Representation, Taxation, and Slavery

Following the success of the colonists in the American Revolution and gaining their independence from Great Britain, the colonists achieved what they most certainly sought after—to separate from Britain and never again experience the horrific tyrannical ways of King George III. This is because the colonists feared tyranny and believed that having the power vested in one ruler is not such a good form of government. Thus, the Framers formed their first ever constitution—the Articles of Confederation. However, the Articles proved to be very weak because it did not have a strong central government.

It did not have a tax base, a judiciary, and executive branch. In order to fix the problems under the Articles, specifically the dilemma regarding representation, taxation, and slavery issue within the states, the Constitutional Convention took place. These disputes did not only create a problem but they also caused a division between the states. The colonists did not know how great and substantial the issue with representation, taxation, and slavery would affect them, but as they came together and attempted to resolve the problem, they brought forth compromises that would have a lasting influence in the United States.

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One of the issues that the delegates argued over was representation. They had a disagreement on how representation would work—either equal (small states) or proportional (large states). The large states, mostly from the South, wanted proportional representation, in which they will earn seats in Congress by the amount of their population. They thought that the more populous states should have more seats in the Congress than the less populous states. Thus, Edmund Randolph proposed a plan, with the large states’ support, called the Virginia Plan. This proposed a bicameral legislature and three separate branches of government.

Representation will be based upon states population or money contributions. The large states supported this because it promoted their interest, which is to have proportional representation. The small states, on the other hand, feared the possible domination of the larger states, so they suggested equal representation in Congress. The less populous states were persistently defied to giving most of the control of the national government to the larger states, hence, they proposed the New Jersey Plan, which is an alternate plan that embodied a unicameral legislature.

This plan would have given one vote per state for equal representation under one legislative body. It also proposed a federal court system with judges appointed for life to make sure that law prevails. Because the large and small states could not come to an agreement, the Great Compromise gave both what they wanted. It created a congress with two houses– the Senate, which is based on equal representation, giving all states an equal number of representatives, and the House of Representatives, which is based on proportional representation that allows representatives to be appointed by the people based on the population.

Another issue would be the argument over taxation. Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress did not have the control to declare or collect taxes. They could not do so much if a state did not collect taxes from its citizens, and without the power to collect taxes, the government would plummet into debt. Having no power to tax means no power to rule. The Northern and Southern colonies debated on whether there should be a national tax or a state tax. The Northern colonies favored a strong central government, so they wanted taxes that would apply nationally, meaning all the states.

This is because they wanted to unify the country, regulate trade, settle disputes, and create leadership. However, the Southern states wanted state taxes only because they were in favor of a strong state government. They feared that with a national tax, the central government could grow into a monarch, and tyranny would resurface again. They wanted to get rid of the central government because they were afraid of abuse of power. With the states having the power to tax, they would have the power to rule and not the federal government.

When they recognized this dilemma, proposals came in the Constitutional Convention, and the power to tax was eventually given to Congress, which is listed in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The issue on slavery was probably the most critical problems for the states to deal with. They quarreled over the concern of slaves being part of the population and taxation. The North did not want the slaves to count for representation but wanted to count for taxation. If the South paid for taxes, owners would have to pay taxes for their slaves. The South wanted the slaves to count in Congress but not for taxation.

This is because they would have more power if the slaves counted for representation because they would have more seats in the Congress. Thus, in the Constitutional Convention they reached a compromise that would settle the dispute of representation and taxation for slaves. Three-fifths of the population of slaves would be counted for representation as well as distribution of taxes. Despite the compromise that dealt with representation and taxation issue of slaves, the dispute of either abolishing or keeping slavery was a problem that the Northern and Southern states would fight over until they could come up with a solution.

The Northern colonies, who wanted to abolish slavery, saw this problem as a moral issue. They believed that slavery was morally wrong therefore they wanted to abolish it. The South, however, did not see it that way. It is because they depended on the slaves to survive. The slaves were the South’s economic lifeline that forces them to survive. Without the free labor to cultivate the fields, the South would fall into complete ruin. It cannot be underestimated how large the financial impact is if the removal of slavery in the South occurred.

Thus, the Southern colonies were for slavery, not in terms of moral issue, but an economic survival issue. The slavery issue, however, would not be solved, and would ultimately be the cause of the Civil War in 1860 through 1865, one of the bloodiest battles in American history. The significance of slavery in the South was an important reason for this war to occur. With Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it eventually led to the decline of the practice and abolished slavery, but it was not until the Thirteenth Amendment was passed that slavery was constitutionally declared illegal.

Even though the Constitutional Convention’s purpose of revising the Articles did not take place, the creation of the United States Constitution was the result of long, unsettling disputes that were eventually resolved in the Constitution. The matter of representation, taxation, and slavery took a great amount of time and effort to settle, but its lasting influence would take effect and would still incredibly prevail until today.

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Representation, Taxation, and Slavery. (2016, Oct 13). Retrieved from