When many people try and talk about how the Constitution advocated for racial quality, there isn’t any real proof of such. In fact, most modern historians conclude that the American Constitution could in fact be a proslavery document. Recognition of the proslavery Constitution would lead the United States to explore our early history much deeper. The Constitution protected slavery and promoted slave possession, which consisted of many proslavery clauses. The Apportionment Clause, Article I, Section 2, added three-fifths of slaves to the amount of free inhabitants of a state for purposes of representation. This clause increased the amount of representatives in Congress for the slave states, ensuring political protection for slavery. This three-fifths proportion assisted the slave states in the Electoral College during election time because of the increased amount of representation they had in the slave states. The slave import limitation, Article I, Section 9, outlawed Congress from the regulation of the international slave trade 21 years following the ratification of the Constitution. This period of time from the ratification of the Constitution to 1808 made the slave trade completely illegal. Congress was not allowed to interfere by any means for that 21 year period. Along with Congress not being allowed to hinder in the international slave trade efforts, Article V of the Constitution directly disallows amending the slave import limitation. In conclusion, the Fugitive Slave Clause, Article IV, Section 2, secure nationwide, made certain that slave owners had the right to seek and regain their slaves.
Although the clause that restricted congressional power to control the international slave trade was not permanent, the Constitution still gave protection over slave owners by increasing the amount of representation in the southern slave states. Also, the slave owner’s right to pursue their runaway slaves was granted and preserved by the Constitution. Not only was the control over another human being legal, but the Constitution encouraged the ownership of slaves by giving more political representation all while slaves were flooding into the U.S., unchecked for two decades.
In my opinion the actual fact that the thought of the American Constitution as proslavery is widely agreed upon should throw up some red flags. Of course, it is well known that the slave trade existed throughout the United States for a long time, but some are under the impression that slavery came to an end when America became independent. That is not true by any means due to the simple fact that Congress was not allowed to regulate the transatlantic slave trade for over two decades after the Constitution was written. This also brings up the topic of reconstruction and how it abolished slavery. Although it is true that the Reconstruction amendments were in fact able to take away slavery legally, the abolition of slavery did not mean that slavery was no longer practiced in our country. The official abolition of slavery did not change how whites dominated blacks. The former slave coded turned into black codes, and then eventually as we have all heard of, Jim Crow laws. These laws were entirely unfair to people of color.
One may pose the argument that the U.S. Constitution did include useful clauses for the better of the nation, but one also can not deny the fact that “…of the 11 clauses in the Constitution that deal with or have policy implications for slavery, 10 protect slave property and the power of master.”(Waldstreicher, p.2) As is stated earlier, the three-fifths clause severely helped the slave states which counts three-fifths of slaves towards taxation and representation. It is really hard for me to grasp the concept of what people were trying to accomplish during this time. I am aware that there were really power hungry and money driven people in the world, and there always will be, but to only consider someone as 60% of what they are is immoral. No matter what point in time, I think everyone can agree that this clause is wrong and advocates inequality. This example of considering someone for only 60% of their being perfectly fits the narrative that this article in the constitution was directly designed to keep the slave states in control to benefit from the use of their slaves. Another thing that I find ironic is that the saying that America was founded on freedom and liberty. And while this can be true for many people, it was a lie to many others, specifically slaves who were treated as property. In modern America, it can be said proudly that all are equal, but at the very founding of this country, the principles that this country was supposed to be built on were not available to everyone.
Waldstreicher points out how “Madison obliquely distanced himself form the three-fifths clause by saying that one had to admit that slaves were, irrefutably, both people and property. He actually argued that the three-fifths clause was a good example of how the Constitution would lead to good government- by protecting property.” (Waldstreicher, p.3) Madison’s stance on the three-fifths clause is very stongly in his favor of course because it protected the ownership of slaves and considered them to be property.
Sean Wilentz’s article begins abruptly with a statement “The Civil War began over a simple question: Did the Constitution of the United States recognize slavery – property in humans – in national law?” (Wilentz, p.1) The slaveholders in the south argued that the Constitution was indeed proslavery, while on the other hand, Northern Republicans and abolitionists denied the Constitution being proslavery. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been quoted saying that the United States was founded on racist principles. And while this statement is true, that does not mean that everything in the Constitution was created to racially divide. It is undeniable that slavery was widespread throughout America and that whites considered themselves superior to black people.
During the Constitutional Convention, the main argument was about property. “The South did win some concessions at the convention, but they were largely consolation prizes.” (Wilentz, p.2) Wilentz is saying that even though the southern states were able to count slaves as three-fifths representation under the three-fifths clause, they were originally trying to count them as full persons to gain even more political power in the south. There was constant arguing back and forth between the delegates on both sides of the spectrum about the regulation of the Atlantic slave trade, and that is why a compromise had to be made, resulting in the three-fifths clause. The proslavery delegates were fighting in favor of making it illegal for the national government to control the Atlantic slave trade because they believed that it would negatively affect their ownership of slaves in the south. On the other hand, the Northerners were arguing entirely against the proslavery delegates. The Northerners were in favor of the government being able to manage the slave trade and eventually have the power to abolish slavery as a whole after 1800.
Wilentz goes on to eventually state, “Far from a proslavery compact of ‘racist principles,’ the Constitution was based on a repudiation of the idea of a nation dedicated to the proposition of property in humans. Without that antislavery outcome in 1787, slavery would not have reached “ultimate extinction’ in 1865.” (Wilentz, p.2) From my interpretation of Wilentz’s final statement in his article, he is referring to the Constitution as the “antislavery outcome in 1787.” His stance on the writing of the Constitution is that it is the reason for slavery eventually being abolished in 1865. Wilentz believes that the Constitution was based solely on the question of whether or not humans can be considered property and that the Constitution didn’t include any racist principles.
In conclusion, I have come to realize that there are two sides to every argument, and in this particular case it is especially hard to identify a side because of the truth that can be found on both sides. I do agree that there are racist principles in the Constitution, specifically in the three-fifths clause that only counts slaves as three-fifths of a person. But the entire Constitution does not revolve around slavery. The Constitution was most definitely not perfect, but it was intended to create justice and benefit the people of this new nation.