The Anti-Slavery Examiner, Part 3 of 4
American Anti-Slavery Society

Part 15 out of 20

17 Jared Ingersoll, " 28.
18 James Wilson, " 25.
19 Gouv'r Morris, " 25.
Delaware, 20 Geo. Reed, " 25.
21 G. Bedford, Jr. " 28.
22 John Dickinson, " 28.
23 Richard Bassett, " 25.
24 Jacob Broom, " 25.
Maryland, 25 James M'Henry, " 29.
26 Daniel of St. Tho. Jenifer, June 2.
27 Daniel Carroll, July 9.
John F. Mercer, Aug. 6.
Luther Martin, June 9.
Virginia, 28 G. Washington, May 25.
_Patrick Henry_, (declined.)
Edmund Randolph, " 25.
29 John Blair, " 25.
30 Jas. Madison, Jr. " 25.
George Mason, " 25.
George Wythe, " 25.
James McClurg, (in
room P. Henry) " 25.
North Carolina, _Rich'd Caswell_ (resigned).
Alex'r Martin, May 25.
Wm. R. Davie, " 25.
31 Wm. Blount (in room
of R. Caswell), June 20.
_Willie Jones_ (declined).
32 R. D. Spaight, May 25.
33 Hugh Williamson, (in
room of W. Jones,) May 25.
South Carolina, 34 John Rutledge, " 25.
35 Chas. C. Pinckney, " 25.
36 Chas. Pinckney, " 25.
37 Peirce Butler, " 25.
Georgia, 38 William Few, " 25.
39 Abr'm Baldwin, June 11.
William Pierce, May 31.
_George Walton_.
Wm. Houston, June 1.
_Nath'l Pendleton_.

Those with numbers before their names signed the Constitution. 39
Those in italics never attended. 10
Members who attended, but did not sign the Constitution, 16

Extract from a Speech of Luther Martin, (delivered before the
Legislature of Maryland,) one of the delegates from Maryland to the
Convention that formed the Constitution of the United States.

With respect to that part of the _second_ section of the _first_
Article, which relates to the apportionment of representation and
direct taxation, there were considerable objections made to it,
besides the great objection of inequality--It was urged, that no
principle could justify taking _slaves_ into computation in
apportioning the number of _representatives_ a state should have in
the government--That it involved the absurdity of increasing the power
of a state in making laws for _free men_ in proportion as that State
violated the rights of freedom--That it might be proper to take
slaves into consideration, when _taxes_ were to be apportioned,
because it had a tendency to _discourage slavery_; but to take them
into account in giving representation tended to _encourage_ the _slave
trade_, and to make it the _interest_ of the states to _continue_ that
_infamous traffic_--That slaves could not be taken into account as
_men_, or _citizens_, because they were not admitted to the _rights of
citizens_, in the states which adopted or continued slavery--If they
were to be taken into account as _property_, it was asked, what
peculiar circumstance should render this property (of all others the
most odious in its nature) entitled to the high privilege of
conferring consequence and power in the government to its possessors,
rather than _any other_ property: and why _slaves_ should, as
property, be taken into account rather than horses, cattle, mules, or
any other species; and it was observed by an honorable member from
Massachusetts, that he considered it as dishonorable and humiliating
to enter into compact with the _slaves_ of the _southern states_, as
it would with the _horses_ and _mules_ of the _eastern_.

By the ninth section of this Article, the importation of such persons
as any of the States now existing, shall think proper to admit, shall
not be prohibited prior to the year 1808, but a duty may be imposed on
such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.

The design of this clause is to prevent the general government from
prohibiting the importation of slaves; but the same reasons which
caused them to strike out the word "national," and not admit the word
"stamps," influenced them here to guard against the word "_slaves_."
They anxiously sought to avoid the admission of expressions which
might be odious in the ears of Americans, although they were willing
to admit into their system those _things_ which the expression
signified; and hence it is that the clause is so worded as really to
authorize the general government to impose a duty of ten dollars on
every foreigner who comes into a State to become a citizen, whether he
comes absolutely free, or qualifiedly so as a servant; although this
is contrary to the design of the framers, and the duty was only meant
to extend to the importation of slaves.

This clause was the subject of a great diversity of sentiment in the
Convention. As the system was reported by the committee of detail, the
provision was general, that such importation should not be prohibited,
without confining it to any particular period. This was rejected by
eight States--Georgia, South Carolina, and, I think, North Carolina,
voting for it.

We were then told by the delegates of the two first of those states,
that their states would never agree to a system, which put it in the
power of the general government to prevent the importation of slaves,
and that they, as delegates from those states, must withhold their
assent from such a system.

A committee of one member from each State was chosen by ballot, to
take this part of the system under their consideration, and to
endeavor to agree upon some report, which should reconcile those
States. To this committee also was referred the following proposition,
which had been reported by the committee of detail, to wit: "No
navigation act shall be passed without the assent of two-thirds of the
members present in each house;" a proposition which the staple and
commercial States were solicitous to retain, lest their commerce
should be placed too much under the power of the Eastern States; but
which these last States were as anxious to reject. This committee, of
which also I had the honor to be a member, met and took under their
consideration the subjects committed to them. I found the _eastern_
States, notwithstanding their _aversion to slavery_, were very willing
to indulge the southern States, at least with a temporary liberty to
prosecute the _slave trade_, provided the southern states would in
their turn gratify them, by laying no restriction on navigation acts;
and after a very little time, the committee, by a great majority,
agreed on a report, by which the general government was to be
prohibited from preventing the importation of slaves for a limited
time, and the restricted clause relative to navigation acts was to be

This report was adopted by a majority of the Convention, but not
without considerable opposition.

It was said, we had just assumed a place among independent nations in
consequence of our opposition to the attempts of Great Britain to
_enslave us_; that this opposition was grounded upon the preservation
of those, rights to which God and nature had entitled us, not in
_particular_, but in _common_ with all the rest of mankind; that we
had appealed to the Supreme Being for his assistance, as the God of
freedom, who could not but approve our efforts to preserve the
_rights_ which he had thus imparted to his creatures; that now, when
we had scarcely risen from our knees, from supplicating his mercy and
protection in forming our government over a free people, a government
formed pretendedly on the principles of liberty, and for its
preservation,--in that government to have a provision not only
putting it out of its power to restrain and prevent the slave trade,
even encouraging that most infamous traffic, by giving the States the
power and influence in the Union in proportion as they cruelly and
wantonly sported with the rights of their fellow-creatures, ought to
be considered as a solemn mockery of, and an insult to, that God whose
protection we had then implored, and could not fail to hold us up in
detestation, and render us contemptible to every true friend of
liberty in the world. It was said, it ought to be considered that
national crimes can only be, and frequently are, punished in this
world by national punishments; and that the continuance of the slave
trade, and thus giving it a national sanction, and encouragement,
ought to be considered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and
vengeance of him who is equally Lord of all, and who views with equal
eye the poor African slave and his American master!

It was urged that by this system, we were giving the general
government full and absolute power to regulate commerce, under which
general power it would have a right to restrain, or totally prohibit,
the slave trade: it must, therefore, appear to the world absurd and
disgraceful to the last degree, that we should except from the
exercise of that power, the only branch of commerce which is
unjustifiable in its nature, and contrary to the rights of mankind.
That, on the contrary, we ought rather to prohibit expressly in our
Constitution, the further importation of slaves, and to authorize the
general government, from time to time, to make such regulations as
should be thought most advantageous for the gradual abolition of
slavery, and the emancipation of the slaves which are already in the
States. That slavery is inconsistent with the genius of republicanism
and has a tendency to destroy those principles on which it is
supported, as it lessens the sense of the equal rights of mankind, and
habituates us to tyranny and oppression. It was further urged, that,
by this system of government, every State is to be protected both from
foreign invasion and from domestic insurrections; from this
consideration, it was of the utmost importance it should have a power
to restrain the importation of slaves, since, in proportion as the
number of slaves are increased in any State, in the same proportion
the State is weakened and exposed to foreign invasion or domestic
insurrection, and by so much less will it be able to protect itself
against either, and therefore will by so the much want aid from, and
be a burden to, the Union.

It was further said, that, as in this system we were giving the
general government a power, under the idea of national character, or
national interest, to regulate even our weights and measures, and have
prohibited all possibility of emitting paper money, and passing
insolvent laws, &c., it must appear still more extraordinary, that we
should prohibit the government from interfering with the slave trade,
than which nothing could so materially affect both our national honor
and interest.

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.

* * * * *


* * * * *


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 numbers 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 other.

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 gentlemen 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 thought 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. Buckus. Much, sir, has 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
of men."

* * * * *


Mr. 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 their navigation, and that they should leave full power,
by a majority in Congress, to make commercial regulations in favor of
their own, and in restraint of the navigation of foreigners. 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
hon. 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 unexceptional 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 cause 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 gentleman 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 said, 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 said, 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 the 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 exists. 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 stock-jobbing, 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 so now, will be manumitted. At the 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 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 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 he 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
require it.

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, capitation or other direct
tax should he 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
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 post facto_.

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 decree 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 could, 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 or labor, but
shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or
labor may be due.

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 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 said, 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 our 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

Mr. Madison said--

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
suspicious 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 show 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 is 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 not be 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.

* * * * *


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 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 the 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 we 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 be 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
laid on.

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 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 this 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
of slaves.

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
could, 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 fourth article read without any observation.

* * * * *

It is however to be observed, (said Mr. Iredell,) that the first and
fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article, are
protected from any alteration till 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 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 with 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

* * * * *


Hon. Rawlins Lowndes. In the first place, what cause was there for
jealousy 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 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 treasure, 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 State, 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
States are to be rated in the apportioning of taxes.

But the principal objection is, that no duties are laid on
shipping--that in fact the carrying trade was to be vested in a great
measure in the Americans; that the ship-building business was
principally carried on in the Northern States. When this subject is
duly considered, the Southern States, should be the last to object to
it. Mr. Rutledge then went into a consideration of the subject; after
which the House adjourned.

Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. We were at a loss for some time for
a rule to ascertain the proportionate wealth of the States, at last we
thought that the productive labor of the inhabitants was the best rule
for ascertaining their wealth; in conformity to this rule, joined to a
spirit of concession, we determined that representatives should be
apportioned among the several States, by adding to the whole number of
free persons three-fifths of the slaves. We thus obtained a
representation for our property, and I confess I did not expect that
we had conceded too much to the Eastern States, when they allowed us a
representation for a species of property which they have not among

The honorable gentleman alleges, that the Southern States are weak, I
sincerely agree with him--we are so weak that by ourselves we could
not form an union strong enough for the purpose of effectually
protecting each other. Without union with the other States, South
Carolina must soon fall. Is there any one among us so much a Quixotte
as to suppose that this State could long maintain her independence if
she stood alone, or was only connected with the Southern States? I
scarcely believe there is. Let an invading power send a naval force
into the Chesapeake to keep Virginia in alarm, and attack South
Carolina with such a naval and military force as Sir Henry Clinton
brought here in 1780, and though they might not soon conquer us, they
would certainly do us an infinite deal of mischief; and if they
considerably increased their numbers, we should probably fall. As,
from the nature of our climate, and the fewness of our inhabitants, we
are undoubtedly weak, should we not endeavor to form a close union
with the Eastern States, who are strong?

For who have been the greatest sufferers in the Union, by our
obtaining, our independence? I answer, the Eastern States; they have
lost every thing but their country, and their freedom. It is notorious
that some ports to the Eastward, which used to fit out one hundred and
fifty sail of vessels, do not now fit out thirty; that their trade of
ship-building, which used to be very considerable, is now annihilated;
that their fisheries are trifling, and their mariners in want of
bread; surely we are called upon by every tie of justice, friendships,
and humanity, to relieve their distresses; and as by their exertions
they have assisted us in establishing our freedom, we should let them,
in some measure, partake of our prosperity. The General then said he
would make a few observations on the objections which the gentleman
had thrown out on the restrictions that might be laid on the African
trade after the year 1808. On this point your delegates had to contend
with the religious and political prejudices of the Eastern and Middle
States, and with the interested and inconsistent opinion of Virginia,
who was warmly opposed to our importing more slaves. I am of the same
opinion now as I was two years ago, when I used the expressions that
the gentleman has quoted, that while there remained one acre of swamp
land uncleared of South Carolina, I would raise my voice against
restricting the importation of negroes. I am as thoroughly convinced
as that gentleman is, that the nature of our climate, and the flat
swampy situation of our country, obliges us to cultivate our land with
negroes, and that without them South Carolina would soon be a desert

You have so frequently heard my sentiments on this subject that I need
not now repeat them. It was alleged, by some of the members who
opposed an unlimited importation, that slaves increased the weakness
of any State who admitted them; that they were a dangerous species of
property, which an invading enemy could easily turn against ourselves
and the neighboring States, and that as we were allowed a
representation for them in the House of Representatives, our influence
in government would be increased in proportion as we were less able to
defend ourselves. "Show some period," said the members from the
Eastern States, "when it may be in our power to put a stop, if we
please, to the importation of this weakness, and we will endeavor, for
your convenience, to restrain the religious and political prejudices
of our people on this subject."

The Middle States and Virginia made us no such proposition; they were
for an immediate and total prohibition. We endeavored to obviate the
objections that were made, in the best manner we could, and assigned
reasons for our insisting on the importation, which there is no
occasion to repeat, as they must occur to every gentleman in the
House: a committee of the States was appointed in order to accommodate
this matter, and after a great deal of difficulty, it was settled on
the footing recited in the Constitution.

By this settlement we have secured an unlimited importation of negroes
for twenty years; nor is it declared that the importation shall be
then stopped; it may be continued--we have a security that the general
government can never emancipate them, for no such authority is
granted, and it is admitted on all hands, that the general government
has no powers but what are expressly granted by the constitution; and
that all rights not expressed were reserved by the several States. We
have obtained a right to recover our slaves, in whatever part of
America they may take refuge, which is a right we had not before. In
short, considering all circumstances, we have made the best terms, for
the security of this species of property, it was in our power to make.
We would have made better if we could, but on the whole I do not think
them bad.

Hon. Robert Barnwell. Mr. Barnwell continued to say, I now come to the
last point for consideration, I mean the clause relative to the
negroes; and here I am particularly pleased with the Constitution; it
has not left this matter of so much importance to us open to immediate
investigation; no, it has declared that the United States shall not,
at any rate, consider this matter for twenty-one years, and yet
gentlemen are displeased with it.

Congress has guaranteed this right for that space of time, and at its
expiration may continue it as long as they please. This question then
arises, what will their interest lead them to do? The Eastern States,
as the honorable gentleman says, will become the carriers of America,
it will, therefore certainly be their interest to encourage
exportation to as great an extent as possible; and if the quantum of
our products will be diminished by the prohibition of negroes, I
appeal to the belief of every man, whether he thinks those very
carriers will themselves dam up the resources from whence their profit
is derived? To think so is so contradictory to the general conduct of
mankind, that I am of opinion, that without we ourselves put a stop to
them, the traffic for negroes will continue forever.

* * * * *



It were doubtless to be wished, that the power of prohibiting the
importation of slaves, had not been postponed until the year 1808, or
rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation. But it
is not difficult to account either for this restriction on the general
government, or for the manner in which the whole clause is expressed.

It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of
humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate for ever within
these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the
barbarism of modern policy; that within that period, it will receive a
considerable discouragement from the Federal government, and may be
totally abolished, by a concurrence of the few States which continue
the unnatural traffic, in the prohibitory example which has been given
by so great a majority of the Union. Happy would it be for the
unfortunate Africans, if an equal prospect lay before them, of being
redeemed from the oppressions of their European brethern! Attempts
have been made to pervert this clause into an objection against the
Constitution, by representing it on one side, as a criminal toleration
of an illicit practice; and on another, as calculated to prevent
voluntary and beneficial emigrations from Europe to America. I mention
these misconstructions, not with a view to give them an answer, for
they deserve none; but as specimens of the manner and spirit, in which
some have thought fit to conduct their opposition to the proposed

* * * * *



All this is admitted, it will perhaps be said: but does it follow from
an admission of numbers for the measure of representation, or of
slaves combined with free citizens as a ratio of taxation, that slaves
ought to be included in the numerical rule of representation?

Slaves are considered as property, not as persons. They ought
therefore, to be comprehended in estimates of taxation, which are
founded on property, and to be excluded from representation, which is
regulated by a census of persons. This is the objection as I
understand it, stated in its full force. I shall be equally candid in
stating the reasoning which may be offered on the opposite side. We
subscribe to the doctrine, might one of our Southern brethern observe,
that representation relates more immediately to persons, and taxation
more immediately to property; and we join in the application of this
distinction to the case of our slaves.

But we must deny the fact, that slaves are considered merely as
property, and in no respect whatever as persons. The true state of the
case is, that they partake of both these qualities, being considered
by our laws, in some respects as persons, and in other respects as

In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in
being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject
at all times to be restrained in his liberty: and chastised in his
body by the capricious will of another; the slave may appear to be
degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational
animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being
protected, on the other hand, in his life, and in his limbs, against
the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his
liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed
against others; the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as
a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as
a moral person, not as a mere article of property. The Federal
constitution, therefore, decides with great propriety on the case of
our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and
property. This is in fact their true character. It is the character
bestowed on them by the laws under which they live, and it will not be
denied, that these are the proper criterion; because it is only under
the pretext, that the laws have transformed the negroes into subjects
of property, that a place is disputed them in the computation of
numbers; and it is admitted, that if the laws were to restore the
rights which have been taken away, the negroes could no longer be
refused an equal share of representation with the other inhabitants.

This question may be placed in another light. It is agreed on all
sides, that numbers are the best scale of wealth and taxation, as they
are the only proper scale of representation. Would the convention have
been impartial or consistent, if they had rejected the slaves from the
list of inhabitants, when the shares of representation were to be
calculated; and inserted them on the lists when the tariff of
contributions was to be adjusted?

Could it be reasonably expected, that the Southern States would concur
in a system, which considered their slaves in some degree as men, when
burdens were to be imposed, but refused to consider them in the same
light, when advantages were to be conferred?

Might not some surprise also be expressed, that those who reproach the
Southern States with the, barbarous policy of considering as property
a part of their human brethern, should themselves contend, that the
government to which all the States are to be parties, ought to
consider this unfortunate race more completely in the unnatural light
of property, than the very laws of which they complain?

It may be replied, perhaps, that slaves are not included in the
estimate of representatives in any of the States possessing them. They
neither vote themselves, nor increase the votes of their masters. Upon
what principle, then, ought they to be taken into the Federal estimate
of representation? In rejecting them altogether, the constitution
would, in this respect, have followed the very laws which have been
appealed to as the proper guide.

This objection is repelled by a single observation. It is a
fundamental principle of the proposed constitution, that as the
aggregate number of representatives allotted to the several States is
to be determined by a Federal rule, founded on the aggregate number of
inhabitants; so, the right of choosing this allotted number in each
State, is to be exercised by such part of the inhabitants, as the
State itself may designate. The qualifications of which the right of
suffrage depends, are not perhaps the same in any two States. In some
of the States the difference is very material. In every State, a
certain proportion of inhabitants are deprived of this right by the
constitution of the State, who will be included in the census by which
the Federal constitution apportions the representatives. In this point
of view, the Southern States might retort the complaint, by insisting,
that the principle laid down by the convention required that no regard
should be had to the policy of particular States towards their own
inhabitants; and consequently, that the slaves, as inhabitants, should
have been admitted into the census according to their full number, in
like manner with other inhabitants, who, by the policy of other
States, are not admitted to all the rights of citizens. A rigorous
adherence, however, to this principle is waived by those who would be
gainers by it. All that they ask, is that equal moderation be shown on
the other side. Let the case of the slaves be considered, as it is in
truth, a peculiar one. Let the compromising expedient of the
constitution be annually adopted, which regards them as inhabitants,
but as debased by servitude below the equal level of free inhabitants,
which regards the _slave_ as divested of two-fifths of the _man_.


MAY 13, 1789.

Mr. Parker (of Va.) moved to insert a clause in the bill, imposing a
duty on the importation of slaves of ten dollars each person. He was
sorry that the constitution prevented Congress from prohibiting the
importation altogether; he thought it a defect in that instrument that
it allowed of such actions, it was contrary to the revolution
principles, and ought not to be permitted; but as he could not do all
the good he desired, he was willing to do what lay in his power. He
hoped such a duty as he moved for would prevent, in some degree, this
irrational and inhuman traffic; if so, he should feel happy from the
success of his motion.

Mr. Smith (of South Carolina,) hoped that such an important and
serious proposition as this would not be hastily adopted; it was a
very late moment for the introduction of new subjects. He expected the
committee had got through the business, and would rise without
discussing any thing further; at least, if gentlemen were determined
on considering the present motion, he hoped they would delay for a few
days, in order to give time for an examination of the subject. It was
certainly a matter big with the most serious consequences to the State
he represented; he did not think any one thing that had been discussed
was so important to them, and the welfare of the Union, as the
question now brought forward, but he was not prepared to enter on any
argument, and therefore requested the motion might either be withdrawn
or laid on the table.

Mr. Sherman (of Ct.) approved of the object of the motion, but he did
not think this bill was proper to embrace the subject. He could not
reconcile himself to the insertion of human beings as an article of
duty, among goods, wares and merchandise. He hoped it would be
withdrawn for the present, and taken up hereafter as an independent

Mr. Jackson, (of Geo.) observing the quarter from which this motion
came, said it did not surprise him, though it might have that effect
on others. He recollected that Virginia was an old settled State, and
had her complement of slaves, so she was careless of recruiting her
numbers by this means; the natural increase of her imported blacks
were sufficient for their purpose; but he thought gentlemen ought to
let their neighbors get supplied before they imposed such a burthen
upon the importation. He knew this business was viewed in an odious
light to the Eastward, because the people were capable of doing their
own work, and had no occasion for slaves; but gentlemen will have some
feeling for others; they will not try to throw all the weight upon
others, who have assisted in lightening their burdens; they do not
wish to charge us for every comfort and enjoyment of life, and at the
same time take away the means of procuring them; they do not wish to
break us down at once.

He was convinced, from the inaptitude of the motion, and the want of
time to consider it, that the candor of the gentleman would induce him
to withdraw it for the present; and if ever it came forward again, he
hoped it would comprehend the white slaves as well as black, who were
imported from all the goals of Europe; wretches, convicted of the most
flagrant crimes, were brought in and sold without any duty whatever.
He thought that they ought to be taxed equal to the Africans, and had
no doubt but the constitutionality and propriety of such a measure was
equally apparent as the one proposed.

Mr. Tucker (of S.C.) thought it unfair to bring in such an important
subject at the time when debate was almost precluded. The committee
had gone through the impost bill, and the whole Union were impatiently
expecting the result of their deliberations, the public must be
disappointed and much revenue lost, or this question cannot undergo
that full discussion which it deserves.

We have no right, said he, to consider whether the importation of
slaves is proper or not; the Constitution gives us no power on that
point, it is left to the States to judge of that matter as they see
fit. But if it was a business the gentleman was determined to
discourage, he ought to have brought his motion forward sooner, and
even then not have introduced it without previous notice. He hoped the
committee would reject the motion, if it was not withdrawn; he was not
speaking so much for the State he represented, as for Georgia, because
the State of South Carolina had a prohibitory law, which could be
renewed when its limitation expired.

Mr. Parker (of Va.,) had ventured to introduce the subject after full
deliberation, and did not like to withdraw it. Although the gentleman
from Connecticut (Mr. Sherman) had said, that they ought not to be
enumerated with goods, wares, and merchandise, he believed they were
looked upon by the African traders in this light, he knew it was
degrading the human species to annex that character to them; but he
would rather do this than continue the actual evil of importing slaves
a moment longer. He hoped Congress would do all that lay in their
power to restore to human nature its inherent privileges, and if
possible wipe off the stigma which America laboured under. The
inconsistency in our principles, with which we are justly charged,
should be done away; that we may shew by our actions the pure
beneficence of the doctrine we held out to the world in our
declaration of independence.

Mr. Sherman (of Ct.,) thought the principles of the motion and the
principles of the bill were inconsistent; the principle of the bill
was to raise revenue, the principle of the motion to correct a moral
evil. Now, considering it as an object of revenue, it would be unjust,
because two or three States would bear the whole burthen, while he
believed they bore their full proportion of all the rest. He was
against receiving the motion into this bill, though he had no
objection to taking it up by itself, on the principles of humanity and
policy; and therefore would vote against it if it was not withdrawn.

Mr. Ames (of Mass.,) joined the gentleman last up. No one could
suppose him favorable to slavery, he detested it from his soul, but he
had some doubts whether imposing a duty on the importation, would not
have the appearance of countenancing the practice; it was certainly a
subject of some delicacy, and no one appeared to be prepared for the
discussion, he therefore hoped the motion would be withdrawn.

Mr. Livermore. Was not against the principle of the motion, but in the
present case he conceived it improper. If negroes were goods, wares,
or merchandise, they came within the title of the bill; if they were
not, the bill would be inconsistent: but if they are goods, wares or
merchandise, the 5 per cent ad valorum, will embrace the importation;
and the duty of 5 per cent is nearly equal to 10 dollars per head, so
there is no occasion to add it even on the score of revenue.

Mr. Jackson (of Ga.,) said it was the fashion of the day, to favor the
liberty of slaves; he would not go into a discussion of the subject,
but he believed it was capable of demonstration that they were better
off in their present situation, than they would be if they were
manumitted; what are they to do if they are discharged? Work for a
living? Experience has shewn us they will not. Examine what is become
of those in Maryland, many of them have been set free in that State;
did they turn themselves to industry and useful pursuits? No, they
turn out common pickpockets, petty larceny villains; and is this
mercy, forsooth, to turn them into a way in which they must lose their
lives,--for where they are thrown upon the world, void of property and
connections, they cannot get their living but by pilfering. What is to
be done for compensation? Will Virginia set all her negroes free? Will
they give up the money they cost them, and to whom? When this practice
comes to be tried there, the sound of liberty will lose those charms
which make it grateful to the ravished ear.

But our slaves are not in a worse situation than they were on the
coast of Africa; it is not uncommon there for the parents to sell
their children in peace; and in war the whole are taken and made
slaves together. In these cases it is only a change of one slavery for
another; and are they not better here, where they have a master bound
by the ties of interest and law to provide for their support and
comfort in old age, or infirmity, in which, if they were free, they
would sink under the pressure of woe for want of assistance.

He would say nothing of the partiality of such a tax, it was admitted
by the avowed friends of the measure; Georgia in particular would be
oppressed. On this account it would be the most odious tax Congress
could impose.

Mr. Schureman (of N.J.) hoped the gentleman would withdraw his motion,
because the present was not the time or place for introducing the
business; he thought it had better be brought forward in the House, as
a distinct proposition. If the gentleman persisted in having the
question determined, he would move the previous question if he was

Mr. Madison, (of Va.) I cannot concur with gentlemen who think the
present an improper time or place to enter into a discussion of the
proposed motion; if it is taken up in a separate view, we shall do the
same thing at a greater expense of time. But the gentlemen say that it
is improper to connect the two objects, because they do not come
within the title of the bill. But this objection may be obviated by
accommodating the title to the contents; there may be some
inconsistency in combining the ideas which gentlemen have expressed,
that is, considering the human race as a species of property; but the
evil does not arise from adopting the clause now proposed, it is from
the importation to which it relates. Our object in enumerating persons
on paper with merchandise, is to prevent the practice of actually
treating them as such, by having them, in future, forming part of the
cargoes of goods, wares, and merchandise to be imported into the
United States. The motion is calculated to avoid the very evil
intimated by the gentleman. It has been said that this tax will be
partial and oppressive; but suppose a fair view is taken of this
subject, I think we may form a different conclusion. But if it be
partial or oppressive, are there not many instances in which we have
laid taxes of this nature? Yet are they not thought to be justified by
national policy? If any article is warranted on this account, how much
more are we authorized to proceed on this occasion? The dictates of
humanity, the principles of the people, the national safety and
happiness, and prudent policy requires it of us; the constitution has
particularly called our attention to it--and of all the articles
contained in the bill before us, this is one of the last I should be
willing to make a concession upon so far as I was at liberty to go,
according to the terms of the constitution or principles of justice--I
would not have it understood that my zeal would carry me to disobey
the inviolable commands of either.

I understood it had been intimated, that the motion was inconsistent
or unconstitutional. I believe, sir, my worthy colleague has formed
the words with a particular reference to the constitution; any how, so
far as the duty is expressed, it perfectly accords with that
instrument; if there are any inconsistencies in it, they may be
rectified; I believe the intention is well understood, but I am far
from supposing the diction improper. If the description of the persons
does not accord with the ideas of the gentleman from Georgia, (Mr.
Jackson,) and his idea is a proper one for the committee to adopt, I
see no difficulty in changing the phraseology.

I conceive the constitution, in this particular, was formed in order
that the government, whilst it was restrained from laying a total
prohibition, might be able to give some testimony of the sense of
America, with respect to the African trade. We have liberty to impose
a tax or duty upon the importation of such persons as any of the
States now existing shall think proper to admit; and this liberty was
granted, I presume, upon two considerations--the first was, that until
the time arrived when they might abolish the importation of slaves,
they might have an opportunity of evidencing their sentiments, on the
policy and humanity of such a trade; the other was that they might be
taxed in due proportion with other articles imported; for if the
possessor will consider them as property, of course they are of value
and ought to be paid for. If gentlemen are apprehensive of oppression
from the weight of the tax, let them make an estimate of its
proportion, and they will find that it very little exceeds five per
cent, ad valorem, so that they will gain very little by having them
thrown into that mass of articles, whilst by selecting them in the
manner proposed, we shall fulfil the prevailing expectation of our
fellow citizens, and perform our duty in executing the purposes of the
constitution. It is to be hoped that by expressing a national
disapprobation of this trade, we may destroy it, and save ourselves
from reproaches, and our posterity the imbecility ever attendant on a
country filled with slaves.

I do not wish to say any thing harsh, to the hearing of gentlemen who
entertain different sentiments from me, or different sentiments from
those I represent; but if there is any one point in which it is
clearly the policy of this nation, so far as we constitutionally can,
to vary the practice obtaining under some of the State governments, it
is this; but it is certain a majority of the States are opposed to
this practice, therefore, upon principle, we ought to discountenance
it as far as is in our power.

If I was not afraid of being told that the representatives of the
several States, are the best able to judge of what is proper and
conducive to their particular prosperity, I should venture to say that
it is as much the interest of Georgia and South Carolina, as of any in
the Union. Every addition they receive to their number of slaves,
tends to weaken them and renders them less capable of self defence. In
case of hostilities with foreign nations, they will be the means of
inviting attack instead of repelling invasion. It is a necessary duty
of the general government to protect every part of the empire against
danger, as well internal as external; every thing therefore which
tends to increase this danger, though it may be a local affair, yet if
it involves national expense or safety, becomes of concern to every
part of the Union, and is a proper subject for the consideration of
those charged with the general administration of the government. I
hope, in making these observations, I shall not be understood to mean
that a proper attention ought not to be paid to the local opinions and
circumstances of any part of the United States, or that the particular
representatives are not best able to judge of the sense of their
immediate constituents.

If we examine the proposal measure by the agreement there is between
it, and the existing State laws, it will show us that it is patronized
by a very respectable part of the Union. I am informed that South
Carolina has prohibited the importation of slaves for several years
yet to come; we have the satisfaction then of reflecting that we do
nothing more than their own laws do at this moment. This is not the
case with one State. I am sorry that her situation is such as to seem
to require a population of this nature, but it is impossible in the
nature of things, to consult the national good without doing what we
do not wish to do, to some particular part. Perhaps gentlemen contend
against the introduction of the clause, on too slight grounds. If it
does not conform with the title of the bill, alter the latter; if it
does not conform to the precise terms of the constitution, amend it.


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