United States Constitution And Slavery


Thomas Jefferson proclaimed America’s ideals of freedom and equality among men in the Declaration of Independence. Still during that period more than 500,000 black Americans were hold as slaves by many colonists, especially Southern ones, as their economy heavily relied upon slavery. Eleven years later, on May 1787, the new Constitution was ratified in Philadelphia and a compromise had to be found to represent the interest of all states. In Southern states a large number of slaves was present, and for this reason delegates from the South wanted to grant them the right to vote in order to obtain enough members in the House of Representatives. On the other hand, counting them as persons meant they had to be granted the right to freedom that would collapse Southerner’s economy. For this reason they were counted as three-fifths of a person, yet framers purposely avoided mentioning the term “slave”, and resorted to appointing them as “all other Persons” who weren’t “free Persons”. Even though they still were counted less than a free citizen, for the first time in American history, they were acknowledged as proper human beings and not as a mere property possessed by a master.

As slavery was so critical to ensure a steady flow of money into slaveholder pockets, which in turn was heavily taxed by the Government, slave trade was necessary to import fresh slaves from Africa. A new compromise was then worked out: the Congress could only ban the slave trade after 1808, as described in the so-called “slave trade clause”. Tensions between North and South kept rising, especially after the “fugitive clause” was enforced in 1850, allowing escaped slaves to be chased into the North and caught. Many free black men were illegally kidnapped to be returned to slavery, to address the diminishing number of new slaves resulting from the slave trade ban. After Civil War erupted in 1861, President Abraham on January 1, 1863 finally changed the legal status of slaves within Confederacy territories, appointing them “free men” through the Emancipation Proclamation. On December 18, 1865 the United States Constitution officially abolished slavery by adopting the Thirteenth Amendment, confirming their post-war status of free people.

Although the first ideals of equality were expressed in Declaration of Independence, America needed almost a full century to fully acknowledge black people their right to freedom, establish their rights and abolish slavery.