American Anti-Slavery Society.

The Anti-Slavery Examiner, Omnibus online

. (page 209 of 236)
Online LibraryAmerican Anti-Slavery SocietyThe Anti-Slavery Examiner, Omnibus → online text (page 209 of 236)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

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expressly repealed in various parts of the New Testament; and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
of men."


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
excepted to.

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,
chiefly these:....

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
of Congress.

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
taken away.

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
have done"

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

Online LibraryAmerican Anti-Slavery SocietyThe Anti-Slavery Examiner, Omnibus → online text (page 209 of 236)