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slave

A person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them without pay. At the time of the Constitutional Convention, there were roughly 700,000 slaves in the United States.

The delegates would end up prohibiting congressional interference with the slave trade for twenty years (Article I, Section 9, Clause 1). 

As the twenty year mark was coming closer, President Thomas Jefferson wrote in his 1806 annual message to Congress: "I congratulate you, fellow citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best of our country have long been eager to proscribe. Although no law you may pass can take prohibitory effect until the 1st day of the year 1808, yet the intervening period is not too long to prevent by timely notice expeditions which can not be completed before that day."

Ironically, Pinckney's idea of South Carolina banning the trade was unfulfilled as his state was the only one left that did not ban the slave trade on its own.  Most Southern states faced a surplus slavery population, so they were willing to ban the trade.  However, the debate in Congress was not always easy.  One draft of the ban included violators forfeiting their slaves to the federal government, and Northerners did not want the federal government to be slave owners.
Annotated by bacraig on August 06, 2014

There was considerable disagreement at the time about the relative value of free labor over slave labor.  Those who were opposed to slavery generally insisted that slave labor was inferior (from a purely economical perspective) to free labor.  Delegates from the Deep South tried to counter that their slaves were just as efficient as the laborers of the North (and they deserved equal representation for their slaves for that reason), but they won few adherents to that belief.  See also, paragraphs 1227, 1284, 2085, and 2755

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

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)

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

The states that voted against the measure are not surprising, but some of the states that voted in favor of it should raise some eyebrows: Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.  The tally on this vote to extend the slave trade from the year 1800 to 1808 is identical to that which would adopt the 20-year compromise into the Constitution (Paragraph 2978).  It shows that, for these commercial states, the promise of making navigation acts easier to pass was a tempting inducement to turn a blind eye to the continued importation of slaves.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

This motion by General Pinckney and Madison’s response – both immediately following the Convention’s decision to take up the Committee’s Report – are fascinating.  It should be remembered that both Pinckney and Madison were on the Committee that drafted this Report.  Although there are no records of the Committee’s meeting, it seems plausible that there was a disagreement between these two men when the Report was drafted, and Pinckney left the meeting convinced that he was on the losing side of the compromise.  He is here trying to make the compromise more advantageous for his own state.  Unfortunately, Madison is the only one to resist extending the period that the slave traffic may be permitted.  Thus Pinckney had better luck appealing to the Convention as a whole than he did to the eleven-man Committee, which included some very anti-slavery delegates.  Later, when Pinckney had to defend the twenty-year compromise within his home state, it is not surprising that he complains of contending “with the religious and political prejudices of the Eastern and Middle States, and with the interested and inconsistent opinion of Virginia, who was warmly opposed to our importing more slaves.”  It is possible that he may have been ruefully remembering Madison’s interference on this question. 

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

This motion by General Pinckney and Madison’s response – both immediately following the Convention’s decision to take up the Committee’s Report – are fascinating.  It should be remembered that both Pinckney and Madison were on the Committee that drafted this Report.  Although there are no records of the Committee’s meeting, it seems plausible that there was a disagreement between these two men when the Report was drafted, and Pinckney left the meeting convinced that he was on the losing side of the compromise.  He is here trying to make the compromise more advantageous for his own state.  Unfortunately, Madison is the only one to resist extending the period that the slave traffic may be permitted.  Thus Pinckney had better luck appealing to the Convention as a whole than he did to the eleven-man Committee, which included some very anti-slavery delegates.  Later, when Pinckney had to defend the twenty-year compromise within his home state, it is not surprising that he complains of contending “with the religious and political prejudices of the Eastern and Middle States, and with the interested and inconsistent opinion of Virginia, who was warmly opposed to our importing more slaves.”  It is possible that he may have been ruefully remembering Madison’s interference on this question. 

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013