What role did the issue of slavery play in the Constitutional Convention? (America - Past and Present Vol. 1: To 1877)

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

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The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a pivotal time period in the history of the newly evolving United States of America. Slaves and slavery were an important consideration, especially in considering the population of any particular state. The Three Fifths Compromise became the accepted way of allocating seats in the House of Representatives, whereby the number of free persons was added to three fifths of the total of slaves within a district in determining allocation. This gave people in these areas more power because slaves could not vote and yet seats had been allocated to cover their numbers. The three Fifths Compromise allowed for an unbalanced participation from the slave states and influenced the build up to the Civil War although this contentious issue and its effects have been argued through the course of history. Akhil Reed Amar, in his book America's Constitution: A Biography states that "the Constitution did more to feed the serpent than to crush it.”

The issue of slavery was not adequately resolved during the convention and it was to be voted on twenty years hence. It seemed that, at the time, unity and economic stability were more important. This effectively perpetuated slavery and even included a clause demanding the return of escaped slaves in the southern states. The slavery issue in the Constitutional Convention thus maintained a precarious balance of power but at great cost. 

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