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insignificance, and encouragement given to the importation of slaves. And when the clause of the draft providing that no duties should be laid on the importation of slaves, nor the importation prohibited, came up, the increase of the inequality in the representation by means of the slave-trade, if the three fifths clause was allowed, was not overlooked. Mr. Luther Martin (of Maryland) proposed to allow a prohibition or tax on the importation of slaves. “In the first place,” he said, “as five slaves are to be counted as three freemen in the apportionment of representation, such a clause would leave an encouragement to this traffic. In the second place, slaves weakened one part of the Union, which the other parts were bound to protect; the privilege of importing them was therefore unreasonable. And in the third place, it was inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution, and dishonorable to the American character, to have such a feature in the Constitution.” Delegates from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia insisted, that those States would never agree to the plan unless their right to import slaves was untouched. Some of them intimated that if they were let alone, they would probably of themselves stop importations. Mr. Rutledge said, if the Northern States consult their interest, they will not oppose the increase of slaves, which will increase the commodities of which they will become carriers. The subject was referred to a committee, which reported a clause restraining any prohibition of migration or importation prior to 1800, and that a tax or duty might be imposed upon such migration or importation, at a rate not exceeding the average of the duties laid on imports. Upon motion of General Pinckney, opposed by Mr. Madison, the first part of the report was amended so as to extend the term to 1808;
and the second part of it was then amended so that the tax or duty should not exceed ten dollars. Mr. Sherman was against this second part, as acknowledging men, to be
property, by taxing them as such under the character of slaves. Mr. King and Mr. Langdon considered this as the price of the first part, and General Pinckney admitted that it was so. Virginia was decidedly in favor of an immediate restriction.
I have thus presented an extended, and yet very limited, sketch of the debates and proceedings, that you may see how the slave-holding States relieved themselves, in the Congress of the Confederation, from taxation, (or what was in the nature of taxation, on account of their slaves, by transferring the basis from population to that of real estate; and how, when the latter basis failed, by reason of a neglect to make returns, and there was a report of a committee in favor substantially of the former basis, — by proposing that two slaves should be counted as one freeman, and alleging that the labor of slaves was not of as much value as that of freemen by about that ratio, they succeeded in reducing the slave portion of the basis of taxation to three fifths, by a compromise ; how, in the Convention which formed the Constitution, by insisting that there should be a representation on account of slaves, because wealth or property was a proper subject of representation, and alleging that the labor of a slave was of the value or nearly the value of that of a freeman, they succeeded in obtaining a representation on three fifths of their slaves, by another compromise, upon which, direct taxation and representation were to go together, the taxation being the equivalent or consideration, mainly, which was to satisfy the non-slave-holding States for the inequality; and how, afterwards, by insisting on an unre
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 concerning 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 ? 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 reference 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.