Donald L. Robinson has shown that the division among states who favored proportional versus equal representation was more aligned with the Southern-Northern division rather than the large- and small-state division normally associated with the issue. His reason is the pervasive expectation at the time that the population was drifting in a south-westerly direction. What can be said of proportional representation can also be said of their interest in procuring representation on the basis of slaves. “In other words,” writes Garry Wills, “the South was not demanding slave representation to achieve a near-parity at the moment, but as a way of achieving majority control in the immediately foreseeable future.”
With the population of the United States drifting south-westerly, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had to think very carefully about how the new structure of government would function with the admission of new states.
From a view of the debates preceding this vote, it is clear that no one at the Convention expressed a connection between the admission of new states and slavery. But historically, conflicting accounts of a connection would be read into this decision by both the North and the South, which would culminate in the Dred Scott decision (see the commentary under Constitutional Interpretation). Additionally, later scholars would read hidden meanings about slavery into the Framers intentions. George Van Cleve has argued that “Convention efforts by southern states to provide permanent protection for their sectional political interests also failed. . . . Madison and George Mason of Virginia proposed an amendment that would have required that new states be admitted on an equal footing (‘the same terms’) with original states, which would have benefitted growing, particularly western, areas, and their proposal was handily defeated.” That the measure was “handily defeated” is an understatement.
As this vote shows, every state except Virginia and Maryland voted against it, which alone should be sufficient to show (in case the actual debates preceding the vote weren’t clear enough) that this issue was not a sectional one. Indeed, the only arguments advanced against this position (delivered almost entirely by Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania) were that the original states had to be able to protect themselves against the growing population taking place in the West. All the Deep South states joined all the Northern states in voting for it. This vote does not represent an attempt by Southern States to secure their interests against the North, but that of existing states to secure their interests against the upstart pretensions of the new states. Van Cleve’s misrepresentation is a prime example of the errors one encounters when viewing every possible conflict at the Constitutional Convention through the lens of slavery interests.