A delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 from Delaware, John Dickinson deserves credit as one of the reigning moderates at the Convention. Prior to the Convention, Dickinson was a member of the First Continental Congress, wrote the final draft of the 1775 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, served on the committee which wrote the Model Treaty, and wrote the first draft of the 1776-77 Articles of Confederation.
The “terms” that Sherman is referring to is the word, “slaves,” used in Gouverneur Morris’ motion above (Paragraph 2970). Indeed, although the offensive terms, slaves, slavery, and the slave trade are conspicuous in the debates over the Constitution, they are conspicuously absent in the final document. That is not accidental. Some enemies to the Constitution (and even some friends) immediately denounced this subterfuge as an indication that what they were doing was disgraceful. John Dickinson wrote in some notes he took at the Convention, “The omitting the Word [slave] will be regarded as an Endeavour to conceal a principle of which we are ashamed.” And the Antifederalist “Brutus” later brings to his readers’ attention: “What a strange and unnecessary accumulation of words are here used to conceal from the public eye.”
William M Wiecek notes that this circumlocution “may have palliated northern opposition to the slavery clauses, but, like all examples of lawyers’ poor phrasing, it created problems later.” Nonetheless, the Framers’ scrupulousness and squeamishness is not insignificant. As John Alvis has written, “Consequences attach to the Framers’ verbal fastidiousness. Disinfecting the document of any direct acknowledgment of slavery imparts to the concessions regarding the census and the return of fugitive slaves a shame-faced character. Those who insisted on keeping the offensive word off the pages of the fundamental law thereby succeeded in making the Constitution blush.” (Alvis, 247)