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contract clause

From Article 1, Section 10, of the U.S. Constitution. The Contract Clause states that "No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility."

Roger Ransom tries to argue of this clause that “necessary guarantees for the slaveholders” were provided for because “they saw to it that private property rights were inviolate.”  This protection was not explicit; “rather, the right to own someone’s labor was conveniently subsumed under the more general right to enforce contracts contained in Article I, Section 10.”  (Ransom, 29)  This interpretation, however, is less than persuasive.  In the first place, it is obvious that the subject of slavery formed no part of the debates that led up to this clause.  More significantly, this clause prohibits state legislators, not Congress, from interfering with private contracts.  In order for this interpretation to be tenable, one would have to assume that Southern slaveowners looked to the federal government to protect them from the possibility that their own state legislatures would undermine their rights to slave property.  Such an interpretation presupposes that the Sourtherners’ political fears were the opposite of what they consistently said they were. 

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013