Avoiding the Blight: The United States Constitution and Slavery

Avoiding the Blight: The United States Constitution and Slavery

The words slave or slaves cannot be found anywhere in the constitution of the United States, and many argue that this document is indeed, supportive of slavery - Avoiding the Blight: The United States Constitution and Slavery introduction. Many abolitionists like the framers of the constitution avoided the issue of slavery and hence, they failed to address the problem at its roots. All this happened, ironically, while they were moving towards a stronger country valuing equality and freedom. Why this evasion?

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There are several laws in the constitution that address slavery. The Three-fifths Compromise is a legislation found in Article 1, Section 2, and Paragraph 3 of the constitution. It is the first attempt to resolve issues between the north and the south after the Civil War regarding taxation and representation. The northerners wanted only the free citizens to be counted and the slaves considered as property and uncounted while the south offered several ratios that will serve to include the slaves in the counting as well (Hall, 2008). A compromise was reached, wherein a slave is considered as three-fifths of a person, or 3 out of 5 slaves will be considered in the to determine the number of seats in government of the state and its rate of taxation. Other legislations that provide references to slavery are found in Article 1, Section 9 and the Article 4, Section 2. Article 1, Section 9 speaks about the slave trade and how it is legal until 1808. Article 4, Section 2, on the other hand, dealt with fugitive slaves

These legislations are used as evidence by those who argue that the constitution is pro-slavery. Despite the efforts to promote freedom and liberty, the slaves remained as entities legally considered as property. Never did these legislations rule out slaves as property. This was reflected in the fact that the words used to refer to slaves were very ambiguous (such as “other persons”, and “person held to service or labor”). The practice of democracy did not further the cause for abolishing slavery, but it only was utilized to promote political interests and retain the institution (Ackerman, 1991).

Inasmuch as the Three-fifths Compromise was wanted to provide venues for slaves to participate in state affairs by being counted as part of the census of each state, it still fails to address the fact that slavery still does exist. In fact, it still supports the fact that states can still own slaves as two out of 5 slaves are still considered property. The compromise presented a venue through which slavery can be tolerated once again. The consensus was respected, and the institution of slavery was too. Furthermore, the legislation was surrounded with political clout. The north and the south both had political agenda that determined how they treated the slavery issue. It was ironic that the anti-slavery north avoided addressing slavery in the passing of this resolution because of the disadvantages it presents to their party politically. Northern legislators wanted the slaves to remain as property and uncounted entities, just as horses and cows are uncounted, because they knew the south had more slaves than their region. Counting the slaves as part of the population would therefore give the southerners more seats in the government (Mount, 2007).

When seen in economic terms, the framers have avoided addressing the issue of slavery basically because of the law of supply and demand. For the north, where slavery does not exist, there is really no significant amount of demand for slavery to be a resort of people. Just the same, there is not enough reason for supply to be built with respect to the nonexistence of demand that would allow for this to be established. On the other hand, the opposite becomes through where in the South, there is a supply and demand for slaves that make a market equilibrium that governs  the structuring of slavery in this area. Thus, it can be seen that there are areas where slavery could exist and regulate on its own due to certain circumstances as compared to the other areas which can not handle slavery as a part of their economy. Thus, the differences in terms of the wages and the conditions have led the framers of the Constitution to allow for the invisible hand to work its way through the issue of slavery.

            All these schemes to avoid addressing the slavery issue at its roots boils down to the fact that the institution of slavery was still economically favourable even after the Civil War. The slaves were the lifelines of the agricultural sector of the economy. Owning many hands to work in farms and in factories gave economic advantage. Most of the framers of the constitution were rich men and plantation owners who were to receive the backlash if slaves ceased to be called property and set free (Beard, 1935). Their economic status clearly affected their decisions and their stand regarding the constitution and the issue of slavery.


Ackerman, B. (1991). We the People. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Beard, C. (1935). An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Hall, R. (2008). Perfecting the Union: Was the US Constitution Pro-slavery? Retrieved April 18, 2009 from http://www.law.utah.edu/blogs/show-entry.asp?EntryID=443

Mount, S. (2007). Constitutional Topic: Slavery. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_slav.html#const


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