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If The Founders Didn’t Compromise On Slavery, The Constitution And United States Wouldn’t Exist
The Federalist ^ | August 29, 2020 | Guy Chet

Posted on 08/29/2020 12:59:11 PM PDT by Kaslin

For a country formed as a marriage between free and slave states, the Constitution was a compromise.

Why are Americans debating whether the Constitution is a pro-slavery document more than 150 years after the abolition of slavery? Can it be that, after decades of disinterest, Americans have suddenly realized history is fascinating?

Historical debates are usually fairly esoteric, more likely to bore than to excite the general public. When historical debates inflame passions beyond the circles of academic history, it is a sign that the debate is not really about the past, but about the present. So it goes with the Constitution; the historical debate about slavery in the Constitution is heated because it is fundamental to current political arguments over the charge that America is systemically racist.

Pro-Slavery Sentiment in the Constitution?

The claim that the Constitution was pro-slavery rests on two clauses that dealt with slavery and supported the interests of slave-owners and slave states. One clause states that fugitive slaves, as well as other persons “held to service or labor,” shall be returned to their masters. The other says that three-fifths of slaves shall be counted to calculate the number of representatives a state may send to Congress, and the number of electors a state may send to the Electoral College in presidential elections.

Some argue that other sections of the Constitution were pro-slavery as well — for example, clauses guaranteeing various rights, privileges, and immunities to citizens – but the case is tenuous since such provisions are common to all republics. Likewise, there is no reason to assume the militia clause’s discussion of domestic insurrections was a veiled reference to slave revolts in particular, since domestic rebellions were common in slave and non-slave societies alike. Moreover, it was a citizen uprising in a free state, Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts (1786-87), that figured so prominently in the Federalist campaign to craft the new federal constitution.

This leaves only the three-fifths compromise, the fugitive slave clause, and the fact that the Constitution did not outlaw slavery nor the slave trade. All of these were consequences of the fact that the Constitution was a framework for mutual governance for five free states and eight slave states.

Such a marriage by necessity created a mutual government that reflected the wishes, interests, and concerns of both free and slave states. The way the framers secured this difficult union was to create a federal government of limited powers that had no jurisdiction to govern the domestic affairs of the individual states.

Balancing the Slave and Free States

It is true, therefore, that the federal Constitution did not force abolition on the slave states, but neither did it force slavery on the minority of free states. Had the federal government been empowered to govern the domestic affairs of the states, the majority (slave states) would have been able to force slavery on the minority (free states). The fugitive slave clause legitimized and secured slavery in the slave states, just as the Constitution legitimized and secured abolition and emancipation in the free states.

It was no coincidence that the federal Constitution created a government without any jurisdiction on slavery within the states. The result was that states remained free to retain or to change the status of slavery within their borders. Free states could adopt slavery, slave states could abolish slavery and become free states (as did New Jersey in 1804), and new states could adopt or reject slavery.

Moreover, the Constitution permitted Congress to outlaw the slave trade and ban slavery from U.S. territories, both of which Congress did in quick order. Further, Article 1, Section 9 established a ticking time bomb of sorts to outlaw the importation of slaves in 1808.

The Constitution Was a Compromise

A union between five free states and eight slave states demanded a constitution that could accommodate the wishes and fears of both free and slave states. Thus the fugitive slave clause legitimized and secured slavery in the slave states, just as the Constitution legitimized and secured abolition and emancipation in the free states.

The three-fifths compromise likewise catered to the worries of slave states but also to those of free states. While southern states wanted all slaves counted for the purpose of congressional apportioning, northern states wanted no slaves to be counted. The Constitution split the baby in two, giving both sides roughly half of what they demanded.

It is misleading, therefore, to ask whether the Constitution was pro- or anti-slavery. For a country formed as a marriage between free and slave states, the United States was necessarily a compromise. Its founding contract necessarily outlined a live-and-let-live approach to slavery.

This approach explains the Constitution’s failure to abolish slavery in the slave states, and its permission for slave states to abolish slavery and for free states to remain free. This constitutional framework allowed Americans to voluntarily abolish slavery in their societies before any other Western society did, as it allowed other Americans to sustain pernicious and cruel slave regimes in their societies.

On the issue of slavery, therefore, modern Americans can see the glass as half-empty or half-full; it is a choice. The unarticulated question behind this debate, then, is why do those who see the glass half-empty choose to see it that way? And why do the others choose to see it half-full?

The answer has to do with the person making this choice — today, in 2020 — not with the people who drafted the Constitution 233 years ago. Those who are unimpressed with anti-slavery Americans in the late-18th century — who would say “too little, too late” — are understandably unimpressed with the Constitution they created and see the glass as half-empty.

Those who are impressed with the ability of those anti-slavery Americans to question and overturn moral assumptions that their civilization, their religion, and all of humanity had upheld for thousands of years are bound to be impressed with their accomplishments, and thus see the glass as half-full. How will you choose to see it?

TOPICS: History; Politics; Reference; Society
KEYWORDS: 13thamendment; bidenvoters; compromise; constitution; fugitiveslaveact; history; racism; slavery; thirteenthamendment
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1 posted on 08/29/2020 12:59:11 PM PDT by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin
I would be careful with this argument.

A lot of people would be happy if the United States didn't exist.

2 posted on 08/29/2020 1:07:14 PM PDT by yesthatjallen
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To: Kaslin

At the time of the Founding, there was only one place where slavery was outlawed, and that was western Europe. With our revolution, half the states abolished slavery or adopted gradual emancipation. Was this a glass half-empty or a glass half-full? Well, if you think everything in the world was perfect until white people showed up, it’s a glass half-empty. If, on the other hand, you see history as an on-going struggle against poverty, ignorance, disease, war, violence and oppression, you see it as a step in the right direction.

3 posted on 08/29/2020 1:11:06 PM PDT by Redmen4ever
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To: Kaslin

The commie filth of the !eft are not about compromise, they love arbitrary government and limitless power in all circumstances whatsoever because they fundamentally believe people cannot lead their lives without being managed for their own good. They fundamentally believe that without that management bad things happen and yet they are utterly blind to the simple fact that far worse things happen when limitless political power is concentrated into the hands of people who are inevitably going to be unaccountable to those they manage.

In fact the ONLY thing they don’t want to regulate every nuance of is sex and whatever helps there to be more sex. Those calling everyone not them fascists are the direct heirs of people calling others who dared suggest they have good morals fascists ... all people who never faced actual fascists or who ever considered communists to be as bad as they really are.

In short the Left is, like even the early so-called progressives of the 19th century, completely and inherently opposed to the wisdom this country was founded upon, wanting something foreign, something French — to be blunt — rather than something American.

That was as true of someone like Wilson as it is of Pelosi ... she is worse in degree but not really worse in being opposed to this nation’s founding principal and the wisdom brought to bear.

4 posted on 08/29/2020 1:11:13 PM PDT by Rurudyne (Standup Philosopher)
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To: yesthatjallen


The people protesting aren’t going to listen to rational arguments. They hate the United States and everything it represents.

5 posted on 08/29/2020 1:11:41 PM PDT by Bratch (If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.)
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To: Kaslin

Wait a minute. At the time, every state allowed slavery. Moreover, New Jersey still had slaves in 1865. They just called them “apprentices for life”.

Those who pushed for a 20 year grandfather clause for the ban on the slave trade were “frontier” states likeSouthCarolina and well as New England states which were the epicenter of the slave trade industry.....Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and NewYork.

6 posted on 08/29/2020 1:25:50 PM PDT by FLT-bird
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To: Kaslin
Over time, America's education system, along with parents, churches and communities have failed to teach all children of the real history of our nation?

To understand something of the degree to which today's generations have been failed, one needs only to reference the following information and the Library of Congress web site referenced in the post.

Ohio State Senator and A.M.E. Bishop Benjamin W. Arnett, outstanding scholar, Legislator, and Minister, who lived through the period of the Civil War and delivered a most outstanding Centennial Sermon, at St. Paul Church in Norwalk, Ohio, by invitation, honoring the 100th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, in which he traced the history of nations and that of America, from it's inception and up to the Year of the Centennial of its Declaration.
 photo Benjamin W. Arnett2 image.jpg

In that Sermon, Dr. Arnett issued a grave warning of what might happen to America if a group, including academics who then self-described as "Liberals," had its way. Excerpts follow:

"The Danger to our Country.

"Now that our national glory and grandeur is principally derived from the position the fathers took on the great questions of right and wrong, and the career of this nation has been unparalleled in the history of the past, now there are those who are demanding the tearing down the strength of our national fabric. They may not intend to tear it down, but just as sure as they have their way, just that sure will they undermine our superstructure and cause the greatest calamity of the age. What are the demands of this party of men? Just look at it and examine it for yourselves, and see if you are willing that they shall have their way; or will you still assist in keeping the ship of state in the hands of the same crew and run her by the old gospel chart! But ye men who think there is no danger listen to the demands of the Liberals as they choose to call themselves:

"'Organize! Liberals of America! The hour for action has arrived. The cause of freedom calls upon us to combine our strength, our zeal, our efforts. These are The Demands of Liberalism:

"'1. We demand that churches and other ecclesiastical property shall no longer be exempt from just taxation.

"'2. We demand that the employment of chaplains in Congress, in State Legislatures, in the navy and militia, and in prisons, asylums, and all other institutions supported by public money, shall be discontinued.

"'3. We demand that all public appropriations for sectarian educational and charitable institutions shall cease.

"'4. We demand that all religious services now sustained by the government shall be abolished; and especially that the use of the Bible in the public schools, whether ostensibly as a text-book or avowedly as a book of religious worship, shall be prohibited.

"'5. We demand that the appointment, by the President of the United States or by the Governors of the various States, of all religious festivals and fasts shall wholly cease.

"'6. We demand that the judicial oath in the courts and in all other departments of the government shall be abolished, and that simple affirmation under the pains and penalties of perjury shall be established in its stead.

"'7. We demand that all laws directly or indirectly enforcing the observance of Sunday as the Sabbath shall be repealed.

"'8. We demand that all laws looking to the enforcement of “Christian” morality shall be abrogated, and that all laws shall be conformed to the requirements of natural morality, equal rights, and impartial liberty.

"'9. We demand that not only in the Constitution of the United States and of the several States, but also in the practical administration of the same, no privilege or advantage shall be conceded to Christianity or any other special religion; that our entire political system shall be founded and administered on a purely secular basis; and that whatever changes shall prove necessary to this end shall be consistently, unflinchingly, and promptly made.'

"'Let us boldly and with high purpose meet the duty of the hour.'

In another section of the lengthy discourse, Bishop Arnett addressed the topic of "The Greatness of America," as follows:
"Let us see what it is that makes us so great; wherein lies our strength. What has made us one of the greatest powers of the earth, politically and intellectually? Have we come to the conclusion that it is Righteousness that exalteth a nation? We have met to-day at the request of the President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, and also the Governor of our beloved State, Rutherford B. Hayes. For what? Why call us from our homes? Why come to the house of God? Why not go to the hall of mirth and to the places of amusement to-day? No that is not what they want us to do. We are commanded to go to our 'several places of worship, and there offer up thanks to Kind Providence which has brought our nation through the scenes of another year, and blessed the land with peace, plenty and prosperity.' Then as Americans we have reason to rejoice and congratulate ourselves on the greatness of our beloved country; at this the close of the first hundred years of experimental government of the people, by the people, and for the people. To be a citizen of this vast country is something, and to share in its privileges and duties is more than something." - Dr. Benjamin W. Arnett, 1876 "Centennial Thanksgiving Sermon" -

CENTENNIAL Thanksgiving Sermon, DELIVERED BY REV. B. W. ARNETT, B. D., AT ST. PAUL A. M. E. CHURCH, URBANA, OHIO 1876 - available in the "Library of Congress - Historical Collections" - "African-American Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection," 1820-1920; American Memory, Washington, DC.

This historical treasure is one which should be prominent in our national discussions, especially now, when our philosophical foundations are being challenged, and when the views of a learned man like Dr. Arnett might shed light on centuries-old ideas about America's history. His theme: Righteousness Exalteth a Nation, but Sin is a Reproach to any People."

"Withdraw from Christendom the Bible, the Church with its sacraments and ministry, and Christian morality and hopes, and aspirations for time and eternity; repeal all the laws that are founded in the Christian Scriptures; remove the Christian humanities in the form of hospitals and asylums, and reformatories and institutions of mercy utterly unknown to unchristian countries; destroy the literature, the culture, the institutions of learning, the art, the refinement, the place of woman in her home and in society, which owe their origin and power to Christianity; blot out all faith in Divine Providence, love, and righteousness; turn back every believer in Christ to his former state; remove all thought or hope of the forgiveness of sins by a just but gracious God; erase the name of Christ from every register it sanctifies—in a word annihilate all the legitimate and logical effects of Christianity in Christendom—just accomplish in fact what multitudes of gifted and learned minds are wishing and trying to accomplish by their science, philosophy, and criticism, and what multitudes of the common people desire and seek, and not only would all progress toward and unto perfection cease, but not one of the shining lights of infidelity would shine much longer. Yes, the bitterest enemies of this holy and blessed religion, owe their ability to be enemies to its sacred revelations - to the inspiration and sublimity of that faith which reflects its glories on their hostile natures. They live in the strength of that which they would destroy. They are raised to their seats of opportunity and power by the grace of Him they would crucify afresh; and is it to be thought that they are stronger than that which gives them strength? Can it be supposed that a religion which civilizes and subdues, and elevates and blesses will succumb to the enmities it may arouse and quicken in its onward march? Are we to tremble for the ark of God when God is its upholder, and protector, and preserver?” - Dr. Benjaming W. Arnett, St. Paul A.M.E. Church, Urbana, Ohio, Centennial Thanksgiving Sermon, November 1876
Dr. Arnett, an A.M.E. Minister and Ohio State Legislator, was invited to publish this remarkable sermon commemorating the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence by the following method:


Rev. B. W. ARNETT, B. D.

Dear Pastor:

Will you please prepare your “Centennial Thanksgiving Sermon” for publication: together with whatever matter pertaining to the colored people of this city, you deem worth preserving.

We make this request of you, believing that the publication of such matter, will be of benefit to the present and succeeding generations.

Yours Respectfully,


Urbana, O.

December 7th, 1876



7 posted on 08/29/2020 1:27:52 PM PDT by loveliberty2
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To: FLT-bird

The original slave states were: New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

8 posted on 08/29/2020 1:28:33 PM PDT by impactplayer
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To: Redmen4ever

No that’s not true. At the time the Constitution was signed, slavery was legal in many Northern states.

9 posted on 08/29/2020 1:40:46 PM PDT by carton253 (Jesus is everything.)
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To: Redmen4ever


My pop didn’t get here until the mid 1920s from Italy so my family had no dog in the fight.

But I’m sure plenty of folks in the south have kin that fought in the revolution.

If they didn’t, my pop wouldn’t have had such a nice country to emigrate to.

I’m supposed to care what they did or didn’t do over 150 years ago? I don’t.

I think their statues and flag are NOT about slavery and it’s a disgrace that they were taken down so easily and it saddens me.

Who the hell knows what we’re doing today as a society that may seem HORRIFIC and BARBARIC in 150 years, or even 100.

But doesn’t now.

Because that’s what people live in. The now.

It’s easy to judge people who haven’t been around for over 100 years. It’s also wrong to judge them a lot of the time.

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To: Kaslin; little jeremiah

thanx kaslin

LJ you might like this?

11 posted on 08/29/2020 2:06:32 PM PDT by thinden
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The lefties don’t care - Everything the Founders did gets in the way of the lefties ultimate power.

The funny thing is these ‘Pantywaste(tm) Lefties’ we have here would be soon ‘Put up against the wall’ by more ruthless leftists when the falling out is to happen.

Commies don’t share power and murder all their political rivals. The most ruthless will kill when these wankers we have will be whining ‘its not fair’.


12 posted on 08/29/2020 2:07:35 PM PDT by elbook
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To: dp0622

A lot of things that were going on 150-200 years ago seem horrific and barbaric today.


A lot of things going on today would have been considered horrific and barbaric 150-200 years ago.

13 posted on 08/29/2020 2:21:36 PM PDT by TigersEye (Wear Your Mask-Stay In Your Home-Do What You're Told-Vote Democrat)
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To: TigersEye


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To: yesthatjallen

I didn’t write this piece, and as far as I care they can just leave. No one forces them to stay here. Maybe the prefer to live in China or North Korea, where they have no freedom.

15 posted on 08/29/2020 2:25:52 PM PDT by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin

....Which would be fully acceptable to the communists.

THEN the French Revolution could’ve been the preeminent example of Revolution in the world!

16 posted on 08/29/2020 2:26:34 PM PDT by the OlLine Rebel (Common sense is an uncommon virtue./Federal-run medical care is as good as state-run DMVs.)
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To: carton253

I said the northern states abolished slavery or adopted gradual emancipation. So, you do not contradict me. But, let’s look at the details:

Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1781, via a court decree.

“All of the other states north of Maryland began gradual abolition of slavery between 1781 and 1804, based on the Pennsylvania model. By 1804, all the Northern states passed laws to abolish it.”

17 posted on 08/29/2020 2:27:19 PM PDT by Redmen4ever
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To: FLT-bird

Actually IIRC MA was the only state that was “free” by the time of the Constitution.

I believe NJ officially went free c. 1850. It was very late.

Of course, in the PC Union narrative, all Yankees were always “free”.

18 posted on 08/29/2020 2:35:25 PM PDT by the OlLine Rebel (Common sense is an uncommon virtue./Federal-run medical care is as good as state-run DMVs.)
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To: Kaslin

there are four lights.

19 posted on 08/29/2020 2:35:39 PM PDT by teeman8r
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To: Rurudyne

You are right about sex...but I’d add ANYTHING that has to do with immoral hedonism.

They LOVE drugs too. And alcohol included.

20 posted on 08/29/2020 2:36:46 PM PDT by the OlLine Rebel (Common sense is an uncommon virtue./Federal-run medical care is as good as state-run DMVs.)
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