misconception of this section. It is a principle of this Constitution,
that representation and taxation should go hand in hand. This
paragraph states, that the number of free persons 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. These persons are the slaves. By
this rule is representation and taxation to be apportioned. And it was
adopted, because it was the language of all America.
Mr. WIDGERY asked, if a boy of six years of age was to be considered
as a free person?
Mr. KING in answer said, all persons born free were to be considered
as freemen; and to make the idea of _taxation by numbers_ more
intelligible, said that five negro children of South Carolina, are to
pay as much tax as the three Governors of New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
Mr. GORHAM thought the proposed section much in favor of
Massachusetts; and if it operated against any State, it was
Pennsylvania, because they have more white persons _bound_ than any
Judge DANA, in reply to the remark of some gentlemen, that the
southern States were favored in this mode of apportionment, by having
five of their negroes set against three persons in the eastern, the
honorable judge observed, that the negroes of the southern States work
no longer than when the eye of the driver is on them. Can, asked he,
that land flourish like this, which is cultivated by the hands of
freemen? Are not _three_ of these independent freemen of more real
advantage to a State, than _five_ of those poor slaves?
Mr. NASSON remarked on the statement of the honorable Mr. KING, by
saying that the honorable gentleman should have gone further, and
shown us the other side of the question. It is a good rule that works
both ways--and the gentleman should also have told us, that three of
our infants in the cradle, are to be rated as high as five of the
working negroes of Virginia. Mr. N. adverted to a statement of Mr.
KING, who had said, that five negro children of South Carolina were
equally rateable as three governors of New England, and wished, he
said, the honorable gentleman had considered this question upon the
other side--as it would then appear that this State will pay as great
a tax for three children in the cradle, as any of the southern States
will for five hearty working negro men. He hoped, he said, while we
were making a new government, we should make it better than the old
one: for if we had made a bad bargain before, as had been hinted, it
was a reason why we should make a better one now.
Mr. DAWES said, he was sorry to hear so many objections raised against
the paragraph under consideration. He though them wholly unfounded;
that the black inhabitants of the southern States must be considered
either as slaves, and as so much property, or in the character of so
many freemen; if the former, why should they not be wholly
represented? Our _own_ State laws and Constitution would lead us to
consider those blacks as _freemen_, and so indeed would our own ideas
of natural justice: if, then, they are freemen, they might form an
equal basis for representation as though they were all white
inhabitants. In either view, therefore, he could not see that the
northern States would suffer, but directly to the contrary. He
thought, however, that gentlemen would do well to connect the passage
in dispute with another article in the Constitution, that permits
Congress, in the year 1808, wholly to prohibit the importation of
slaves, and in the mean time to impose a duty of ten dollars a head on
such blacks as should be imported before that period. Besides, by the
new Constitution, every particular State is left to its own option
totally to prohibit the introduction of slaves into its own
territories. What could the convention do more? The members of the
southern States, like ourselves, have _their_ prejudices. It would not
do to abolish slavery, by an act of Congress, in a moment, and so
destroy what our southern brethren consider as property. But we may
say, that although slavery is not smitten by an apoplexy, yet it has
received a mortal wound and will die of a consumption.
Mr. NEAL (from Kittery,) went over the ground of objection to this
section on the idea that the slave trade was allowed to be continued
for 20 years. His profession, he said, obliged him to bear witness
against any thing that should favor the making merchandise of the
bodies of men, and unless his objection was removed, he could not put
his hand to the Constitution. Other gentlemen said, in addition to
this idea, that there was not even a proposition that the negroes ever
shall be free, and Gen. THOMPSON exclaimed:
Mr. President, shall it be said, that after we have established our
own independence and freedom, we make slaves of others? Oh!
Washington, what a name has he had! How he has immortalized himself!
but he holds those in slavery who have a good right to be free as he
has--he is still for self; and, in my opinion, his character has sunk
50 per cent.
On the other side, gentlemen said, that the step taken in this article
towards the abolition of slavery, was one of the beauties of the
Constitution. They observed, that in the confederation there was no
provision whatever for its ever being abolished; but this Constitution
provides, that Congress may, after 20 years, totally annihilate the
slave trade; and that, as all the States, except two, have passed laws
to this effect, it might reasonably be expected, that it would then be
done. In the interim, all the States were at liberty to prohibit it.
SATURDAY, January 26.--[The debate on the 9th section still continued
desultory--and consisted of similar objections, and answers thereto,
as had before been used. Both sides deprecated the slave trade in the
most pointed terms; on one side it was pathetically lamented, by Mr.
NASON, Major LUSK, Mr. NEAL, and others, that this Constitution
provided for the continuation of the slave trade for 20 years. On the
other, the honorable Judge DANA, Mr. ADAMS and others, rejoiced that a
door was now to be opened for the annihilation of this odious,
abhorrent practice, in a certain time.]
Gen. HEATH. Mr. President,--By my indisposition and absence, I have
lost several important opportunities: I have lost the opportunity
of expressing my sentiments with a candid freedom, on some of the
paragraphs of the system, which have lain heavy on my mind. I have
lost the opportunity of expressing my warm approbation on some of the
paragraphs. I have lost the opportunity of hearing those judicious,
enlightening and convincing arguments, which have been advanced during
the investigation of the system. This is my misfortune, and I must
bear it. The paragraph respecting the migration or importation of such
persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit,
&c., is one of those considered during my absence, and I have heard
nothing on the subject, save what has been mentioned this morning; but
I think the gentlemen who have spoken, have carried the matter rather
too far on both sides. I apprehend that it is not in our power to do
any thing for or against those who are in slavery in the southern
States. No gentleman within these walls detests every idea of slavery
more than I do: it is generally detested by the people of this
Commonwealth; and I ardently hope that the time will soon come, when
our brethren in the southern States will view it as we do, and put a
stop to it; but to this we have no right to compel them. Two questions
naturally arise: if we ratify the Constitution, shall we do any thing
by our act to hold the blacks in slavery--or shall we become the
partakers of other men's sins? I think neither of them. Each State is
sovereign and independent to a certain degree, and they have a right,
and will regulate their own internal affairs, as to themselves appears
proper; and shall we refuse to eat, or to drink, or to be united, with
those who do not think, or act, just as we do? surely not. We are not
in this case partakers of other men's sins, for in nothing do we
voluntarily encourage the slavery of our fellow-men; a restriction is
laid on the Federal Government, which could not be avoided, and a
union take place. The Federal Convention went as far as they could;
the migration or importation, &c., is confined to the States, now
_existing only_, new States cannot claim it. Congress, by their
ordinance for erecting new States, some time since, declared that the
new States shall be republican, and that there shall be no slavery in
them. But whether those in slavery in the southern States will be
emancipated after the year 1808, I do not pretend to determine: I
rather doubt it.
Mr. NEAL rose and said, that as the Constitution at large, was now
under consideration, he would just remark, that the article which
respected the Africans, was the one which laid on his mind--and,
unless his objections to that were removed, it must, how much soever
he liked the other parts of the Constitution, be a sufficient reason
for him to give his negative to it.
Major LUSK concurred in the idea already thrown out in the debate,
that although the insertion of the amendments in the Constitution was
devoutly wished, yet he did not see any reason to suppose they ever
would be adopted. Turning from the subject of amendments, the Major
entered largely into the consideration of the 9th section, and in the
most pathetic and feeling manner, described the miseries of the poor
natives of Africa, who are kidnapped and sold for slaves. With the
brightest colors he painted their happiness and ease on their native
shores, and contrasted them with their wretched, miserable and unhappy
condition, in a state of slavery.
Rev. Mr. BACKUS. Much, sir, hath been said about the importation of
slaves into this country. I believe that, according to my capacity, no
man abhors that wicked practice more than I do, and would gladly make
use of all lawful means towards the abolishing of slavery in all parts
of the land. But let us consider where we are, and what we are doing.
In the articles of confederation, no provision was made to hinder the
importation of slaves into any of these States: but a door is now
opened hereafter to do it; and each State is at liberty now to abolish
slavery as soon as they please. And let us remember our former
connexion with Great Britain, from whom many in our land think we
ought not to have revolted. How did they carry on the slave trade! I
know that the Bishop of Gloucester, in an annual sermon in London, in
February, 1766, endeavored to justify their tyrannical claims of power
over us, by casting the reproach of the slave trade upon the
Americans. But at the close of the war, the Bishop of Chester, in an
annual sermon, in February, 1783, ingenuously owned, that their nation
is the most deeply involved in the guilt of that trade, of any nation
in the world; and also, that they have treated their slaves in the
West Indies worse than the French or Spaniards have done theirs. Thus
slavery grows more and more odious through the world; and, as an
honorable gentleman said some days ago, "Though we cannot say that
slavery is struck with an apoplexy, yet we may hope it will die with a
consumption." And a main source, sir, of that iniquity, hath been an
abuse of the covenant of circumcision, which gave the seed of Abraham
to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, and to take their houses,
vineyards, and all their estates, as their own; and also to buy and
hold others as servants. And as Christian privileges are greater than
those of the Hebrews were, many have imagined that they had a right to
seize upon the lands of the heathen, and to destroy or enslave them as
far as they could extend their power. And from thence the mystery of
iniquity, carried many into the practice of making merchandise of
slaves and souls of men. But all ought to remember, that when God
promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed, he let him know
that they were not to take possession of that land, until the iniquity
of the Amorites was full; and then they did it under the immediate
direction of Heaven; and they were as real executors of the judgment
of God upon those heathens, as any person ever was an executor of a
criminal justly condemned. And in doing it they were not allowed to
invade the lands of the Edomites, who sprang from Esau, who was not
only of the seed of Abraham, but was born at the same birth with
Israel; and yet they were not of that church. Neither were Israel
allowed to invade the lands of the Moabites, or of the children of
Ammon, who were of the seed of Lot. And no officer in Israel had any
legislative power, but such as were immediately inspired. Even David,
the man after God's own heart, had no legislative power, but only as
he was inspired from above: and he is expressly called a _prophet_ in
the New Testament And we are to remember that Abraham and his seed,
for four hundred years, had no warrant to admit any strangers into
that church, but by buying of him as a servant, with money. And it was
a great privilege to be bought, and adopted into a religious family
for seven years, and then to have their freedom. And that covenant was
expressly repealed in various parts of the New Testament; and
particularly in the first epistle to the Corinthians, wherein it is
said--Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body,
and in your spirit, which are God's. And again--Circumcision is
nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping of the
commandments of God. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the
servants of men. Thus the gospel sets all men upon a level, very
contrary to the declaration of an honorable gentleman in this house,
"that the Bible was contrived for the advantage of a particular order
NEW YORK CONVENTION.
Mr. M. SMITH. He would now proceed to state his objections to the
clause just read, (section 2, of article 1, clause 3). His objections
were comprised under three heads: 1st, the rule of apportionment is
unjust; 2d, there is no precise number fixed on, below which the house
shall not be reduced; 3d, it is inadequate. In the first place, the
rule of apportionment of the representatives is to be according to the
whole number of the white inhabitants, with three-fifths of all
others; that is, in plain English, each State is to send
representatives in proportion to the number of freemen, and
three-fifths of the slaves it contains. He could not see any rule by
which slaves were to be included in the ratio of representation;--the
principle of a representation being that every free agent should be
concerned in governing himself, it was absurd to give that power to a
man who could not exercise it--slaves have no will of their own: the
very operation of it was to give certain privileges to those people
who were so wicked as to keep slaves. He knew it would be admitted,
that this rule of apportionment was founded on unjust principles, but
that it was the result of accommodation; which, he supposed, we should
be under the necessity of admitting, if we meant to be in union with
the southern States, though utterly repugnant to his feelings.
Mr. HAMILTON. In order that the committee may understand clearly the
principles on which the General Convention acted, I think it necessary
to explain some preliminary circumstances.
Sir, the natural situation of this country seems to divide its
interests into different classes. There are navigating and
non-navigating States--the Northern are properly the navigating
States: the Southern appear to possess neither the means nor the
spirit of navigation. This difference of situation naturally produces
a dissimilarity of interest and views respecting foreign commerce. It
was the interest of the Northern States that there should be no
restraints on the navigation, and that they should have full power, by
a majority on Congress, to make commercial regulations. The Southern
States wished to impose a restraint on the Northern, by requiring that
two-thirds in Congress should be requisite to pass an act in
regulation of commerce: they were apprehensive that the restraints of
a navigation law would discourage foreigners, and by obliging them to
employ the shipping of the Northern States would probably enhance
their freight. This being the case, they insisted strenuously on
having this provision engrafted in the Constitution; and the Northern
States were as anxious in opposing it. On the other hand, the small
States seeing themselves embraced by the confederation upon equal
terms, wished to retain the advantages which they already possessed:
the large States, on the contrary, thought it improper that Rhode
Island and Delaware should enjoy an equal suffrage with themselves:
from these sources a delicate and difficult contest arose. It became
necessary, therefore, to compromise; or the Convention must have
dissolved without effecting any thing. Would it have been wise and
prudent in that body, in this critical situation, to have deserted
their country? No. Every man who hears me--every wise man in the
United States, would have condemned them. The Convention were obliged
to appoint a committee for accommodation. In this committee the
arrangement was formed as it now stands; and their report was
accepted. It was a delicate point; and it was necessary that all
parties should be indulged. Gentlemen will see, that if there had not
been a unanimity, nothing could have been done: for the Convention had
no power to establish, but only to recommend a government. Any other
system would have been impracticable. Let a Convention be called
to-morrow--let them meet twenty times; nay, twenty thousand times;
they will have the same difficulties to encounter; the same clashing
interests to reconcile.
But dismissing these reflections, let us consider how far the
arrangement is in itself entitled to the approbation of this body. We
will examine it upon its own merits.
The first thing objected to, is that clause which allows a
representation for three-fifths of the negroes. Much has been said of
the impropriety of representing men, who have no will of their own.
Whether this be reasoning or declamation, I will not presume to say.
It is the unfortunate situation of the southern States, to have a
great part of their population, as well as property, in blacks. The
regulations complained of was one result of the spirit of
accommodation, which governed the Convention; and without this
indulgence, no union could possibly have been formed. But, sir,
considering some peculiar advantages which we derived from them, it is
entirely just that they should be gratified. The southern States
possess certain staples, tobacco, rice, indigo, &c., which must be
capital objects in treaties of commerce with foreign nations; and the
advantage which they necessarily procure in these treaties will be
felt throughout all the States. But the justice of this plan will
appear in another view. The best writers on government have held that
representation should be compounded of persons and property. This rule
has been adopted, as far as it could be, in the Constitution of New
York. It will, however, by no means, be admitted, that the slaves are
considered altogether as property. They are men, though degraded to
the condition of slavery. They are persons known to the municipal laws
of the States which they inhabit as well as to the laws of nature. But
representation and taxation go together--and one uniform rule ought to
apply to both. Would it be just to compute these slaves in the
assessment of taxes, and discard them from the estimate in the
apportionment of representatives? Would it be just to impose a
singular burthen, without conferring some adequate advantage?
Another circumstance ought to be considered. The rule we have been
speaking of is a general rule, and applies to all the States. Now, you
have a great number of people in your State, which are not represented
at all; and have no voice in your government: these will be included
in the enumeration--not two-fifths--nor three-fifths, but the whole.
This proves that the advantages of the plan are not confined to the
southern States, but extend to other parts of the Union.
Mr. M. SMITH. I shall make no reply to the arguments offered by the
honorable gentleman to justify the rule of apportionment fixed by this
clause: for though I am confident they might be easily refuted, yet I
am persuaded we must yield this point, in accommodation to the
southern States. The amendment therefore proposes no alteration to the
clause in this respect.
Mr. HARRISON. Among the objections, that, which has been made to the
mode of apportionment of representatives, has been relinquished. I
think this concession does honor to the gentleman who had stated the
objection. He has candidly acknowledged, that this apportionment was
the result of accommodation; without which no union could have been
* * * * *
Mr. WILSON. Much fault has been found with the mode of expression,
used in the first clause of the ninth section of the first article. I
believe I can assign a reason, why that mode of expression was used,
and why the term slave was not admitted in this Constitution--and as
to the manner of laying taxes, this is not the first time that the
subject has come into the view of the United States, and of the
Legislatures of the several States. The gentleman, (Mr. FINDLEY) will
recollect, that in the present Congress, the quota of the federal
debt, and general expenses, was to be in proportion to the value of
land, and other enumerated property, within the States. After trying
this for a number of years, it was found on all hands, to be a mode
that could not be carried into execution. Congress were satisfied of
this, and in the year 1783 recommended, in conformity with the powers
they possessed under the articles of confederation, that the quota
should be according to the number of free people, including those
bound to servitude, and excluding Indians not taxed. These were the
expressions used in 1783, and the fate of this recommendation was
similar to all their other resolutions. It was not carried into
effect, but it was adopted by no fewer than eleven, out of thirteen
States; and it cannot but be matter of surprise, to hear gentlemen,
who agreed to this very mode of expression at that time, come forward
and state it as an objection on the present occasion. It was natural,
sir, for the late convention, to adopt the mode after it had been
agreed to by eleven States, and to use the expression, which they
found had been received as unexceptionable before. With respect to the
clause, restricting Congress from prohibiting the migration or
importation of such persons, as any of the States now existing, shall
think proper to admit, prior to the year 1808. The honorable gentleman
says, that this clause is not only dark, but intended to grant to
Congress, for that time, the power to admit the importation of slaves.
No such thing was intended; but I will tell you what was done, and it
gives me high pleasure, that so much was done. Under the present
Confederation, the States may admit the importation of slaves as long
as they please; but by this article, after the year 1808 the Congress
will have power to prohibit such importation, notwithstanding the
disposition of any State to the contrary. I consider this as laying
the foundation for banishing slavery out of this country; and though
the period is more distant than I could wish, yet it will produce the
same kind, gradual change, which was pursued in Pennsylvania. It is
with much satisfaction I view this power in the general government,
whereby they may lay an interdiction on this reproachful trade; but an
immediate advantage is also obtained, for a tax or duty may be imposed
on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person; and
this, sir, operates as a partial prohibition; it was all that could be
obtained, I am sorry it was no more; but from this I think there is
reason to hope, that yet a few years, and it will be prohibited
altogether; and in the mean time, the new States which are to be
formed, will be under the control of Congress in this particular; and
slaves will never be introduced amongst them. The gentleman says, that
it is unfortunate in another point of view; it means to prohibit the
introduction of white people from Europe, as this tax may deter them
from coming amongst us; a little impartiality and attention will
discover the care that the Convention took in selecting their
language. The words are the _migration_ or IMPORTATION of such
persons, &c., shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to the year
1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation; it is
observable here, that the term migration is dropped, when a tax or
duty is mentioned, so that Congress have power to impose the tax only
on those imported.
I recollect, on a former day, the honorable gentlemen from
Westmoreland (Mr. FINDLEY,) and the honorable gentleman from
Cumberland (Mr. WHITEHILL,) took exception against the first clause of
the 9th section, art. 1, arguing very unfairly, that because Congress
might impose a tax or duty of ten dollars on the importation of
slaves, within any of the United States, Congress might therefore
permit slaves to be imported within this State, contrary to its laws.
I confess I little thought that this part of the system would be
I am sorry that it could be extended no further; but so far as it
operates, it presents us with the pleasing prospect, that the rights
of mankind will be acknowledged and established throughout the union.
If there was no other lovely feature in the Constitution but this one,
it would diffuse a beauty over its whole countenance. Yet the lapse of
a few years! and Congress will have power to exterminate slavery from
within our borders.
How would such a delightful prospect expand the breast of a benevolent
and philanthropic European? Would he cavil at an expression? catch at
a phrase? No, sir, that is only reserved for the gentleman on the
other side of your chair to do.
Mr. McKEAN. The arguments against the Constitution are, I think,
That migration or importation of such persons, as any of the States
shall admit, shall not be prohibited prior to 1808, nor a tax or duty
imposed on such importation exceeding ten dollars for each person.
Provision is made that Congress shall have power to prohibit the
importation of slaves after the year 1808, but the gentlemen in
opposition, accuse this system of a crime, because it has not
prohibited them at once. I suspect those gentlemen are not well
acquainted with the business of the diplomatic body, or they would
know that an agreement might be made, that did not perfectly accord
with the will and pleasure of any one person. Instead of finding fault
with what has been gained, I am happy to see a disposition in the
United States to do so much.
GOV. RANDOLPH. This is one point of weakness I wish for the honor of
my countrymen that it was the only one. There is another circumstance
which renders us more vulnerable. Are we not weakened by the
population of those whom we hold in slavery? The day may come when
they may make impression upon us. Gentlemen who have been long
accustomed to the contemplation of the subject, think there is a cause
of alarm in this case: the number of those people, compared to that of
the whites, is in an immense proportion: their number amounts to
236,000--that of the whites, only to 352,000. * * * * I beseech them
to consider, whether Virginia and North Carolina, both oppressed with
debts and slaves, can defend themselves externally, or make their
people happy internally.
GEORGE MASON. We are told in strong language, of dangers to which we
will be exposed unless we adopt this Constitution. Among the rest,
domestic safety is said to be in danger. This government does not
attend to our domestic safety. It authorizes the importation of slaves
for twenty-odd years, and thus continues upon us that nefarious trade.
Instead of securing and protecting us, the continuation of this
detestable trade adds daily to our weakness. Though this evil is
increasing, there is no clause in the Constitution that will prevent
the Northern and Eastern States from meddling with our whole property
of that kind. There is a clause to prohibit the importation of slaves
after twenty years, but there is no provision made for securing to the
Southern States those they now possess. It is far from being a
desirable property. But it will involve us in great difficulties and
infelicity to be now deprived of them. There ought to be a clause in
the Constitution to secure us that property, which we have acquired
under our former laws, and the loss of which would bring ruin on a
great many people.
MR. LEE. The honorable gentleman abominates it, because it does not
prohibit the importation of slaves, and because it does not secure the
continuance of the existing slavery! Is it not obviously inconsistent
to criminate it for two contradictory reasons? I submit it to the
consideration of the gentleman, whether, if it be reprehensible in the
one case, it can be censurable in the other? MR. LEE then concluded by
earnestly recommending to the committee to proceed regularly.
MR. HENRY. It says that "no state shall engage in war, unless actually
invaded." If you give this clause a fair construction, what is the
true meaning of it? What does this relate to? Not domestic
insurrections, but war. If the country be invaded, a State may go to
war; but cannot suppress insurrections. If there should happen an
insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be
invaded.--They cannot therefore suppress it, without the interposition
MR. GEORGE NICHOLAS. Another worthy member says, there is no power in
the States to quell an insurrection of slaves. Have they it now? If
they have, does the Constitution take it away? If it does, it must be
in one of the three clauses which have been mentioned by the worthy
member. The first clause gives the general government power to call
them out when necessary. Does this take it away from the States? No.
But it gives an additional security: for, besides the power in the
State governments to use their own militia, it will be the duty of the
general government to aid them with the strength of the Union when
called for. No part of this Constitution can show that this power is
Mr. GEORGE MASON. Mr. Chairman, this is a fatal section, which has
created more dangers than any other. The first clause allows the
importation of slaves for twenty years. Under the royal government,
this evil was looked upon as a great oppression, and many attempts
were made to prevent it; but the interest of the African merchants
prevented its prohibition. No sooner did the revolution take place,
than it was thought of. It was one of the great causes of our
separation from Great Britain. Its exclusion has been a principal
object of this State, and most of the States in the Union. The
augmentation of slaves weakens the States; and such a trade is
diabolical in itself, and disgraceful to mankind. Yet, by this
Constitution, it is continued for twenty years. As much as I value an
union of all the States, I would not admit the Southern States into
the Union, unless they agreed to the discontinuance of this
disgraceful trade, because it would bring weakness and not strength to
the Union. And though this infamous traffic be continued, we have no
security for the property of that kind which we have already. There is
no clause in this Constitution to secure it; for they may lay such tax
as will amount to manumission. And should the government be amended,
still this detestable kind of commerce cannot be discontinued till
after the expiration of twenty years. For the fifth article, which
provides for amendments, expressly excepts this clause. I have ever
looked upon this as a most disgraceful thing to America. I cannot
express my detestation of it. Yet they have not secured us the
property of the slaves we have already. So that, "they have done what
they ought not to have done, and have left undone what they ought to
Mr. MADISON. Mr. Chairman, I should conceive this clause to be
impolitic, if it were one of those things which could be excluded
without encountering greater evils. The Southern States would not have
entered into the union of America, without the temporary permission of
that trade. And if they were excluded from the union, the consequences
might be dreadful to them and to us. We are not in a worse situation
than before. That traffic is prohibited by our laws, and we may
continue the prohibition. The union in general is not in a worse
situation. Under the articles of confederation, it might be continued
forever: but by this clause an end may be put to it after twenty
years. There is, therefore, an amelioration of our circumstances. A
tax may be laid in the mean time; but it is limited, otherwise
Congress might lay such a tax as would amount to a prohibition. From
the mode of representation and taxation, Congress cannot lay such a
tax on slaves as will amount to manumission. Another clause secures us
that property which we now possess. At present, if any slave elopes to
any of those States where slaves are free, he becomes emancipated by
their laws. For the laws of the States are uncharitable to one another
in this respect. But in this Constitution, "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." This clause was
expressly inserted to enable owners of slaves to reclaim them. This is
a better security than any that now exist. No power is given to the
general government to interpose with respect to the property in slaves
now held by the States. The taxation of this State being equal only to
its representation, such a tax cannot be laid as he supposes. They
cannot prevent the importation of slaves for twenty years: but after
that period, they can. The gentlemen from South Carolina and Georgia
argued in this manner: "We have now liberty to import this species of
property, and much of the property now possessed, has been purchased,
or otherwise acquired, in contemplation of improving it by the
assistance of imported slaves. What would be the consequence of
hindering us from it? The slaves of Virginia would rise in value, and
we would be obliged to go to your markets." I need not expatiate on
this subject. Great as the evil is, a dismemberment of the union would
be worse. If those States should disunite from the other States, for
not including them in the temporary continuance of this traffic, they
might solicit and obtain aid from foreign powers.
Mr. TYLER warmly enlarged on the impolicy, iniquity, and
disgracefulness of this wicked traffic. He thought the reasons urged
by gentlemen in defence of it were inconclusive, and ill founded. It
was one cause of the complaints against British tyranny, that this
trade was permitted. The Revolution had put a period to it; but now it
was to be revived. He thought nothing could justify it. This temporary
restriction on Congress militated, in his opinion, against the
arguments of gentlemen on the other side, that what was not given up,
was retained by the States; for that if this restriction had not been
inserted, Congress could have prohibited the African trade. The power
of prohibiting it was not expressly delegated to them; yet they would
have had it by implication, if this restraint had not been provided.
This seemed to him to demonstrate most clearly the necessity of
restraining them by a bill of rights, from infringing our unalienable
rights. It was immaterial whether the bill of rights was by itself, or
included in the Constitution. But he contended for it one way or the
other. It would be justified by our own example, and that of England.
His earnest desire was, that it should be handed down to posterity,
that he had opposed this wicked clause.
Mr. MADISON. As to the restriction in the clause under consideration,
it was a restraint on the exercise of a power expressly delegated to
Congress, namely, that of regulating commerce with foreign nations.
Mr. HENRY insisted, that the insertion of these restrictions on
Congress, was a plain demonstration that Congress could exercise
powers by implication. The gentleman had admitted that Congress could
have interdicted the African trade, were it not for this restriction.
If so, the power not having been expressly delegated, must be obtained
by implication. He demanded where, then, was their doctrine of
reserved rights? He wished for negative clauses to prevent them from
assuming any powers but those expressly given. He asked why it was
moited to secure us that property in slaves, which we held now? He
feared its omission was done with design. They might lay such heavy
taxes on slaves, as would amount to emancipation; and then the
Southern States would be the only sufferers. His opinion was confirmed
by the mode of levying money. Congress, he observed, had power to lay
and collect taxes, imposts, and excises. Imposts (or duties) and
excises, were to be uniform. But this uniformity did not extend to
taxes. This might compel the Southern States to liberate their
negroes. He wished this property therefore to be guarded. He
considered the clause which had been adduced by the gentleman as a
security for this property, as no security at all. It was no more than
this--that a runaway negro could be taken up in Maryland or New York.
This could not prevent Congress from interfering with that property by
laying a grievous and enormous tax on it, so as to compel owners to
emancipate their slaves rather than pay the tax. He apprehended it
would be productive of much stockjobbing, and that they would play
into one another's hands in such a manner as that this property would
be lost to the country.
Mr. GEORGE NICHOLAS wondered that gentlemen who were against slavery
would be opposed to this clause; as after that period the slave trade
would be done away. He asked if gentlemen did not see the
inconsistency of their arguments? They object, says he, to the
Constitution, because the slave trade is laid open for twenty-odd
years; and yet tell you, that by some latent operation of it, the
slaves who are now, will be manumitted. At that same moment, it is
opposed for being promotive and destructive of slavery. He contended
that it was advantageous to Virginia, that it should be in the power
of Congress to prevent the importation of slaves after twenty years,
as it would then put a period to the evil complained of.
As the Southern States would not confederate without this clause, he
asked, if gentlemen would rather dissolve the confederacy than to
suffer this temporary inconvenience, admitting to it to be such?
Virginia might continue the prohibition of such importation during the
intermediate period, and would be benefitted by it, as a tax of ten
dollars on each slave might be laid, of which she would receive a
share. He endeavored to obviate the objection of gentlemen, that the
restriction on Congress was a proof that they would have power not
given them, by remarking, that they would only have had a general
superintendency of trade, if the restriction had not been inserted.
But the Southern States insisted on this exception to that general
superintendency for twenty years. It could not therefore have been a
power by implication, as the restriction was an exception from a
delegated power. The taxes could not, as had been suggested, be laid
so high on negroes as to amount to emancipation; because taxation and
representation were fixed according to the census established in the
Constitution. The exception of taxes, from the uniformity annexed to
duties and excises, could not have the operation contended for by the
gentleman; because other clauses had clearly and positively fixed the
census. Had taxes been uniform, it would have been universally
objected to, for no one object could be selected without involving
great inconveniences and oppressions. But, says Mr. Nicholas, is it
from the general government we are to fear emancipation? Gentlemen
will recollect what I said in another house, and what other gentlemen
have said that advocated emancipation. Give me leave to say, that that
clause is a great security for our slave tax. I can tell the
committee, that the people of our country are reduced to beggary by
the taxes on negroes. Had this Constitution been adopted, it would not
have been the case. The taxes were laid on all our negroes. By this
system two-fifths are exempted. He then added, that he had imagined
gentlemen would not support here what they had opposed in another
Mr. HENRY replied, that though the proportion of each was to be fixed
by the census, and three-fifths of the slaves only were included in
the enumeration, yet the proportion of Virginia being once fixed,
might be laid on blacks and blacks only. For the mode of raising the
proportion of each State being to be directed by Congress, they might
make slaves the sole object to raise it. Personalities he wished to
take leave of; they had nothing to do with the question, which was
solely whether that paper was wrong or not.
Mr. NICHOLAS replied, that negroes must be considered as persons, or
property. If as property, the proportion of taxes to be laid on them
was fixed in the Constitution. If he apprehended a poll tax on
negroes, the Constitution had prevented it. For, by the census, where
a white man paid ten shillings, a negro paid but six shillings. For
the exemption of two-fifths of them reduced it to that proportion.
The second, third, and fourth clauses, were then read as follows:
The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended,
unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may
No bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.
No capitation or other direct tax shall be paid, unless in proportion
to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.
Mr. GEORGE MASON said, that gentlemen might think themselves secured
by the restriction in the fourth clause, that no capitation or other
direct tax should be laid but in proportion to the census before
directed to be taken. But that when maturely considered it would be
found to be no security whatsoever. It was nothing but a direct
assertion, or mere confirmation of the clause which fixed the ratio of
taxes and representation. It only meant that the quantum to be raised
of each State should be in proportion to their numbers in the manner
therein directed. But the general government was not precluded from
laying the proportion of any particular State on any one species of
property they might think proper. For instance, if five hundred
thousand dollars were to be raised, they might lay the whole of the
proportion of the Southern States on the blacks, or any one species of
property: so that by laying taxes too heavily on slaves, they might
totally annihilate that kind of property. No real security could arise
from the clause which provides, that persons held to labor in one
State, escaping into another, shall be delivered up. This only meant,
that runaway slaves should not be protected in other States. As to the
exclusion of _ex post facto_ laws, it could not be said to create any
security in this case. For laying a tax on slaves would not be _ex
Mr. MADISON replied, that even the Southern States, who were most
affected, were perfectly satisfied with this provision, and dreaded no
danger to the property they now hold. It appeared to him, that the
general government would not intermeddle with that property for twenty
years, but to lay a tax on every slave imported, not exceeding ten
dollars; and that after the expiration of that period they might
prohibit the traffic altogether. The census in the Constitution was
intended to introduce equality in the burdens to be laid on the
community. No gentleman objected to laying duties, imposts, and
excises, uniformly. But uniformity of taxes would be subversive to the
principles of equality: for that it was not possible to select any
article which would be easy for one State, but what would be heavy for
another. That the proportion of each State being ascertained, it would
be raised by the general government in the most convenient manner for
the people, and not by the selection of any one particular object.
That there must be some degree of confidence put in agents, or else we
must reject a state of civil society altogether. Another great
security to this property, which he mentioned, was, that five States
were greatly interested in that species of property, and there were
other States which had some slaves, and had made no attempt, or taken
any step to take them from the people. There were a few slaves in New
York, New Jersey and Connecticut: these States would, probably, oppose
any attempts to annihilate this species of property. He concluded, by
observing, that he would be glad to leave the decision of this to the
The second section was then read as follows: * * *
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.
Mr. GEORGE MASON.--Mr. Chairman, on some former part of the
investigation of this subject, gentlemen were pleased to make some
observations on the security of property coming within this section.
It was then said, and I now say, that there is no security, nor have
gentlemen convinced me of this.
Mr. HENRY. Among ten thousand implied powers which they may assume,
they may, if we be engaged in war, liberate every one of your slaves
if they please. And this must and will be done by men, a majority of
whom have not a common interest with you. They will, therefore, have
no feeling for your interests. It has been repeatedly said here, that
the great object of a national government, was national defence. That
power which is said to be intended for security and safety, may be
rendered detestable and oppressive. If you give power to the general
government to provide for the general defence, the means must be
commensurate to the end. All the means in the possession of the people
must be given to the government which is entrusted with the public
defence. In this State there are 236,000 blacks, and there are many in
several other States. But there are few or none in the Northern
States, and yet if the Northern States shall be of opinion, that our
numbers are numberless, they may call forth every national resource.
May Congress not say, that every black man must fight? Did we not see
a little of this last war? We were not so hard pushed, as to make
emancipation general. But acts of assembly passed, that every slave
who would go to the army should be free. Another thing will contribute
to bring this event about--slavery is detested--we feel its fatal
effects--we deplore it with all the pity of humanity. Let all these
considerations, at some future period, press with full force on the
minds of Congress. Let that urbanity, which I trust will distinguish
America, and the necessity of national defence, let all these things
operate on their minds, they will search that paper, and see if they
have power of manumission. And have they not, sir? Have they not power
to provide for the general defence and welfare? May they not think
that these call for the abolition of slavery? May not they pronounce
all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power? There
is no ambiguous implication or logical deduction. The paper speaks to
the point. They have the power in clear, unequivocal terms; and will
clearly and certainly exercise it. As much as I deplore slavery, I see
that prudence forbids its abolition. I deny that the general
government ought to set them free, because a decided majority of the
States have not the ties of sympathy and fellow-feeling for those
whose interest would be affected by their emancipation. The majority
of Congress is to the North, and the slaves are to the South. In this
situation, I see a great deal of the property of the people of
Virginia in jeopardy, and their peace and tranquillity gone away. I
repeat it again, that it would rejoice my very soul, that every one of
my fellow-beings was emancipated. As we ought with gratitude to admire
to admire that decree of Heaven, which has numbered us among the free,
we ought to lament and deplore the necessity of holding our fellow-men
in bondage. But is it practicable by any human means, to liberate
them, without producing the most dreadful and ruinous consequences? We
ought to possess them in the manner we have inherited them from our
ancestors, as their manumission is incompatible with the felicity of
the country. But we ought to soften, as much as possible, the rigor of
their unhappy fate. I know that in a variety of particular instances,
the legislature, listening to complaints, have admitted their
emancipation. Let me not dwell on this subject. I will only add, that
this, as well as every other property of the people of Virginia, is in
jeopardy, and put in the hands of those who have no similarity of
situation with us. This is a local matter, and I can see no propriety
in subjecting it to Congress.
Have we not a right to say, _hear our propositions_? Why, sir, your
slaves have a right to make their humble requests.--Those who are in
the meanest occupations of human life, have a right to complain.
Gov. RANDOLPH. That honorable gentleman, and some others, have
insisted that the abolition of slavery will result from it, and at the
same time have complained, that it encourages its continuation. The
inconsistency proves in some degree, the futility of their arguments.
But if it be not conclusive, to satisfy the committee that there is no
danger of enfranchisement taking place, I beg leave to refer them to
the paper itself. I hope that there is none here, who, considering the
subject in the calm light of philosophy, will advance an objection
dishonorable to Virginia; that at the moment they are securing the
rights of their citizens, an objection is started that there is a
spark of hope, that those unfortunate men now held in bondage, may, by
the operation of the general government be made _free_. But if any
gentleman be terrified by this apprehension, let him read the system.
I ask, and I will ask again and again, till I be answered (not by
declamation) where is the part that has a tendency to the abolition of
slavery? Is it the clause which says, that "the migration or
importation of such persons as any of the States now existing, shall
think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to
the year 1808?" This is an exception from the power of regulating
commerce, and the restriction is only to continue till 1808. Then
Congress can, by the exercise of that power, prevent future
importations; but does it affect the existing state of slavery? Were
it right here to mention what passed in Convention on the occasion, I
might tell you that the Southern States, even South Carolina herself;
conceived this property to be secure by these words. I believe,
whatever we may think here, that there was not a member of the
Virginia delegation who had the smallest suspicion of the abolition of
slavery. Go to their meaning. Point out the clause where this
formidable power of emancipation is inserted. But another clause of
the Constitution proves the absurdity of the supposition. The words of
the clause are, "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." Every one knows that slaves are held to
service and labor. And when authority is given to owners of slaves to
vindicate their property, can it be supposed they can be deprived of
it? If a citizen of this State, in consequence of this clause, can
take his runaway slave in Maryland, can it be seriously thought, that
after taking him and bringing him home, he could be made free?
I observed that the honorable gentleman's proposition comes in a truly
questionable shape, and is still more extraordinary and unaccountable
for another consideration; that although we went article by article
through the Constitution, and although we did not expect a general
review of the subject, (as a most comprehensive view had been taken of
it before it was regularly debated,) yet we are carried back to the
clause giving that dreadful power, for the general welfare. Pardon me
if I remind you of the true state of that business. I appeal to the
candor of the honorable gentleman, and if he thinks it an improper
appeal, I ask the gentlemen here, whether there be a general
indefinite power of providing for the general welfare? The power is,
"to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the
debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare." So that
they can only raise money by these means, in order to provide for the
general welfare. No man who reads it can say it is general as the
honorable gentleman represents it. You must violate every rule of
construction and common sense, if you sever it from the power of
raising money and annex it to any thing else, in order to make it that
formidable power which it is represented to be.
Mr. GEORGE MASON. Mr. Chairman, with respect to commerce and
navigation, he has given it as his opinion, that their regulation, as
it now stands, was a _sine qua non_ of the Union, and that without it,
the States in Convention would never concur. I differ from him. It
never was, nor in my opinion ever will be, a _sine qua non_ of the
Union. I will give you, to the best of my recollection, the history of
that affair. This business was discussed at Philadelphia for four
months, during which time the subject of commerce and navigation was
often under consideration; and I assert, that eight States out of
twelve, for more than three months, voted for requiring two-thirds of
the members present in each house to pass commercial and navigation
laws. True it is, that afterwards it was carried by a majority, as it
stands. If I am right, there was a great majority for requiring
two-thirds of the States in this business, till a compromise took
place between the Northern and Southern States; the Northern States
agreeing to the temporary importation of slaves, and the Southern
States conceding, in return, that navigation and commercial laws
should be on the footing on which they now stand. If I am mistaken,
let me be put right. These are my reasons for saying that this was not
a _sine qua non_ of their concurrence. The Newfoundland fisheries will
require that kind of security which we are now in want of. The Eastern
States therefore agreed at length, that treaties should require the
consent of two-thirds of the members present in the senate.
Mr. Madison. I was struck with surprise when I heard him express
himself alarmed with respect to the emancipation of slaves. Let me
ask, if they should even attempt it, if it will not be an usurpation
of power? There is no power to warrant it, in that paper. If there be,
I know it not. But why should it be done? Says the honorable
gentleman, for the general welfare--it will infuse strength into our
system. Can any member of this committee suppose, that it will
increase our strength? Can any one believe, that the American councils
will come into a measure which will strip them of their property,
discourage and alienate the affections of five-thirteenths of the
Union? Why was nothing of this sort aimed at before? I believe such an
idea never entered into an American breast, nor do I believe it ever
will, unless it will enter into the heads of those gentlemen who
substitute unsupported suspicions for reasons.
Mr. Henry. He asked me where was the power of emancipating slaves? I
say it will be implied, unless implication be prohibited. He admits
that the power of granting passports will be in the new Congress
without the insertion of this restriction--yet he can shew me nothing
like such a power granted in that Constitution. Notwithstanding he
admits their right to this power by implication, he says that I am
unfair and uncandid in my deduction, that they can emancipate our
slaves, though the word emancipation be not mentioned in it. They can
exercise power by implication in one instance, as well as in another.
Thus, by the gentleman's own argument, they can exercise the power
though it be not delegated.
Mr. Z. Johnson. They tell us that they see a progressive danger of
bringing about emancipation. The principle has begun since the
revolution. Let us do what we will, it will come round. Slavery has
been the foundation of that impiety and dissipation, which have been
so much disseminated among our countrymen. If it were totally
abolished, it would do much good.
NORTH CAROLINA CONVENTION.
The first three clauses of the second section read.
Mr. GOUDY. Mr. Chairman, this clause of taxation will give an
advantage to some States, over the others. It will be oppressive to
the Southern States. Taxes are equal to our representation. To augment
our taxes and increase our burthens, our negroes are to be
represented. If a State has fifty thousand negroes, she is to send one
representative for them. I wish not to be represented with negroes,
especially if it increases my burthens.
Mr. Davie. Mr. Chairman, I will endeavor to obviate what the gentleman
last up has said. I wonder to see gentlemen so precipitate and hasty
on a subject of such awful importance. It ought to be considered, that
_some_ of _us_ are slow of apprehension, not having those quick
conceptions, and luminous understandings, of which other gentlemen may
be possessed. The gentleman "does not wish to be represented with
negroes." This, sir, is an unhappy species of population, but cannot
at present alter their situation. The Eastern States had great
jealousies on this subject. They insisted that their cows and horses
were equally entitled to representation; that the one was property as
well as the other. It became our duty on the other hand, to acquire as
much weight as possible in the legislation of the Union; and as the
Northern States were more populous in whites, this only could be done
by insisting that a certain proportion of our slaves should make a
part of the computed population. It was attempted to form a rule of
representation from a compound ratio of wealth and population; but, on
consideration, it was found impracticable to determine the comparative
value of lands, and other property, in so extensive a territory, with
any degree of accuracy; and population alone was adopted as the only
practicable rule or criterion of representation. It was urged by the
deputies of the Eastern States, that a representation of two-fifths
would of little utility, and that their entire representation would be
unequal and burthensome. That in a time of war, slaves rendered a
country more vulnerable, while its defence devolved upon its _free_
inhabitants. On the other hand, we insisted, that in time of peace
they contributed by their labor to the general wealth as well as other
members of the community. That as rational beings they had a right of
representation, and in some instances might be highly useful in war.
On these principles, the Eastern States gave the matter up, and
consented to the regulation as it has been read. I hope these reasons
will appear satisfactory. It is the same rule or principle which was
proposed some years ago by Congress, and assented to by twelve of the
States. It may wound the delicacy of the gentleman from Guilford, (Mr.
GOUDY,) but I hope he will endeavor to accommodate his feelings to the
interests and circumstances of his country.
Mr. JAMES GALLOWAY said, that he did not object to the representation
of negroes, so much as he did to the fewness of the number of
representatives. He was surprised how we came to have but five,
including those intended to represent negroes. That in his humble
opinion North Carolina was entitled to that number independent of the
First clause of the 9th section read.
Mr. J. M'DOWALL wished to hear the reasons of this restriction.
Mr. SPAIGHT answered that there was a contest between the Northern and
Southern States--that the Southern States, whose principal support
depended on the labor of slaves, would not consent to the desire of
the Northern States to exclude the importation of slaves absolutely.
That South Carolina and Georgia insisted on this clause, as they were
now in want of hands to cultivate their lands: That in the course of
twenty years they would be fully supplied: That the trade would be
abolished then, and that in the mean time some tax or duty might be
Mr. M'DOWALL replied, that the explanation was just such as he
expected, and by no means satisfactory to him, and that he looked upon
it as a very objectionable part of the system.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, I rise to express sentiments similar to
those of the gentleman from Craven. For my part, were it practicable
to put an end to the importation of slaves immediately, it would give
me the greatest pleasure, for it certainly is a trade utterly
inconsistent with the rights of humanity, and under which great
cruelties have been exercised. When the entire abolition of slavery
takes place, it will be an event which must be pleasing to every
generous mind, and every friend of human nature; but we often wish for
things which are not attainable. It was the wish of a great majority
of the Convention to put an end to the trade immediately, but the
States of South Carolina and Georgia would not agree to it. Consider
then what would be the difference between our present situation in
this respect, if we do not agree to the Constitution, and what it will
be if we do agree to it. If we do not agree to it, do we remedy the
evil? No, sir, we do not; for if the Constitution be not adopted, it
will be in the power of every State to continue it forever. They may
or may not abolish it at their discretion. But if we adopt the
Constitution, the trade must cease after twenty years, if Congress
declare so, whether particular States please so or not: surely, then,
we gain by it. This was the utmost that could be obtained. I heartily
wish more could have been done. But as it is, this government is nobly
distinguished above others by that very provision. Where is there
another country in which such a restriction prevails? We, therefore,
sir, set an example of humanity by providing for the abolition of this
inhuman traffic, though at a distant period. I hope, therefore, that
this part of the Constitution will not be condemned, because it has
not stipulated for what it was impracticable to obtain.
Mr. SPAIGHT further explained the clause. That the limitation of this
trade to the term of twenty years, was a compromise between the
Eastern States and the Southern States. South Carolina and Georgia
wished to extend the term. The Eastern States insisted on the entire
abolition of the trade. That the State of North Carolina had not
thought proper to pass any law prohibiting the importation of slaves,
and therefore its delegation in the convention did not think
themselves authorized to contend for an immediate prohibition of it.
Mr. IREDELL added to what he had said before, that the States of
Georgia and South Carolina had lost a great many slaves during the
war, and that they wished to supply the loss.
Mr. GALLOWAY. Mr. Chairman, the explanation given to this clause does
not satisfy my mind. I wish to see this abominable trade put an end
to. But in case it be thought proper to continue this abominable
traffic for twenty years, yet I do not wish to see the tax on the
importation extended to all persons whatsoever. Our situation is
different from the people to the North. We want citizens; they do not.
Instead of laying a tax, we ought to a give a bounty, to encourage
foreigners to come among us. With respect to the abolition of slavery,
it requires the utmost consideration. The property of the Southern
States consists principally of slaves. If they mean to do away slavery
altogether, this property will be destroyed. I apprehend it means to
bring forward manumission. If we must manumit our slaves, what country
shall we send them to? It is impossible for us to be happy if, after
manumission, they are to stay among us.
Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, the worthy gentleman, I believe, has
misunderstood this clause, which runs in the following words: "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 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on
_such importation_, not exceeding ten dollars for each person."
Now, sir, observe that the Eastern States, who long ago have abolished
slavery, did not approve of the expression _slaves_; they therefore
used another that answered the same purpose. The committee will
observe the distinction between the two words migration and
importation. The first part of the clause will extend to persons who
come into the country as free people, or are brought as slaves, but
the last part extends to slaves only. The word _migration_ refers to
free persons; but the word _importation_ refers to slaves, because
free people cannot be said to be imported. The tax, therefore, is only
to be laid on slaves who are imported, and not on free persons who
migrate. I further beg leave to say, that the gentleman is mistaken in
another thing. He seems to say that this extends to the abolition of
slavery. Is there anything in this constitution which says that
Congress shall have it in their power to abolish the slavery of those
slaves who are now in the country? Is it not the plain meaning of it,
that after twenty years they may prevent the future importation of
slaves? It does not extend to those now in the country. There is
another circumstance to be observed. There is no authority vested in
congress to restrain the States in the interval of twenty years, from
doing what they please. If they wish to inhibit such importation, they
may do so. Our next assembly may put an entire end to the importation
Article fourth. The first section and two first clauses of the second
section read without observation.
The last clause read--
Mr. IREDELL begged leave to explain the reason of this clause. In some
of the Northern States, they have emancipated all their slaves. If any
of our slaves, said he, go there and remain there a certain time, they
would, by the present laws, be entitled to their freedom, so that
their masters could not get them again. This would be extremely
prejudicial to the inhabitants of the Southern States, and to prevent
it, this clause is inserted in the Constitution. Though the word
_slave_ be not mentioned, this is the meaning of it. The Northern
delegates, owing to their particular scruples on the subject of
slavery, did not choose the word _slave_ to be mentioned.
The rest of the forth article read without observation.
* * * * *
Mr. IREDELL. It is however to be observed, that the first and forth
clauses in the ninth section of the first article, are protected from
any alteration until the year 1808; and in order that no consolidation
should take place, it is provided, that no State shall, by any
amendment or alteration, be ever deprived of an equal suffrage in the
Senate without its own consent. The two first prohibitions are with
respect to the census, according to which direct taxes are imposed,
and with respect to the importation of slaves. As to the first, it
must be observed, that there is a material difference between the
Northern and Southern States. The Northern States have been much
longer settled, and are much fuller of people than the Southern, but
have not land in equal proportion, nor scarcely any slaves. The
subject of this article was regulated with great difficulty, and by a
spirit of concession which it would not be prudent to disturb for a
good many years. In twenty years there will probably be a great
alteration, and then the subject may be re-considered with less
difficulty and greater coolness. In the mean time, the compromise was
upon the best footing that could be obtained. A compromise likewise
took place in regard to the importation of slaves. It is probable that
all the members reprobated this inhuman traffic, but those of South
Carolina and Georgia would not consent to an immediate prohibition of
it; one reason of which was, that during the last war they lost a vast
number of negroes, which loss they wish to supply. In the mean time,
it is left to the States to admit or prohibit the importation, and
Congress may impose a limited duty upon it.
SOUTH CAROLINA CONVENTION.
Hon. RAWLINS LOWNDES. In the first place, what cause was there for
jealously of our importing negroes? Why confine us to twenty years, or
rather why limit us at all? For his part he thought this trade could
be justified on the principles of religion, humanity, and justice; for
certainly to translate a set of human beings from a bad country to a
better, was fulfilling every part of these principles. But they don't
like our slaves, because they have none themselves; and therefore want
to exclude us from this great advantage; why should the Southern
States allow of this, without the consent of nine States?
Judge PENDLETON observed, that only three States, Georgia, South
Carolina, and North Carolina, allowed the importation of negroes.
Virginia had a clause in her Constitution for this purpose, and
Maryland, he believed, even before the war, prohibited them.
Mr. LOWNDES continued--that we had a law prohibiting the importation
of negroes for three years, a law he greatly approved of; but there
was no reason offered, why the Southern States might not find it
necessary to alter their conduct, and open their ports. Without
negroes this State would degenerate into one of the most contemptible
in the Union; and cited an expression that fell from Gen. PINCKNEY on
a former debate, that whilst there remained one acre of swamp land in
South Carolina he should raise his voice against restricting the
importation of negroes. Even in granting the importation for twenty
years, care had been taken to make us pay for this indulgence, each
negro being liable, on importation, to pay a duty not exceeding ten
dollars, and, in addition to this, were liable to a capitation tax.
Negroes were our wealth, our only natural resource; yet behold how our
kind friends in the North were determined soon to tie up our hands,
and drain us of what we had. The Eastern States drew their means of
subsistence, in a great measure, from their shipping; and on that
head, they had been particularly careful not to allow of any burdens;
they were not to pay tonnage, or duties; no, not even the form of
clearing out: all ports were free and open to them! Why, then, call
this a reciprocal bargain, which took all from one party, to bestow it
on the other?
Major BUTLER observed that they were to pay a five per cent impost.
This, Mr. LOWNDES proved, must fall upon the consumer. They are to be
the carriers; and we, being the consumers, therefore all expenses
would fall upon us.
Hon. E. RUTLEDGE. The gentleman had complained of the inequality of
the taxes between the Northern and Southern States--that ten dollars a
head was imposed on the importation of negroes, and that those negroes
were afterwards taxed. To this it was answered, that the ten dollars
per head was an equivalent to the five per cent on imported articles;
and as to their being afterwards taxed, the advantage is on our side;
or, at least, not against us.
In the Northern States, the labor is performed by white people; in the
Southern by black. All the free people (and there are few others) in
the Northern States, are to be taxed by the new Constitution, whereas,
only the free people, and two-fifths of the slaves in the Southern