George W. Williams.

History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens online

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Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 48 of 57)
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But public sentiment changes in a country where the intellect is
unfettered. First, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, Congress and
nearly all the States pronounced against slavery; a few years later
they all recognized the sacredness of slave property; and still later
all sections of the United States seemed to have been agitated by
anti-slavery sentiments. In 1780 the Legislature of Pennsylvania
prohibited the further introduction of slaves, and gave freedom to the
children of all slaves born in the State. Delaware resolved "that no
person hereafter imported from Africa ought to be held in slavery
under any pretense whatever." In 1784 Connecticut and Rhode Island
modified their slave-code, and forbade further importations of slaves.
In 1778 Virginia passed a law prohibiting the importation of slaves,
and in 1782 repealed the law that confined the power of emancipating
to the Legislature, only on account of meritorious conduct. Private
emancipations became very numerous, and the sentiment in its favor
pronounced. But the restriction was re-enacted in about ten years. The
eloquence of Patrick Henry and the logic of Thomas Jefferson went far
to enlighten public sentiment; but the political influence of the
institution grew so rapidly that in 1785, but two years after the war,
Washington wrote LaFayette, "petitions for the abolition of slavery,
presented to the Virginia Legislature, could scarcely obtain a
hearing." Maryland, New York, and New Jersey prohibited the
slave-trade; but the institution held its place among the people until
1830. North Carolina attempted to prohibit in 1777, but-failed; but in
1786 declared the slave-trade "_of evil consequences and highly
impolitic_." South Carolina and Georgia refused to act, and the
slave-trade continued along their shores.

After the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in 1778, the
Continental Congress found itself charged with the responsibility of
deciding the conflicting claims of the various States to the vast
territory stretching westward from the Ohio River. The war over, the
payment of the public debt thus incurred demanded the consideration of
the people and of their representatives. Massachusetts, Connecticut,
New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia laid claim to
boundless tracts of lands outside of their State boundaries. But New
Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and South
Carolina, making no such claims, and lacking the resources to pay
their share of the war debt, suggested that the other States should
cede all the territory outside of their State lines, to the United
States Government, to be used towards liquidating the entire debt. The
proposition was accepted by the States named; but not, however,
without some modification. Virginia reserved a large territory beyond
the Ohio with which to pay the bounties of her soldiers, while
Connecticut retained a portion of the Reserve since so famous in the
history of Ohio. The duty of framing an ordinance for the government
of the Western territory was referred to a select committee by
Congress, consisting of Mr. Jefferson of Virginia (chairman), Mr.
Chase of Maryland, and Mr. Howell of Rhode Island. The plan reported
by the committee contemplated the whole region included within our
boundaries west of the old thirteen States, and as far south as our
thirty-first degree north latitude. The plan proposed the ultimate
division of this territory into seventeen States; eight of which were
to be located below the parallel of the Falls of the Ohio (now
Louisville), and nine above it. But the most interesting rule reported
by Mr. Jefferson was the following, on the 19th of April, 1784: -

"That after the year 1800, of the Christian era, there shall
be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any part of
the said _states_, otherwise than in punishment of crimes,
whereof the part shall have been convicted to be personally

Mr. Spaight of North Carolina moved to amend the report by striking
out the above clause, which was seconded by Mr. Reed of South
Carolina. The question, upon a demand for the yeas and nays, was put:
"Shall the words moved to be stricken out stand?" The question was
lost, and the words were stricken out. The ordinance was further
amended, and finally adopted on the 23d of April

The last Continental Congress was held in the city of New York in
1787. The question of the government of the Western territory came up.
A committee was appointed on this subject, with Nathan Dane of
Massachusetts as chairman On the 11th of July the committee reported
"An Ordinance for the government of the Territory of the United
States, _Northwest of the Ohio_." It embodied many of the features of
Mr. Jefferson's bill, concluding with six unalterable articles of
perpetual compact, the last being the following: "There shall be
neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory,
otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the parties shall be
duly convicted." When upon its passage, a stipulation was added for
the delivery of fugitives from "labor or service:"[627] and in this
shape the entire ordinance passed on the 13th of July, 1787.

Thus it is clear that under the Confederation slavery existed, a part
of the political government, as a legal fact. There was no effort made
by Congress to abolish it. Mr. Jefferson simply sought to arrest its
progress, and confine it to the original thirteen States.

On the 25th of May, 1787, the convention to frame the Federal
Constitution met at Philadelphia, although the day appointed was the
14th. George Washington was chosen president, a committee chosen to
report rules of proceeding, and a secretary appointed. The sessions
were held with closed doors, and all the proceedings were secret. It
contained the most eminent men in the United States, - generals of the
army, statesmen, lawyers, and men of broad scholarship. The question
of congressional apportionment was early before them, and there was
great diversity of opinion. But, as there was no census, therefore
there could be no just apportionment until an enumeration of the
people was taken. Until that was accomplished, the number of delegates
was fixed at sixty-five. Massachusetts was the only State in the Union
where slavery did not exist. The Northern States desired
representation according to the free inhabitants only; while all of
the Southern States, where the great mass of slaves was, wanted
representation according to the entire population, bond and free. Some
of the Northern delegates urged their view with great force and
eloquence. Mr. Patterson of New Jersey said he regarded slaves as mere
property. They were not represented in the States: why should they be
in the general government? They were not allowed to vote: why should
they be represented? He regarded it as an encouragement to the
slave-trade. Mr. Wilson of Pennsylvania said, "Are they admitted as
citizens? then, why not on an equality with citizens? Are they
admitted as property? then, why is not other property admitted into
the computation?" It was evident that neither extreme view could
carry: so the proposition carried to reckon three-fifths of the slaves
in estimating taxes, and to make taxation the basis of representation.
New Jersey and Delaware voted Nay; Massachusetts and South Carolina
were divided; and New York was not represented, her delegates having
failed to arrive.

It was apparent during the early stages of the debates, that a
constitution had to be made that would be acceptable to the Southern
delegates. A clause was inserted relieving the Southern States from
duties on exports, and upon the importation of slaves; and that no
navigation act should be passed except by a two-thirds vote. By
denying Congress the authority of giving preference to American over
foreign shipping, it was designed to secure cheap transportation for
Southern exports; but, as the shipping was largely owned in the
Eastern States, their delegates were zealous in their efforts to
prevent any restriction of the power of Congress to enact navigation
laws. It has been already shown that all the States, with the
exception of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, had
prohibited the importation of slaves. The prohibition of duties on the
importation of slaves was demanded by the delegates from South
Carolina and Georgia. They assured the Convention that without such a
provision they could never give their assent to the constitution. This
declaration dragooned some Northern delegates into a support of the
restriction, but provoked some very plain remarks concerning slavery.
Mr. Pinckney said, that, "If the Southern States were let alone, they
would probably of themselves stop importations. He would himself, as a
citizen of South Carolina, vote for it."

Mr. Sherman remarked that "the abolition of slavery seemed to be going
on in the United States, and that the good sense of the several states
would probably by degrees complete it;" and Mr. Ellsworth thought that
"slavery, in time, will not be a speck in our country." Mr. Madison
said "he thought it _wrong_ to admit in the Constitution the idea of
property in men."

Slavery, notwithstanding the high-sounding words just quoted, was
recognized in and by three separate clauses of the Constitution The
word "slave" was excluded, but the language does not admit of any

"Art. I. Sect. 2.... Representatives and direct taxes shall
be apportioned among the several States which may be
included within this Union, according to their respective
numbers; which shall be determined by adding to the whole
number of free persons, including those bound to service for
a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed,
_three-fifths of all other persons.[628] ..._

"Art I. Sect. 9. The migration or importation of such
_persons_ as any of the States now existing shall think
proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress
prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight; but
a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not
exceeding ten dollars for each person....

"Art. IV. Sect. 2.... No _person_ held to service or labor
in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another,
shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be
discharged from such service or labor, but shall be
delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or
labor may be due."

The debate on the above was exciting and interesting, as the subject
of slavery was examined in all its bearings. Finally the Constitution
was submitted to Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, to receive the
finishing touches of his facile pen. On the 8th of August, 1787,
during the debate, he delivered the following speech: -

"He never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was
a nefarious institution. It was the curse of Heaven on the
States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the
Middle States, where a rich and noble cultivation marks the
prosperity and happiness of the people, with the misery and
poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Virginia,
Maryland, and the other States having slaves. Travel through
the whole continent, and you behold the prospect continually
varying with the appearance and disappearance of slavery.
The moment you leave the Eastern States, and enter New York,
the effects of the institution become visible. Passing
through the Jerseys, and entering Pennsylvania, every
criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change.
Proceed southwardly, and every step you take through the
great regions of slaves presents a desert, increasing with
the increasing proportion of these wretched beings. Upon
what principle it is that the slaves shall be computed in
the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens,
and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other
property included? The houses in this city (Philadelphia)
are worth more than all the wretched slaves who cover the
rice-swamps of South Carolina. The admission of slaves into
the representation, when fairly explained, comes to
this, - that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina,
who goes to the coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the
most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his
fellow-creatures from their dearest connections, and damns
them to the most cruel bondage, shall have more votes in a
government instituted for the protection of the rights of
mankind than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, who
views with a laudable horror so nefarious a practice. He
would add, that domestic slavery is the most prominent
feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed
Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the
favorite offspring of aristocracy. And what is the proposed
compensation to the Northern States for a sacrifice of every
principle of right, of every impulse of humanity? They are
to bind themselves to march their militia for the defence of
the Southern States, for their defence against those very
slaves of whom they complain. They must supply vessels and
seamen in case of foreign attack. The Legislature will have
indefinite power to tax them by excises and duties on
imports, both of which will fall heavier on them than on the
Southern inhabitants; for the bohea tea used by a Northern
freeman will pay more tax than the whole consumption of the
miserable slave, which consists of nothing more than his
physical subsistence and the rag that covers his nakedness.
On the other side, the Southern States are not to be
restrained from importing fresh supplies of wretched
Africans, at once to increase the danger of attack and the
difficulty of defence: nay, they are to be encouraged to it
by an assurance of having their votes in the National
Government increased in proportion: and are, it the same
time, to have their exports and their slaves exempt from all
contributions for the public service. Let it not be said
that direct taxation is to be proportioned to
representation. It is idle to suppose that the General
Government can stretch its hand directly into the pockets of
the people scattered over so vast a country. They can only
do it through the medium of exports, imports, and excises.
For what, then, are all the sacrifices to be made? He would
sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all the
negroes in the United States than saddle posterity with such
a Constitution."[629]

Mr. Rufus King of Massachusetts in the same debate said, -

"The admission of slaves was a most grating circumstance to
his mind, and he believed would be so to a great part of the
people of America. He had not made a strenuous opposition to
it heretofore, because he had hoped that this concession
would have produced a readiness, which had not been
manifested, to strengthen the General Government, and to
mark a full confidence in it. The report under consideration
had, by the tenor of it, put an end to all those hopes. In
two great points, the hands of the Legislature were
absolutely tied. The importation of slaves could not be
prohibited. Exports could not be taxed. Is this reasonable?
What are the great objects of the general system? First,
defence against foreign invasion; secondly, against internal
sedition. Shall all the States, then, be bound to defend
each, and shall each be at liberty to introduce a weakness
which will render defence more difficult? Shall one part of
the United States be bound to defend another part, and that
other part be at liberty, not only to increase its own
danger, but to withhold the compensation for the burden? If
slaves are to be imported, shall not the exports produced by
their labor supply a revenue, the better to enable the
General Government to defend their masters? There was so
much inequality and unreasonableness in all this, that the
people of the Northern States could never be reconciled to
it. No candid man could undertake to justify it to them. He
had hoped that some accommodation would have taken place on
this subject; that, at least, a time would have been limited
for the importation of slaves. He never could agree to let
them be imported without limitation, and then be represented
in the National Legislature. Indeed, he could so little
persuade himself of the rectitude of such a practice, that
he was not sure he could assent to it under any
circumstances. At all events, either slaves should not be
represented, or exports should be taxable."

Mr. Roger Sherman of Connecticut, -

"Regarded the slave-trade as iniquitous: but the point of
representation having been settled after much difficulty and
deliberation, he did not think himself bound to make
opposition; especially as the present article, as amended,
did not preclude any arrangement whatever on that point, in
another place of the report."[630]

Mr. Luther Martin of Maryland, in the debate, Tuesday, Aug. 21, -

"Proposed to vary Art. 7, Sect. 4, so as to allow a
prohibition or tax on the importation of slaves. In the
first place, as five slaves are to be counted as three free
men in the apportionment of representatives, such a clause
would leave an encouragement to this traffic. In the second
place, slaves weakened one part of the Union, which the
other parts were bound to protect: the privilege of
importing them was therefore unreasonable. And, in the third
place, it was inconsistent with the principles of the
Revolution, and dishonorable to the American character, to
have such a feature in the Constitution.

"Mr. RUTLEDGE did not see how the importation of slaves
could be encouraged by this section. He was not apprehensive
of insurrections, and would readily exempt the other States
from the obligation to protect the Southern against them.
Religion and humanity had nothing to do with this question:
interest alone is the governing principle with nations. The
true question at present is, whether the Southern States
shall or shall not be parties to the Union. If the Northern
States consult their interest, they will not oppose the
increase of slaves, which will increase the commodities of
which they will become the carriers.

"Mr. ELLSWORTH was for leaving the clause as it stands. Let
every State import what it pleases. The morality or wisdom
of slavery are considerations belonging to the States
themselves. What enriches a part enriches the whole, and the
States are the best judges of their particular interest. The
old Confederation had not meddled with this point; and he
did not see any greater necessity for bringing it within the
policy of the new one.

"Mr. PINCKNEY. South Carolina can never receive the plan if
it prohibits the slave trade. In every proposed extension of
the powers of Congress, that State has expressly and
watchfully excepted that of meddling with the importation of
Negroes, _If the States be all left at liberty on this
subject, South Carolina may perhaps, by degrees, do of
herself what is wished, as Virginia and Maryland have
already done_.


"WEDNESDAY, Aug. 22.

"_In Convention_. - Art. 7, Sect. 4, was resumed.

"Mr. SHERMAN was for leaving the clause as it stands. He
disapproved of the slave-trade; yet, as the States were now
possessed of the right to import slaves, as the public good
did not require it to be taken from them, and as it was
expedient to have as few objections as possible to the
proposed scheme of government, he thought it best to leave
the matter as we find it. ... He urged on the Convention the
necessity of despatching its business.

"Col. MASON. This infernal traffic originated in the avarice
of British merchants. The British Government constantly
checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop to it. The
present question concerns, not the importing States alone,
but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves was
experienced during the late war. Had slaves been treated as
they might have been by the enemy, they would have proved
dangerous instruments in their hands. But their folly dealt
by the slaves as it did by the Tories. He mentioned the
dangerous insurrections of the slaves in Greece and Sicily,
and the instructions given by Cromwell to the commissioners
sent to Virginia, - to arm the servants and slaves, in case
other means of obtaining its submission should fail.
Maryland and Virginia, he said, had already prohibited the
importation of slaves expressly. North Carolina had done the
same in substance. All this would be in vain, if South
Carolina and Georgia be at liberty to import. The Western
people are already calling out for slaves for their new
lands; and will fill that country with slaves, if they can
be got through South Carolina and Georgia. Slavery
discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor
when performed by slaves. They prevent the emigration of
whites, who really enrich and strengthen a country. _They
produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master
of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of
heaven on a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or
punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an
inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes
national sins by national calamities_. He lamented that some
of our Eastern brethren had, from a lust of gain, embarked
in this nefarious traffic. As to the States being in
possession of the right to import, this was the case with
many other rights, now to be properly given up. He held it
essential, in every point of view, that the General
Government should have power to prevent the increase of

"Mr. ELLSWORTH, as he had never owned a slave, could not
judge of the effects of slavery on character. He said,
however, that, if it was to be considered in a moral light,
we ought to go further, and free those already in the
country. As slaves also multiply so fast in Virginia and
Maryland, that it is cheaper to raise than import them,
whilst in the sickly rice-swamps foreign supplies are
necessary, if we go no further than is urged, we shall be
unjust towards South Carolina and Georgia. Let us not
intermeddle. As population increases, poor laborers will be
so plenty as to render slaves useless. _Slavery, in time,
will not be a speck in our county_. 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.

"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 more 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

Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 48 of 57)