Slavery In The US Constitution
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The US Constitution, 3/5, and the Slave Trade Clause: Crash Course Black American History #9
The word "slave" does not appear in the Constitution. The framers consciously avoided the word, recognizing that it would sully the document. Nevertheless, slavery received important protections in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson would have lost the election of if not for the Three-fifths Compromise. The Constitution also prohibited Congress from outlawing the Atlantic slave trade for twenty years. A fugitive slave clause required the return of runaway slaves to their owners. The Constitution gave the federal government the power to put down domestic rebellions, including slave insurrections. The framers of the Constitution believed that concessions on slavery were the price for the support of southern delegates for a strong central government.
They were convinced that if the Constitution restricted the slave trade, South Carolina and Georgia would refuse to join the Union. But by sidestepping the slavery issue, the framers left the seeds for future conflict. In the late s an unsuccessful campaign was launched by several southern states to resume the international slave trade, to restock their slave populations, but this met with strong opposition. One of the other compromises of the Constitution created the three-fifths rule by which slave states acquired a proportional increase in the House of Representatives and Electoral College equivalent to the size of their disenfranchised slave populations. This increased strength of the southern states was dubbed " slave power " by opponents.
The Northwest Ordinance of , passed just before the U. Constitution was ratified, had prohibited slavery in the federal Northwest Territory. The southern boundary of the territory was the Ohio River , which was regarded as a westward extension of the Mason-Dixon line. The territory was generally settled by New Englanders and American Revolutionary War veterans granted land there. By , the momentum for antislavery reform, state by state, appeared to run out of steam, with half of the states having already abolished slavery Northeast , prohibited from the start Midwest or committed to eliminating slavery, and half committed to continuing the institution indefinitely South.
The potential for political conflict over slavery at a federal level made politicians concerned about the balance of power in the Senate , where each State was represented by two Senators. With an equal number of slave states and free states, the Senate was equally divided on issues important to the South. As the population of the free states began to outstrip the population of the slave states, leading to control of the House of Representatives by free states, the Senate became the preoccupation of slave-state politicians interested in maintaining a congressional veto over federal policy in regard to slavery and other issues important to the South.
As a result of this preoccupation, slave states and free states were often admitted into the Union in opposite pairs to maintain the existing Senate balance between slave and free states. As part of the compromise, the admission of Maine August 19, as a free state was enabled by Missouri's compromise to join the union as a slave state August 19, The admission of Texas and the acquisition of the vast new Mexican Cession territories , after the Mexican—American War , created further North-South conflict.
Although the settled portion of Texas was an area rich in cotton plantations and dependent on slave labor, the territory acquired in the Mountain West did not seem hospitable to cotton or slavery. As part of the Compromise of , California was admitted as a free state without a slave state pair; California's admission also meant there would be no slave state on the Pacific Ocean.
To avoid creating a free state majority in the Senate, California agreed to send one pro-slavery and one anti-slavery senator to Congress. The difficulty of identifying territory that could be organized into additional slave states stalled the process of opening the western territories to settlement, while slave-state politicians sought a solution, with efforts being made to acquire Cuba see: Lopez Expedition and Ostend Manifesto , and to annex Nicaragua see: Walker affair , —57 , both to be slave states. Parts of Northern Mexico were also coveted, with Senator Albert Brown declaring "I want Tamaulipas , Potosi , and one or two other Mexican States ; and I want them all for the same reason — for the plantation and spreading of slavery".
In , the Missouri Compromise of was superseded by the Kansas—Nebraska Act , which allowed white male settlers in the new territories to determine, by vote popular sovereignty , whether they would allow slavery within each territory. The result was that pro- and anti-slavery elements flooded into Kansas with the goal of voting slavery up or down, leading to bloody fighting. Anti-slavery proponents during the " Bleeding Kansas " period of the later s were called Free-Staters and Free-Soilers , and fought against pro-slavery Border Ruffians from Missouri. The animosity escalated throughout the s, culminating in numerous skirmishes and devastation on both sides of the question. Nevertheless, the North prevented Kansas Territory from becoming a slave state, and when Southern members of Congress departed en masse in early , Kansas was immediately admitted to the Union as a free state.
When the admission of Minnesota proceeded unimpeded in , the balance in the Senate ended; this was compounded by the subsequent admission of Oregon as a free state in Before , the concern about balancing slave-states and free states was not deeply considered. The following table shows the slave and free states as of The year column is the year the state ratified the US Constitution or was admitted to the Union: . From through , maintaining the balance of free and slave state votes in the Senate was considered of paramount importance if the Union were to be preserved, and states were typically admitted in pairs:. The American Civil War — disrupted and eventually ended slavery.
Eleven slave states joined the Confederacy , while the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri remained in the Union, despite the presence of slavery within their borders. In western Virginia, much of which had remained loyal to the Union, was admitted as the new state of West Virginia with a commitment to gradual emancipation. The following year Nevada , a free state in the West, was also admitted.
During the Civil War, a Unionist government in Wheeling, Virginia , presented a statehood bill to Congress to create a new state from 48 counties in western Virginia. The new state would eventually incorporate 50 counties. The issue of slavery in the new state delayed approval of the bill. In the Senate Charles Sumner objected to the admission of a new slave state, while Benjamin Wade defended statehood as long as a gradual emancipation clause would be included in the new state constitution.
Carlile and Waitman T. Senator Carlile objected that Congress had no right to impose emancipation on West Virginia , while Willey proposed a compromise amendment to the state constitution for gradual abolition. Sumner attempted to add his own amendment to the bill, which was defeated, and the statehood bill passed both houses of Congress with the addition of what became known as the Willey Amendment. President Lincoln signed the bill on December 31, Voters in western Virginia approved the Willey Amendment on March 26, President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, , which exempted from emancipation the border states four slave states loyal to the Union as well as some territories occupied by Union forces within Confederate states.
Two additional counties were added to West Virginia in late , Berkeley and Jefferson. The slaves in Berkeley were also under exemption but not those in Jefferson County. West Virginia became the 35th state on June 20, , and the last slave state admitted to the Union. In the District of Columbia , formed with land from two slave states, Maryland and Virginia, the trade was abolished by the Compromise of So as to avoid losing the profitable slave trading businesses in Alexandria one was Franklin and Armfield , Alexandria County, D. Slavery in the District of Columbia remained legal until , when the walkout of all the Southern legislators permitted those remaining to pass the ban, which abolitionists had been seeking for decades.
At the start of the Civil War, there were 34 states in the United States, 15 of which were slave states. By the time the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in , Tennessee was already under Union control. Although the Missouri Compromise was designed to maintain an even balance between slave and free states, it was able to help quell the forces of sectionalism only temporarily. In , another tenuous compromise was negotiated to resolve the question of slavery in territories won during the Mexican-American War. Four years later, however, the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened all new territories to slavery by asserting the rule of popular sovereignty over congressional edict, leading pro- and anti-slavery forces to battle it out—with considerable bloodshed—in the new state of Kansas.
In , the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court involving an enslaved man who sued for his freedom on the grounds that his master had taken him into free territory effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise by ruling that all territories were open to slavery. In , two years after the Dred Scott decision, an event occurred that would ignite passions nationwide over the issue of slavery. The insurrection exposed the growing national rift over slavery: Brown was hailed as a martyred hero by northern abolitionists, but was vilified as a mass murderer in the South. The South would reach the breaking point the following year, when Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected as president.
Within three months, seven southern states had seceded to form the Confederate States of America ; four more would follow after the Civil War began. A map of the United States that shows 'free states,' 'slave states,' and 'undecided' ones, as it appeared in the book 'American Slavery and Colour,' by William Chambers, Abolition became a goal only later, due to military necessity, growing anti-slavery sentiment in the North and the self-emancipation of many people who fled enslavement as Union troops swept through the South.
By freeing some 3 million enslaved people in the rebel states, the Emancipation Proclamation deprived the Confederacy of the bulk of its labor forces and put international public opinion strongly on the Union side. Despite seeing an unprecedented degree of Black participation in American political life, Reconstruction was ultimately frustrating for African Americans, and the rebirth of white supremacy —including the rise of racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan KKK —had triumphed in the South by Almost a century later, resistance to the lingering racism and discrimination in America that began during the slavery era led to the civil rights movement of the s, which achieved the greatest political and social gains for Black Americans since Reconstruction.
But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present. On August 21, , enslaved Virginian Nat Turner led a bloody revolt, which changed the course of American history. The uprising in Southampton County led to the killing of an estimated 55 white people, resulting in execution of some 55 Black people and the beating of hundreds His journal entry is immortalized In the early colonial period, Europeans Alexander Hamilton abhorred slavery and at a few points in his life worked to help limit it. But any moral objections he held were tempered by his social and political ambitions.
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