Saturday, January 28, 2017

Why Slavery Could not be Resolved Through Politics (Part I)

The first opportunity for America to end slavery was in 1776 during the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson’s original draft sought to abolish slavery, but the committee opted to omit that provision out of the document. The fear was southern delegates would not sign a document that declared emancipation for slaves. Most northern states outlawed slavery shortly following the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And, many northern leaders were under the false impression that southern states would slowly wean itself of slavery (to follow the words of the Declaration of Independence that influenced Northern states to end slavery).

The second opportunity for America to end slavery was during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. James Madison realized that the biggest division between the delegates was not those from large states versus small states (Congressional compromise), but a distinct divide between North and South. The issue of slavery was a heated debate behind closed doors. Once again, with no compromise in sight, the issue of slavery was pushed aside in hope that both Northern and Southern states will ratify the Constitution. Slavery is such a taboo topic it is not mentioned in the Constitution, but there were a few compromises made over the subject in the document. The first is the “three fifths” compromise:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

This compromise allowed slaves to be counted as three-fifths a person when determining the number of representatives each state shall have in the Congress (the House). State populations could also be used for determining tax rates for states. Most people are under the misconception that the South did not want to count slaves as people, but that is not true. Since higher populations meant higher representation the South wanted to count slaves as people and the North did not and hence the compromise.

The second compromise in the Constitution was a twenty-year moratorium on slave trade:

“The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars per person.”

The third opportunity to end slavery came up in 1790. Two Quaker Representatives in the House petitioned to not only end the moratorium on slave trade, but to end slavery. For the first time, this brought the topic of slavery in the open where the public can hear arguments. Northerners agreed that there was a twenty-year moratorium on slave trade, but Congress can use the “general welfare” and “necessary and proper” clauses to end slavery.

Georgia and South Carolina representatives put forth the argument to keep slavery in the South. First, there was of course the obvious economic reason. There would be no crops without slaves and ultimately southern farmers will go bankrupt. Some Northerners suggested paying slaves to end the stigma of slavery on America. However, slaves are still slaves even if they are paid but do not have the freedom to live as they want. Secondly, Southern lawmakers claimed that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible (citing multiple verses). Thirdly, abolishing slavery would be cost prohibitive if slave owners were compensated for freed slaves at 150 dollars per head. Fourthly, biracial societies did not exist in late 1700s and freed slaves were not treated the same as Whites even in Free states (discrimination) and henceforth, a proposed colony would have to be established to support freed slaves. Fifthly, slavery was established long before the Constitution and it could not be remedied and therefore, the union accepted the South and all their ill habits. Sixthly, the South claimed abolishing slavery will break those behind the scenes compromises made during the Constitutional Convention.

Ben Franklin (in his last living act) showed that the Southern arguments for slavery were no different than those used by African Islamic pirates to enslave Christians they captured on the high seas. However, his argument was made to no avail.

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