How did the question and issue of slavery become linked to the Constitution after the Constitutional Convention of 1787?

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The question of slavery became linked to the Constitutional Convention because, with the development of the Great Compromise, two houses of Congress were created. In the House of Representatives, a state’s population was used to determine the number of members each state would have. States with larger populations had more representatives than states with a smaller population. As a result, northern states didn’t want slaves to be counted as part of a state’s population, while southern states wanted to count the slaves. This led to the three-fifths compromise, in which every five slaves were counted as three people for the purpose of establishing a state’s population.

After the Constitution was ratified, slavery remained an issue, because as part of the Great Compromise each state had two senators in the Senate. As long as there was an equal number of free and slave states, neither the pro-slavery side nor the anti-slavery side would have an advantage when considering laws that dealt with slavery or its expansion. As the country began to grow, the spread of slavery became an issue. When Missouri wanted to become a slave state around 1820, it would have created an unequal number of free and slave states. As a result, Maine was allowed to enter as a free state in order to maintain the balance between free and slave states. To prevent this issue from continuing to occur, a part of the Missouri Compromise stated that no slavery would be allowed north of the 36°30’ line in the Louisiana Territory, except for Missouri.

There was also a question about what would happen to a slave if the owner took the slave into free territory. The courts ruled that slaves were property, which was protected by the Constitution. Thus, the government couldn’t take a slave away from the owner if the slave was taken into free territory. In the Dred Scott case, Dred Scot was not given his freedom because his owner took him into free territory.

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The Constitution can be seen as an effort to evade or delay dealing with the issue of slavery in the interests of, as stated, creating a "more perfect union." The unresolved status of slavery led to increasing sectional disagreements and further compromises over the next 73 years before the southern states began the secession process in 1860, which caused the Civil War.

In 1787, a major concern of many of the southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention was that an effort would be made by the anti-slavery members to enact abolition in the entire Union. This did not happen, of course. But the compromises that were made can be seen as both anti-slavery and pro-slavery, though the term slavery is never mentioned in the Constitution. For purposes of representation in Congress, all "other"—that is, "unfree"—persons were to be counted as three-fifths of the free population. And the "importation of persons" by any state would not be restricted until the year 1808.

Southern delegates congratulated themselves that the Convention had shown itself incapable of banning slavery. But the future ban on the importation of enslaved persons, as weak as it may seem, was at least a step announcing that slavery was being judged as wrong and that a gradual emancipation was planned, just as was already being enacted in the northern states at the time. In addition, the Northwest Ordinance had already excluded slavery from the Northwest Territory. This was not reversed.

The wishful thinking of the anti-slavery delegates was that slavery would soon "die a natural death" and that there was no reason to push the issue now and cause the southern states to walk out of the Convention. But all the Constitution did was delay the inevitable crisis; it was the start of a chain of compromises that sought to balance the wishes of North and South, of anti-slavery and pro-slavery. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 added an enormous territory to the U.S. and extended the question of where slavery would be permitted. The Founders in 1787, just as in 1776, could not have anticipated this development—or that eventually the new country would be extended even further, from coast to coast, and would be populated by new settlers as quickly as it came to be. The Constitutional Convention could only accomplish as much, unfortunately, as its more progressive-thinking members thought possible in the reality of their point in history.

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