Tag

twenty-year compromise

The twenty-year compromise prohibited the United States government from restricting the slave trade until 1808. Southerners had feared that Congress' power to regulate commerce would be used to abolish slavery, and the twenty-year compromise prevented a stalemate with the southern states that could have derailed the entire Constitutional Convention.

Even the states that had opposed the original 20-year compromise on August 25 (Paragraph 2978) now agreed to remain faithful to the agreement by making it exempt from amendment.  

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

This speech by Rutledge reveals two important truths about the compromise over the slave trade at the Convention.  In the first place, the Deep South was exceedingly jealous of its freedom to import slaves from Africa, and they would go to great lengths to protect it.  And in the second place, the continuance of the slave trade was exceedingly unpopular with the rest of the states.  The Deep South evidently feared that without this double surety (which appears in Article I, Section 9 and Article V of the Constitution) the other states in the Union, driven by their eagerness to achieve an immediate end to the slave trade, would easily garner the two-thirds majority in Congress and the three-fourths majority of state legislatures necessary to accomplish prohibition by amending the Constitution.  South Carolina and Georgia were determined to put it out of the power of the rest of the states to outlaw the slave trade before 1808.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

This speech by Rutledge reveals two important truths about the compromise over the slave trade at the Convention.  In the first place, the Deep South was exceedingly jealous of its freedom to import slaves from Africa, and they would go to great lengths to protect it.  And in the second place, the continuance of the slave trade was exceedingly unpopular with the rest of the states.  The Deep South evidently feared that without this double surety (which appears in Article I, Section 9 and Article V of the Constitution) the other states in the Union, driven by their eagerness to achieve an immediate end to the slave trade, would easily garner the two-thirds majority in Congress and the three-fourths majority of state legislatures necessary to accomplish prohibition by amending the Constitution.  South Carolina and Georgia were determined to put it out of the power of the rest of the states to outlaw the slave trade before 1808.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

This vaguely worded and innocuous-sounding provision is of tremendous importance.  If it had passed as it stands here, it would have prohibited Congress from ever outlawing the African slave trade.  It is therefore worth noting that its inclusion into the draft report of the Committee of Detail was not preceded by any vote within the Convention.  The topic of the slave trade had been broached on more than one occasion during the debates (some members of the North were particularly galled by the inclusion of the three-fifths clause because it might prove an unintended encouragement for the importation of more slaves).  But no serious discussion had yet commenced on whether the trade should be outlawed by the central government or whether the Southern states should be allowed to import African slaves in perpetuity.

The five-man committee that added this clause in their report, on their own initiative, included John Rutledge (the delegate who was possibly the most fiercely pro-slavery representative of the most fiercely pro-slavery state of South Carolina), Edmund Randolph (a Virginia slaveowner who nonetheless harbored serious antislavery sentiments), Nathaniel Gorham (a delegate from Massachusetts who had often been ready to make common cause with Southern slave interests, such as when he would later second General Pinckney’s motion on August 25 to extend the period during which the Deep South could import slaves), Oliver Ellsworth (who had proven throughout the Convention that he could be a willing accomplice to Southern slavery interests), and James Wilson (a delegate who represented the antislavery state of Pennsylvania, but who nonetheless readily compromised with the South whenever the subject of slavery was broached).  According to William M. Wiecek, it was Randolph that inserted the protectionist clause for the slave trade in the committee of detail, but the document he cites as evidence is inconclusive.  This clause would almost immediately inflame the ire of some delegates, for instance Rufus King’s outburst on August 8 (Paragraph 2079).

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

This vote, which exactly mirrors the tally of those states who were willing to extend the period during which slave importations would be free from interference by Congress by eight years ” (Paragraph 2969), shows the lamentable indifference harbored by some members of the New England states on the question of putting an end to this evil.  Their quid pro quo would be the vote on navigation acts taken on August 29 (Paragraph 3168).

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

This vote, which would direct the question of “navigation acts” to the same committee that was to reconsider the slave trade, shows that the Framers were consciously seeking to find a compromise between these two issues – both of which had been stumbling blocks between the regional interests of North and South.  Paul Finkelman calls the compromise that will result from this bargain “The Dirty Compromise.”

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013

Section 4 of Article 7 relates to the slave trade.  On August 6, the Committee of Detail had attempted to decide, independent of a vote in the Convention, that the slave trade should be exempted from Congress’ broad power to regulate international trade.  Since then, the topic had provoked acrimonious debate in the Convention, and the dispute seemed to threaten a stalemate.  This vote shows that many states in the North and South were willing to take a chance that a committee would find a compromise position on this question that could move the proceedings forward.

Annotated by luzzell on September 05, 2013