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stricted right to import slaves, threatening something like secession or disunion if that demand was not acceded to, they obtained a provision prohibiting restriction for twenty years, subject to a duty, by another compromise.
The slave-holding portion of the basis of representation was evidently very distasteful to some of the members, even sugar-coated as it was by taxation on the same basis; and it was undoubtedly rendered somewhat more palatable by the insertion of the provision by which Congress might prohibit the importation of slaves after 1808, and thus far restrain the extension of the inequality, while at the same time it prevented a further “defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity.”
In the Convention of Massachusetts for the ratification of the Constitution, Mr. King, explaining the section respecting representation, is reported to have said, “It is a principle of this Constitution that representation and taxation should go hand in hand. This paragraph states that the number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and including Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons. These persons are the slaves. By this rule are representation and taxation to be apportioned. And it was adopted because it was the language of all America.” And to make the idea of taxation by numbers more intelligible, he said, “five negro children of South Carolina are to pay as much tax as the three governors of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.” Another member (Mr. Nasson) wished “the honorable gentleman had considered this question on the other side, as it would then appear that this State will pay as great a tax for three children in the cradle, as any of the Southern States will for five hearty working negro men.”
In answer to a suggestion that Congress may draw their revenue wholly by direct taxes, it was said, “They cannot be induced to do so; it is easier for them to have resort to the impost and excise; but it will not do to overburden the impost, because that would promote smuggling, and be dangerous to the revenue; therefore Congress should have the power of applying, in extraordinary cases, to direct taxation.”
One of the speakers in the Convention at Boston, is reported to have said:—
“There is another matter concerning which we hear a great deal in these days of excitement, - and, allow me to say, a great deal which, in my judgment, is mischievous. Men who have accustomed themselves to speak without reverence to the Constitution of their country, which no man who is fit for a Republican can, are constantly attempting to make us believe that the provision of the Constitution which determines the representation in the House of Representatives, is a grant of enhanced power to the slave States over that which is accorded in the council of the nation to the free States. And those repeated attempts are not always in vain, and there are many good men and true who really believe it. Now, what is the provision conterming which all this hue and cry is made, and on account of the existence of which these designing men are endeavoring to make us believe that the Constitution has established an oligarchy in the South 2 Here it is: “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within the 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 is the whole provision, and many men having this alone presented to them, think that the addition to the enumeration of three fifths of the slaves, is a grant of increased power to the slave State. But he who will examine the whole of the Constitution, in all those parts which have referonce to representation from the several States, will see that, instead of being a grant, it is a limitation of power. "Strike this “obnoxious’ provision out, and see what would be the effect of that insane proceeding. The immediate and the only effect would be, that the slave States would be entitled to and would have more representatives than they now have, while the free States would have less than they now have. Is that what these philanthropic gentlemen want?
“The Constitution provides, – and I suppose that we shall all agree that it ought to provide, – that representation should be based upon population. Strike out the ‘oligarchical provision, as I have heard it called, and the enumeration in the slave States would include not only three fifths, but the whole of the slave population.’
On reading this, I was very much at a loss to understand wherein the misrepresentation consisted, and how, if the provision cited were struck out, the Constitution would provide that representation should be based upon population. A friend suggested that the meaning must be, that if that part of the provision which gives the representation for three fifths of the slaves, which is the “obnoxious" or “oligarchical provision,” were struck out, such would be the result. But that would not give a representation upon the whole number of slaves, for in that case the numbers upon which the representation is to be apportioned, would be determined by the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service, and excluding Indians not taxed. If the whole clause respecting the mode in which the numbers are to be determined was struck out, the Constitution would be a different thing from what it is, – which would be true, in fact, if you strike out the whole, or any substantial part, of the provision. What it would have been, if not what it is, no one can say. It is very clear, however, from the debates, that it would not have contained a clause by which the whole number of slaves would be included in the ratio of representation. The position, therefore, that an increased representation, and an unequal representation, is granted to the slave States, seems not to be impeached by this argument.
I need not say to you that, under this provision of the Constitution, taxation and representation have not gone “hand in hand,”— no substantial equivalent having been received for the inequality of the representation. The clause, so far as respects representation, has been always active and operative, and the inequality is constantly increasing ; but as it regards taxation it has been almost a dead letter, quite so for more than a third of a century, there having been no direct taxation during that time. Whether the basis be regarded as one founded upon population, or property, there is an inequality which is contrary to the spirit of our free institutions. The inequality exists also in the election of President and Vice-President. At the coming election, the slave-holding States will have twenty-one electoral votes, by reason of their slave population; the Constitution providing that “each State shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” But for this unequal vote, Mr. Buchanan's chance would be the mere shadow of a shade. But this inequality is not a subject of complaint, with any view to redress or change. The people of the non-slave-holding States ratified the Constitution, with these provisions as parts of it. If they made a bad compromise, it is no more than they have done in other instances. Let it stand. Let those entitled have the benefit of it; but it is proper that these matters should be brought into view, when the account of the wrongs and injustice done to the slave-holding States is audited for the purpose of ascertaining the balance. There is no design on the part of the Republican party, so far as I am aware, to attempt an escape from the due operation of these constitutional provisions.
But the inquiry arises, What is the extent and limit of this constitutional provision authorizing a representation based upon three fifths of the slave population ? This is a question upon which I proceed to speak, and but for which I should not be here.
The question is, whether all the States now in the Union, and those which may be admitted hereafter, are entitled by this constitutional provision to a representation based upon three fifths of their slaves 2 or whether, in its legitimate operation, it is confined to States formed out of territory embraced within the limits of the United States at the time the Constitution was adopted ? If the latter, then two of the twenty-one representatives from the slave-holding States, who have their seats upon that part of the basis, are not there in pursuance of the Constitution, but upon some other foundation; and any other States which may hereafter be formed from the territory acquired or annexed since the adoption of the Constitution, will not be entitled to this unequal representation, even if they are slave States. If this be true, two electoral votes, which will probably be cast in the pending election, (one in Louisiana, derived entirely from her slave population, and one in Missouri, derived from her slave population, and a fraction of the free population too small to have given her a representative, but for the aid of the slave basis,) will be cast by reason of the unequal and wrongful representation from those States; and will be, therefore, of themselves, so far as they may affect the election, a political injustice. And if all this be so, then the Republican oppo