Could the framers have done anything to end slavery at the Constitutional Convention?Was it necessary for the framers to compromise on slavery?

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brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

No.  At least they couldn't have done so and still have a country to govern.  If they had outlawed slavery in the early days, then southern and Chesapeake colonies wouldn't have signed or ratified the document.  If they had made it permanently legal, it would have run into problems in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.  There was no way to solve the issue and still have a unified country at the same time.  They had to postpone it until eventual civil war.

enotechris's profile pic

enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

By the time of the Constitutional Convention, the Southern economy, by design, existed only as a function of slavery. So did the Northern.  As so eloquently put forth in the musical 1776, the North was happily engaging in the slave trade to supply the South with labor until it was abolished in 1808.  Abolitionist sentiment for the whole institution of slavery the North didn't become vocal until the 1830's when the British Empire did away with it.   Taking the words of the Declaration literally had to wait several more generations, since in the day, slaves were considered property, not people, and most of the framers would not have seen the hypocrisy that we do.  The best that could have been hoped for, and was thankfully achieved, was that the colonists, as Englishmen, asserted the rights of Englishmen and established their own government.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I would argue, much as I hate to, that there is nothing the framers could reasonably have done to end slavery at the time of the Convention.

If they had banned slavery in the US, there's just no way that the Southern states would have joined the union.  Without the Southern states, it is quite unlikely that the US would have been strong enough to survive.

So, if it was vital to get the South to approve the Constitution, there's nothing they could have done to end slavery at that point.

tman2010's profile pic

tman2010 | Middle School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

I agree with the previous posts.  While there was a growing anti-slavery movement at this time (Thomas Paine was an avid proponent of abolishing slavery), the economic interests and the prevailing cultural outlook leaned heavily toward continuing slavery as an institution.  I believe the framers of the Constitution did the best they could at the time.  It's a frustrating thought, but compromise was the most logical option available at that time.

krishna-agrawala's profile pic

krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

To end slavery in one go at the time of formation of USA and framing of the constitution would not have been possible either for framers of the constitution or for any one else in 1778, when constitution of USA was framed. The general public opinion at that time just not right to abolish slavery. It is worthwhile noting that seed for abolishing slavery were already sown with declaration of independence maintaining,

... that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among others are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But I am not too certain about the extent to which declaration of independence was intended to cover independence of the slaves.

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