Wendell Phillips.

The Constitution a pro-slavery compact; or, Extracts from the Madison papers online

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Introduction, ........ q

Debates in the Congress of the Confederation, - - 11

Debates in the F^erae Contention, - - - - 19

List of Members of the Federal Contention, - - 57

Speech of Luther IMartin, - - - - - - 59

Massachtsetts, - - - - - - Q5

Nw^ York, - - - - - - -72

Pennstltania, - - - - - -.- 75

Virginia, .-.-.._•. yg

North Carolina, - - - -93

South Carolina, - - - - - -98

Extracts from the Federalist, - - - - - 104

Debates in First Congress, - - - 107

Address of the Executr-e Committee of the American Anti-

Slatery Society, - .... I45

Letter from Francis Jackson to Goternor Briggs, - - 171

Extract from Mr. "Webster's Speech, - - - - 181

Extracts from John Quincy Adams's Addejiss, Notember, 1844, 181

o 1 . J^T- 9'


Every one knows that the " Madison Pajjers " contain a Report,
from the pen of James ]Madison, of the Debates in the Old Congress
of the Confederation, and in the Convention Avliich formed the Consti-
tution of the United States. We have extracted from them, in these
pages, all the Debates on those clauses of the Constitution which re-
late to slavery. To these we have added all that is foimd, on the same
topic, m the Debates of the several State Conventions which ratified
the Constitution : together ^ith so much of the speech of Luther Mar-
tin before the Legislature of Mar\'land, and of the Federahst, as relate
to om' subject; "v\ith some extracts, also, from the Debates of the first
Federal Congress on slavery. These are all piinted without alteration,
except that, in some instances, we have inserted in brackets, after the
name of a speaker, the name of the State from wliich he came. The
notes and italics are those of the original, but the editor has added a
note on page 11, and two notes on page 52, wliich are marked as his,
and we have taken the hberty of printing in capitals one sentiment of
Rufus King's, and two of James jNIadison's — a distinction which the
importance of the statements seemed to demand — otherwise we have
reprinted exactly fr'om the originals.

These extracts develop most clearly all the details of that " com-
promise," which was made between freedom and slavery, in 1787;
grantmg to the slaveholder distinct pririleges and protection for his
slave property, in return for certain commercial concessions on his part
toward the North. They prove also that the nation at large were frilly
aware of this bargain at the time, and entered into it willingly and with
open eyes.

We have added the late " Address of the American Anti-Slavery
1* (5)


Society," and the letter of Francis Jackson to Governor Briggs,
resigning liis commission of Justice of the Peace — as bold and hon-
orable protests against the guilt and infamy of this national bargain,
and as 23ro^■ing most clearly the duty of each indi\-idual to trample it
under his feet.

The clauses of the Constitution to -which we refer as of a pro-slavery
f character are the following : —

Art. 1, Sect. 2. — Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned

among the several States, which may be included within this Union, accord-
ing to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the
whole number of free persons, including those bovmd to service for a term of
years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons.

Art. 1, Sect. 8. — Congress shall have power . . . to suppress insur-

Art. 1, Sect. 9. — The migration or importation of such persons as any
of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibit-
ed by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight :
but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten
dollars for each person.

Art. 4, Sect. 2. — Xo 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

Art. 4, Sect. 4. — The United States shall guarantee to every State in
this Union a republican form of government ; and shall protect each of them
against invasion ; and, on application of the legislature, or of the executive,
(when the legislature cannot be convened,) against domestic violence.

The first of these clauses, relating to representation, confers on a
slaveholding commimity additional poHtical power for every slave held
among them, and thus tempts them to continue to uphold the system :
the second and the last, relating to insurrection and domestic violence,
perfectly imiocent in themselves, yet being made with the fact di-'
rectly in \'iew that slavery exists among us, do dehberately pledge the
whole national force against the unhappy slave if he imitate om- fathers
and resist oppression — thus making us partners In the guilt of sus-


taining slavery : the tliird, relating to the slave trade, disgraces the
nation by a pledge not to abolish that traffic till after twenty years,
without obliging Congress to do so even then, and thus the slave trade
may be legalized to-morrow if Congress choose : the fom-th is a jirom-
ise on the part of the whole nation to return fugitive slaves to their
masters, a deed which God's law expressly condemns, and wliich every
noble feeling of om- natm-e repudiates with loathing and contempt.

These are the articles of the " Compromise," so much talked of
between the North and South.

"We do not produce the extracts which make up these pages to
show what is the meaning of the clauses above cited. For no man
or party, of any authority in such matters, has ever pretended to
doubt to what subject they all relate. K indeed they were ambiguous
in their terms, a resort to the history of those times would set the
matter at rest forever. A few persons^to be sm;e,j3f late years, Jo
serve the pm'poses of a party, have tried to prove that the Constitu-
ti6h"^akes no compromise Avith slavery. Notwithstanding the clear
light of hivStory; — the mianimous decision~or~airiIie- courts in the
land^^oth SfatFan^TTederal ; — the action o? Cbngress~and~the State
Legislatm-e ; — the constant practice of the Executive in all its
branches ; — and the deliberate acquiescence of the whole people for
half a centm-y, still they contend that the nation doesnot^ know its
own meaning, and that the Constitution does_not jtqlerate_slaver)' !
Ever)^ candid mind, however, must acknowledge that thelanguage of
the Constitution is clear and explicit.

Its terms are so broad, it is said, that they include many others
besides slaves, and hence it is wisely ( ! ) inferred that they cannot in-
clude the slaves themselves! Many persons besides slaves in this
countrv doubtless are " held to ser^ice and labor mider the laws of
the States," but that does not at all show that slaves ar.e not *'held
to service ; " many persons beside the slaves may take part " in in-
surrections," but that does not prove that when the slaves rise, the
National Government is not bomid to put them down by force. Such
a thing has been heard of before as one description including a great
variety of persons, — and tliis is the case in the present instance.
But granting that the terms of the Constitution are ambiguous —



that they are susceptible of two meanings — if the unanimous, concur-
rent, unbroken practice of every department of the Government, ju-
dicial, legislative, and executive, and the acquiescence of the -whole
people for fifty years, do not prove which is the true constmction, then
how and where can such a question ever be settled ? If the people
and the courts of the land do not know what they themselves mean,
who has authority to settle their meaning for them ?
r If, then, the people and the courts of a country' are to be allowed to
deternii]ie what their owti laws mean, it follows that at this time,
and for the last half century, the Constitution of the United States
has been, and still is, a pro-slavery instrmnent, and that any one who
sweai's to suppo rt it, ^wears to do pro^slayery acts, and_ violates his
duty_both as a man and an abolitionist . What the Constitution may
become a century hence, we know not ; we speak of it as it is, and
repudiate it as if is.

But the purpose, for which we have thrown these pages before the
community, is this. Some men, finding the nation mianimously de-
ciduig that the Constitution tolerates slavery, have tried to prove that
this false construction, as they thinlc it, has been foisted into the in-
strument by the corrupting influence of slavery itself, tainting all it
touches. They assert that the lmo 3jL.anti-slay,eiT, jpiiit of revolution-
•OT)- times never could have consented to so infamous a bargain as the
Constitution^representedlo Be, and has in its present hands become.
Now these pages prove the melancholy fact, that willingly, with de-
liberate purpose, om- fathers bartered honesty for gain, and became
'partners with tpants, that they might share in the profits of their

And in ^iew of tliis fact, vnW it not require a very strong argimient
to make any candid man believe, that the bargain which the fathers
tell us they meant to incorporate into the Constitution, and which the
sons have always thought they found there incorporated, does not ex-
ist there, after all ? Forty of the shrewdest men and lawj^ers in the
land assemble to liiake a bargain, among other things, about slaves.
After months of anxious dehberation, they put it into writing, and
sign their names to the instrument. Fifty yeai's roll away, — twenty
millions, at least, of then- children pass over the stage of life, — courts


sit and pass judgment, — parties arise and struggle fiercely ; still, all
concur in finding in the instrument just that meaning which the fa-
thers tell us they intended to express : — must not he be a desj)era,te
man, who, after all this, sets out to prove that the fathers were bun-
glers Imd the sons fools, and that slavery is not referred to at all?

Besides, the advocates of this new theory of the Anti-slavery char-
acter of the Constitution quote some portions of the Madison Papers
in support of then- -views, — and this makes it proper that the com-
munity should hear all that these Debates have to say on the subject.
The further we explore them, the clearer becomes the fact, that the
Constitution was meant to be, what it has always been esteemed, a
compromise between slavery and freedom. ' "

If, then, the Constitution be, what these Debates show that our
fathers intended to make it, and what, too, then' descendants, this
nation, say they did make it and agree to uphold, — then we affum
that it is " a covenant vdth death and an agreement with hell," and
ought to be immediately annulled. No abolitionist can consistently ~\
take office under it, or swear to support it. ' ^

BuTlir oiTthFcoiitraryT^ur fathers failed in their purpose, and the ^
Constitution is all pm-e and imtouched by slavery, — then, Union it- f
self is impossible, Avithout guilt. For it is undeniable that the fifty (
years passed under this (anti-slavery) Constitution show us the slaves !
trebling in numbers ; — slaveholders monopolizing the offices and die- \
tating the policy of the Government ; — prostituting the strength and \
influence of the nation to the support of slavery here and elsewhere ; j
— trampling on the rights of the free States, and making the courts '
of the country their tools. To continue this disastrous alliance longer

is madness. The trial of fifty years with the best of men and the
best of Constitutions, on this supposition, only proves that it is im-
possible for free and slave States to unite on any ternis,_without all
beco ming p artoers i n the guilt ,' and responsible for the sin of slaveiy.
We dare not prolong the experiment, and with double earnestness we
repeat our demand upon ever)' honest man to join in the outcry of the
American Anti-Slavery Society, —




Extracts from Debates in the Congress of Confed-
eration, preserved by Thomas Jefferson, 1776.

Congress proceeded the same day to consider the Declara-
tion of Independence. * * *

The clause reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of
Africa was struck out, in compliance to South Carolina and
Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation
of Slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it.
Our Northern brethren also, I beheve, felt a little tender
under those censures ; for though their people have very few •
slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable car- I
riers of them to others.* — p. 18.

On Friday,* the twelfth of July, 1776, the committee ap-
pointed to draw the articles of Confederation reported them,
and on the twenty-second the House resolved themselves into
a committee to take them into consideration. On the thirtieth

* [The clause was as follows : " He [viz., King George 3d] has waged
cruel war against human nature itself, A'iolating its most sacred rights of life
and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, capti-
vating and carrying them into slaverj- in another hemisphere, or to incur a
miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the
opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great
' Britain. Determined to keep a market where MEN should be bought and
sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative at-
tempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce." — Editor.]



and tliirty-first of that month, and the first of the ensuing,
those articles were debated which determined the proportion
or quota of money which each State should furnish to the
common treasury, and the manner of voting in Congress.
The first of these articles was expressed in the original draught
in these words : —

"Article 11. All charges of war, and all other expenses
that shall be incurred for the common defence, or general wel-
fare, and allowed by the United States assembled, shall be
defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied
by the several Colonies in proportion to the number of inhabit-
ants of every age, sex, and quality, except Indians not paying
taxes, in each Colony, a true account of which, distinguishing
the white inhabitants, shall be triennially taken and transmitte<5
to the Assembly of the United States."

Mr. Chase (of Maryland) moved, that the quotas should
be paid, not by the number of inhabitants of every condition,
but by that of the " white inhabitants." He admitted that taxa-
tion should be always in proportion to property ; that this was
in theory the true rule ; but that from a variety of difficulties
it was a rule which could never be adopted in practice. The
value of the property in every State could never be estimated
justly and equally. Some other measure fo;' the wealth of the
State must therefore be devised, some standard referred to
which would be more simple. He considered the number of in-
habitants as a tolerable good criterion of property, and that this
might always be obtained. He, therefore, thought it the best
mode we could adopt, with one exception only. He observed
I that negroes are property, and as such cannot be distinguished
from the lands or personalities held in those States where there
I are few slaves. That the sur plus of profit whicli-a Northern
I farmer is able to lay by.i_hg_ Jn_Yests in_ cattlea_.horse^„&c. ;
1 whereas, a Southern farmer lays out the same surplus in
' sTavesT There is no more reason, therefore, tor taxing the
Southern States on the farmer's head and on his slave's head,
than the Northern ones on their farmers' heads and the heads


of their cattle. That the method proposed would, therefore,
tax the Southern States accordino* to their numbers and their
wealth conjointly, while the Northern would be taxed on
numbers only: th at ne^yroes, in fact, should not be cpnsidexed
as members of the State, more than cattle, and that they have
no more mterest m it.

Mr. JohnT^dams (of Massachusetts) observed, that the
numbers of people were taken by this article as an index of
the wealth of the State, and not as subjects of taxation. That
as to this matter, it was of no consequence by what name you
called your people, whether by that of freemen or of slaves.
That in some countries the laboring poor were called freemen,
in others they were called slaves : but that the difference as
to the State was imaginary only. What matters it whether a
landlord employing ten laborers on his farm gives them annu-
ally as much money as will buy them the necessaries of life,
or gives them those necessaries at short hand ? The ten
laborers add as much wealth annually to the State, increase
its exports as much, in the one case as the other. Certainly,
five hundred freemen produce no more profits, no greater sur-
plus for the payment of taxes, than five hundred slaves.
Therefore the State in which are the laborers called freemen,
should be taxed no more than that in which are those called
slaves. Suppose, by any extraordinary operation of nature or
of law, one half the laborers of a State could, in the course of
one night, be transformed into slaves, — would the State be
made the poorer, or the less able to pay taxes ? That the
condition of the laboring poor in most countries, — that of the
fishermen, particularly, of the Northern States, — is as abject
as that of slaves. It is the number of laborers which produces
the surplus for taxation ; and numbers, therefore, indiscrimi-
nately, are the fair index of wealth. That it is the use of the
word " property " here, and its application to some of the peo-
ple of the State, which produces the fallacy. How does the
Southern farmer procure slaves ? Either by importation, or
by purchase from his neighbor. If he imports a slave, he


adds one to the number of laborers in his country, and pro*
portionably to its profits and abilities to pay taxes ; if he buys
from his neighbor, it is only a transfer of a laborer from one
farm to another, which does not change the annual produce of
the State, and therefore should not change its tax ; that if a
Northern farmer works ten laborers on his farm, he can, it is
true, invest the surplus of ten men's labor in cattle ; but so
may the Southern farmer working ten slaves. That a State
of one hundred thousand freemen can maintain no more cattle
than one of one hundred thousand slaves ; therefore they have
no more of that kind of property. That a slave may, indeed,
from the custom of speech, be more properly called the wealth
of his master, than the free laborer might be called the wealth
of his employer : but as to the State, both were equally its
wealth, and should therefore equally add to the quota of
its tax.

Mr. Harrison (of Virginia) proposed, as a compromise,
that two slaves should be counted as one freeman. He affirmed
that slaves did not do ias much work as freemeli, and doubted
if two effected more than one. That this was proved by the
price of labor ; the hire of a laborer in the Southern colonies
being from £8 to £12, while in the Northern it was gener-
ally £24.

Mr. Wilson (of Pennsylvania) said, that if this amend-
ment should take place, the Southern colonies would have all
the benefit of slaves, whilst the Northern ones would bear the
burden. That slaves increase the profits of a State, which
the Southern States mean to take to themselves ; that they
also increase the burden of defence, which would of course fall
so much the heavier on the Northern ; that slaves occupy the
places of freemen, and eat their food. Dismiss your slaves^
and freemen will take their places. It is our duty to lay
every discouragement on the importation of slaves ; but this
amendment would give the jus trium liherorum to him who
would import slaves. That other kinds of property were
pretty equally distributed through all the colonies : there were


as many cattle, horses, and sheep, in the North as the South,
and S.outh as the North ; but not so as to slaves : that expe-
rience has shown that those colonies have been always able to
pay most, which have the most inhabitants, whether they be
black or white ; and the practice of the Southern colonies has
always been to make every farmer pay poll taxes upon all his
laborers, whether they be black or white. He acknowledged,
indeed, that freemen worked the most ; but they consume the
most, also. They do not produce a greater surplus for taxa-
tion. The slave is neither fed nor clothed so expensively as
a freeman. Again, white women are exempted from labor
generally, which negro women are not. In this, then, the
Southern States have an advantage as the article now stands.
It has sometimes been said that slavery was necessary, be-
cause the commodities they raise would be too dear for market
if cultivated by freemen ; but now it is said that the labor of
thei slave is the dearest.

Mr. Payne (of Massachusetts) urged the original resolu-
tion of Congress, to proportion the quotas of the States to the
number of souls.

Dr. WiTHERSPOON (of New Jersey) was of opinion, that
the value of lands and houses was the best estimate of the
wealth of a nation, and that it was practicable to obtain such
a valuation. This is the true barometer of wealth. The one
now proposed is imperfect in itself, and unequal between the
States. It has been objected that negroes eat the food of free-
men, and therefore should be taxed : horses also eat the food
of freemen, therefore they also should be taxed. It has been
said, too, that in carrying slaves into the estimate of the taxes
the State is to pay, we do no more than those States them-
selves do, who always take slaves into the estimate of the
taxes the individual is to pay. But the cases are not parallel.
In the Southern colonies, slaves pervade the whole colony ;
but they do not pervade the whole continent. That as to the
original resolution of Congress, it was temporary only, and re-
lated to the moneys heretofore emitted ; whereas we are now


entering into a new compact, and therefore stand on original

August 1st. The question being put, the amendment pro-
posed was rejected by the votes of New Hampshire, Massa-
chusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey,
and Pennsylvania, against those of Delaware, Maryland,
Virginia, North and South Carolina. Georgia was divided.
— pp. 27-8-9, 30-1-2.

Extracts from Madison's Report of Debates in the
Congress of Confederation.

Tuesday, January 14, 1783.

Ifv the valuation of land had not been prescribed by the
Federal Articles, the Committee would certainly have pre-
ferred some other rule of apportionment, particularly that of
numbers, under certain qualifications as to slaves. — p. 260.

Tuesday, Feb. 11, 1783.-

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Online LibraryWendell PhillipsThe Constitution a pro-slavery compact; or, Extracts from the Madison papers → online text (page 1 of 18)