Tag

slavery

The state of being a slave or the practice or system of owning slaves.

Tocqueville would later make a similar observation about the superior bounty of Northern farms.  He pointed out that the land and growing conditions just north and south of the Ohio River were identical in all respects except that the latter is cultivated by slaves.  The farms in Ohio, he claimed, were far more productive than those of Kentucky.  He argued that the existence of slavery demolishes the work ethic and impoverishes the population as a whole.

Annotated by luzzell on December 08, 2014

This speech is the only example in the entire Convention wherein a member of the proslavery South attempted to defend the institution of slavery on moral grounds, rather than merely pragmatic ones.  The logic of Pinckney’s argument can be broken down thus: since the best arbiter of moral right is the majority opinion of men throughout history, and history’s example gives approbation to the institution of slavery.  Dickenson will directly counter this historical argument later (paragraph 2762).  Whereas those who defended slavery had very narrow territory from which they could draw, those who denounced slavery on moral grounds drew from a larger arsenal: religion, natural rights of all men, consistency with the principles of the Revolution, compassion for a portion of suffering humanity, etc. 

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

When Ellsworth says, “as he had never owned a slave [he] could not judge of the effects of slavery on character,” he is not only establishing his own moral purity with respect to slavery, he is delivering a barb aimed directly at Mason.  George Mason, who owned more slaves than anyone else at the Convention, had just finished proclaiming that “every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant.”  (Paragraph 2755) Ellsworth therefore echos many modern scholars who today excoriate Virginia slaveowners for their hypocritical posturing against slavery.  Seen from the other side, however, the situation ought to remind us that it in fact took a great deal of courage for Virginian slaveowners to make these arguments, because they thereby opened themselves up to this kind of jeering. 

By contrast, Ellsworth proves himself to be, not only hypocritical on this subject, but also callous.  The moral barrenness of this argument, and its warped notion of justice, should not be overlooked or downplayed.  Ellsworth is saying that, since South Carolina and Georgia are killing off their slaves so rapidly by forcing them to work in unhealthy conditions, it would be “unjust” if states like Virginia were to deprive them of fresh slaves from Africa.  Speeches such as these demonstrate that it would be a mistake to regard the Deep South as having a monopoly on pro-slavery sentiment.

Ellsworth’s hypocrisy can be seen by comparing his speeches in the Convention to those he makes during the Ratifying debates.  During the Constitutional Convention, he twice urged that his fellow delegates should ignore any moral considerations with respect to the slave trade and leave the matter entirely to the discretion of the Southern States (here and at Paragraph 2748).   When he later addressed his fellow Northerners during the Ratification debates as The Landholder (No. VI), however, he reverted to a more pious posture.  He there insisted that “all good men wish the entire abolition of slavery,” and “the only possible step that could be taken towards it by the convention was to fix a period after which [slaves] should not be imported.”  He even had the impudence to accuse George Mason of opposing the slave trade on purely self-interested grounds (a calumny which has often been repeated against the Virginia Framers, but for which no one has ever provided any supporting evidence). 

If it is indeed legitimate to vilify Mason because ñhis objections [to the slave trade] are not on the side of freedom, nor in compassion to the human race who are slaves,” then that would imply that “all good men” should allow their moral principles to guide federal policy on the slave trade.  That position was not the one he took within the debates of Constitutional Convention.  It would have been more to Ellsworth’s credit if he had expressed that view when it might have made a difference.  But what goes around comes around.  Forrest McDonald has said of this passage that “even Ellsworth could not perceive the problem as anything other than a practical one” – the same accusation that Ellsworth leveled against George Mason, with less justification.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

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 1226, 1227, 1284, and 2085.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

Tocqueville would later make a similar observation about the superior bounty of Northern farms.  He pointed out that the land and growing conditions just north and south of the Ohio River were identical in all respects except that the latter is cultivated by slaves.  The farms in Ohio, he claimed, were far more productive than those of Kentucky.  He argued that the existence of slavery demolishes the work ethic and impoverishes the population as a whole.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

It would not be unreasonable to accuse Oliver Ellsworth of some hypocrisy on this subject.  During the Constitutional Convention, he twice urged that his fellow delegates should ignore any moral considerations with respect to the slave trade and leave the matter entirely to the discretion of the Southern States (here and at Paragraph 2756).   When he later addressed his fellow Northerners during the Ratification debates as The Landholder (No. VI), however, he reverted to a more pious posture.  He there insisted that “all good men wish the entire abolition of slavery,” and “the only possible step that could be taken towards it by the convention was to fix a period after which [slaves] should not be imported.”  He even had the impudence to accuse George Mason of opposing the slave trade on purely self-interested grounds (a calumny which has often been repeated, but for which no one has ever provided any supporting evidence). If it is indeed legitimate to vilify Mason because "his objections [to the slave trade] are not on the side of freedom, nor in compassion to the human race who are slaves,” then that would imply that “all good men” should allow their moral principles to guide federal policy on the slave trade.  That was not the position he took within the debates of Constitutional Convention.  It would have been more to Ellsworth’s credit if he had expressed that view when it might have made a difference.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

Delegates from the Deep South on several occasions threatened to reject the Constitution unless their “right” to import slaves were protected in the Constitution.  In this passage, John Rutledge of South Carolina inaugurated the threatened exodus by claiming that “the true question at present is, whether the Southern States shall or shall not be parties to the Union.”  It was soon followed by his fellow South Carolinian, Charles Pinckney, who threatened: “South Carolina can never receive the plan if it prohibits the slave trade. (Paragraph 2749)  The following day, Abraham Baldwin took up the drumbeat by declaring: “Georgia was decided on this point. . . . she could not prudently purchase [the advantage of a general government] by yielding national powers.”  (Paragraph 2759) After he had assembled his troops, Rutledge then became even more emphatic, and took it upon himself to act as spokesman for the entirety of the Deep South bloc: “If the Convention thinks that North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, will ever agree to the plan, unless their right to import slaves be untouched, the expectation is vain. The people of those states will never be such fools as to give up so important an interest.”  (Paragraph 2767) And even the mild North Carolinian Hugh Williamson “thought the Southern States could not be members of the Union, if the clause should be rejected; and that it was wrong to force any thing down not absolutely necessary, and which any state must disagree to.”  (Paragraph 2763)

            These threats certainly had an effect on the outcome of the slave trade clause.  David B. Davis has described how “angry southern threats shifted the contest back from the high ground of abstract principle to the easier terrain of immediate interests and mutual concessions.”  Nonetheless, Paul Finkelman expresses his belief that the Southern States were bluffing: “Although some southerners talked of not joining the Union unless the slave trade were allowed, it seems unlikely they would have risked going it alone over a temporary right of importation.”  He later partially retreats from that position, stating only that “there might have been greater room for tough negotiation or actual opposition to this position.”  Even among those who believed the threats were real, some, such as Winthrop P. Jordon, interpret this stalemate as a moral failing for those in the North who relented: “The founders wanted union more than an end to the slave trade.”  Then again, if the Northern States had refused to budge, and the Southern States had followed through on their threats, then they would have achieved neither Union nor an end to the slave trade.

            William Wiecek has probably rightly summed up the circumstances: “In this mediation, the most determined parties to the bargaining, the deep-South bloc, were able to secure more for their position than the other groups because they were demanding where their opponents were tepid and ambivalent, and because they knew just what they wanted, where their opponents had no particular program concerning slavery.”  Some of the opponents of the slave trade were in fact impassioned and determined, but taken as a body they were in disarray.  That fact worked to the advantage of the intransigent Deep South.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

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

This vote would fix the three-fifths clause in relation to taxation.  It would later be combined with the clause relating to representation into what would become Article I Section 2 of the Constitution.  It is interesting that Delaware is alone in voting against it.  In order to follow the tortured route that the three-fifths clause took on its way to adoption into the Constitution, follow the votes taken in:  (Paragraphs 458, 461, 1229, 1251, 1260, 1289, 1293, 1314, 2078, 2092, and 2702).

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013