Is the Constitution a Racist Document?—Let’s Ask Frederick Douglass.

by Jon Fournier | September 20th, 2018

Readability

Is the Constitution a Racist Document?—Let’s Ask Frederick Douglass.

This past Tues­day marked 231st anniver­sary of the sign­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Every year this date should be cel­e­brated by every­one because of the most remark­able nature of that doc­u­ment, which was respon­si­ble for this coun­try becom­ing the freest and wealth­i­est that ever existed. Instead the Con­sti­tu­tion is held in such ill regard by so many sim­ply because of the indoc­tri­na­tion they received in col­lege, high school, the media, and from friends. The most com­mon insult hurled at the Con­sti­tu­tion is that it is a racist doc­u­ment with the Three-​Fifths Com­pro­mise as the most damn­ing evi­dence. Fred­er­ick Dou­glass debunked that claim back in 1860 when he gave this speech before the Glas­gow Eman­ci­pa­tion Society.

In this quote he states the pur­pose of his speech was to refute the false claim that the Con­sti­tu­tion is a proslav­ery document:

The very elo­quent lec­turer at the City Hall doubt­less felt some embar­rass­ment from the fact that he had lit­er­ally to give the Con­sti­tu­tion a pro-​slavery inter­pre­ta­tion; because upon its face it of itself con­veys no such mean­ing, but a very oppo­site mean­ing. He thus sums up what he calls the slave­hold­ing pro­vi­sions of the Con­sti­tu­tion. I quote his own words: — “Arti­cle 1, sec­tion 9, pro­vides for the con­tin­u­ance of the African slave trade for the 20 years, after the adop­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Art. 4, sec­tion 9, pro­vides for the recov­ery from the other States of fugi­tive slaves. Art. 1, sec­tion 2, gives the slave States a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the three-​fifths of all the slave pop­u­la­tion; and Art. 1, sec­tion 8, requires the Pres­i­dent to use the mil­i­tary, naval, ord­nance, and mili­tia resources of the entire coun­try for the sup­pres­sion of slave insur­rec­tion, in the same man­ner as he would employ them to repel invasion.

In this next quote he dis­cred­its the claim that the Three-​Fifths Com­pro­mise is racist. He notes that it only applies to slaves, not free blacks, and that is was an incen­tive for free­ing slaves.

It is a down­right dis­abil­ity laid upon the slave­hold­ing States; one which deprives those States of two-​fifths of their nat­ural basis of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. A black man in a free State is worth just two-​fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of polit­i­cal power under the Con­sti­tu­tion. There­fore, instead of encour­ag­ing slav­ery, the Con­sti­tu­tion encour­ages free­dom by giv­ing an increase of “two-​fifths” of polit­i­cal power to free over slave States. So much for the three-​fifths clause; tak­ing it at is worst, it still leans to free­dom, not slav­ery; for, be it remem­bered that the Con­sti­tu­tion nowhere for­bids a coloured man to vote.

Fred­er­ick Dou­glass stated in this quote that the Con­sti­tu­tion abol­ish­ing the slave trade 20 years after rat­i­fi­ca­tion was meant to end slavery. .

Men, at that time, both in Eng­land and in Amer­ica, looked upon the slave trade as the life of slav­ery. The abo­li­tion of the slave trade was sup­posed to be the cer­tain death of slav­ery. Cut off the stream, and the pond will dry up, was the com­mon notion at the time.

He also points out that the drafters of the Con­sti­tu­tion believed that slav­ery was a dying insti­tu­tion. At the time of the draft­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion slav­ery was not work­ing eco­nom­i­cally and was col­laps­ing. It was the inven­tion of the Cot­ton Gin that made slav­ery work eco­nom­i­cally and extended that despi­ca­ble insti­tu­tion. It was not invented until after the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion. He notes that abol­ish­ing the slave trade would have has­tened slavery’s demise.

All regarded slav­ery as an expir­ing and doomed sys­tem, des­tined to speed­ily dis­ap­pear from the coun­try. But, again, it should be remem­bered that this very pro­vi­sion, if made to refer to the African slave trade at all, makes the Con­sti­tu­tion anti-​slavery rather than for slav­ery; for it says to the slave States, the price you will have to pay for com­ing into the Amer­i­can Union is, that the slave trade, which you would carry on indef­i­nitely out of the Union, shall be put an end to in twenty years if you come into the Union. Sec­ondly, if it does apply, it expired by its own lim­i­ta­tion more than fifty years ago. Thirdly, it is anti-​slavery, because it looked to the abo­li­tion of slav­ery rather than to its per­pe­tu­ity. Fourthly, it showed that the inten­tions of the framers of the Con­sti­tu­tion were good, not bad.

Fred­er­ick Dou­glass answers the claim that the framers of the Con­sti­tu­tion wrote a proslav­ery and racist doc­u­ment that did not extend its ben­e­fits and pro­tec­tions to those of color.

But it has been said that Negroes are not included within the ben­e­fits sought under this dec­la­ra­tion. This is said by the slave­hold­ers in Amer­ica — it is said by the City Hall ora­tor — but it is not said by the Con­sti­tu­tion itself. Its lan­guage is “we the peo­ple;” not we the white peo­ple, not even we the cit­i­zens, not we the priv­i­leged class, not we the high, not we the low, but we the peo­ple; not we the horses, sheep, and swine, and wheel-​barrows, but we the peo­ple, we the human inhab­i­tants; and, if Negroes are peo­ple, they are included in the ben­e­fits for which the Con­sti­tu­tion of Amer­ica was ordained and estab­lished. But how dare any man who pre­tends to be a friend to the Negro thus gra­tu­itously con­cede away what the Negro has a right to claim under the Con­sti­tu­tion? Why should such friends invent new argu­ments to increase the hope­less­ness of his bondage? This, I under­take to say, as the con­clu­sion of the whole mat­ter, that the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of slav­ery can be made out only by dis­re­gard­ing the plain and common-​sense read­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion itself; by dis­cred­it­ing and cast­ing away as worth­less the most benef­i­cent rules of legal inter­pre­ta­tion; by rul­ing the Negro out­side of these benef­i­cent rules; by claim­ing that the Con­sti­tu­tion does not mean what it says, and that it says what it does not mean; by dis­re­gard­ing the writ­ten Con­sti­tu­tion, and inter­pret­ing it in the light of a secret understanding

The Con­sti­tu­tion would not have been com­pleted or rat­i­fied with­out the Three-​Fifths Com­pro­mise, result­ing in either a split into two coun­tries or a break up into many smaller coun­tries. Would the slaves have fared bet­ter? Fred­er­ick Dou­glass answers that ques­tion here:

My argu­ment against the dis­so­lu­tion of the Amer­i­can Union is this: It would place the slave sys­tem more exclu­sively under the con­trol of the slave­hold­ing States, and with­draw it from the power in the North­ern States which is opposed to slavery.

Although odi­ous on the sur­face, you can see from the quote that the Three-​Fifths Com­pro­mise was in the long run meant to be a positive.

This past Tuesday marked 231st anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.  Every year this date should be celebrated by everyone because of the most remarkable nature of that document, which was responsible for this country becoming the freest and wealthiest that ever existed.  Instead the Constitution is held in such ill regard by so many simply because of the indoctrination they received in college, high school, the media, and from friends.  The most common insult hurled at the Constitution is that it is a racist document with the Three-Fifths Compromise as the most damning evidence.  Frederick Douglass debunked that claim back in 1860 when he gave this speech before the Glasgow Emancipation Society.

In this quote he states the purpose of his speech was to refute the false claim that the Constitution is a proslavery document:

The very eloquent lecturer at the City Hall doubtless felt some embarrassment from the fact that he had literally to give the Constitution a pro-slavery interpretation; because upon its face it of itself conveys no such meaning, but a very opposite meaning. He thus sums up what he calls the slaveholding provisions of the Constitution. I quote his own words: — “Article 1, section 9, provides for the continuance of the African slave trade for the 20 years, after the adoption of the Constitution. Art. 4, section 9, provides for the recovery from the other States of fugitive slaves. Art. 1, section 2, gives the slave States a representation of the three-fifths of all the slave population; and Art. 1, section 8, requires the President to use the military, naval, ordnance, and militia resources of the entire country for the suppression of slave insurrection, in the same manner as he would employ them to repel invasion.

In this next quote he discredits the claim that the Three-Fifths Compromise is racist.  He notes that it only applies to slaves, not free blacks, and that is was an incentive for freeing slaves.

It is a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding States; one which deprives those States of two-fifths of their natural basis of representation. A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the Constitution. Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of “two-fifths” of political power to free over slave States. So much for the three-fifths clause; taking it at is worst, it still leans to freedom, not slavery; for, be it remembered that the Constitution nowhere forbids a coloured man to vote.

Frederick Douglass stated in this quote that the Constitution abolishing the slave trade 20 years after ratification was meant to end slavery. .

Men, at that time, both in England and in America, looked upon the slave trade as the life of slavery. The abolition of the slave trade was supposed to be the certain death of slavery. Cut off the stream, and the pond will dry up, was the common notion at the time.

He also points out that the drafters of the Constitution believed that slavery was a dying institution.  At the time of the drafting of the Constitution slavery was not working economically and was collapsing.  It was the invention of the Cotton Gin that made slavery work economically and extended that despicable institution.  It was not invented until after the ratification of the Constitution.  He notes that abolishing the slave trade would have hastened slavery’s demise.

All regarded slavery as an expiring and doomed system, destined to speedily disappear from the country. But, again, it should be remembered that this very provision, if made to refer to the African slave trade at all, makes the Constitution anti-slavery rather than for slavery; for it says to the slave States, the price you will have to pay for coming into the American Union is, that the slave trade, which you would carry on indefinitely out of the Union, shall be put an end to in twenty years if you come into the Union. Secondly, if it does apply, it expired by its own limitation more than fifty years ago. Thirdly, it is anti-slavery, because it looked to the abolition of slavery rather than to its perpetuity. Fourthly, it showed that the intentions of the framers of the Constitution were good, not bad.

Frederick Douglass answers the claim that the framers of the Constitution wrote a proslavery and racist document that did not extend its benefits and protections to those of color.

But it has been said that Negroes are not included within the benefits sought under this declaration. This is said by the slaveholders in America — it is said by the City Hall orator — but it is not said by the Constitution itself. Its language is “we the people;” not we the white people, not even we the citizens, not we the privileged class, not we the high, not we the low, but we the people; not we the horses, sheep, and swine, and wheel-barrows, but we the people, we the human inhabitants; and, if Negroes are people, they are included in the benefits for which the Constitution of America was ordained and established. But how dare any man who pretends to be a friend to the Negro thus gratuitously concede away what the Negro has a right to claim under the Constitution? Why should such friends invent new arguments to increase the hopelessness of his bondage? This, I undertake to say, as the conclusion of the whole matter, that the constitutionality of slavery can be made out only by disregarding the plain and common-sense reading of the Constitution itself; by discrediting and casting away as worthless the most beneficent rules of legal interpretation; by ruling the Negro outside of these beneficent rules; by claiming that the Constitution does not mean what it says, and that it says what it does not mean; by disregarding the written Constitution, and interpreting it in the light of a secret understanding

The Constitution would not have been completed or ratified without the Three-Fifths Compromise, resulting in either a split into two countries or a break up into many smaller countries.  Would the slaves have fared better?  Frederick Douglass answers that question here:

My argument against the dissolution of the American Union is this: It would place the slave system more exclusively under the control of the slaveholding States, and withdraw it from the power in the Northern States which is opposed to slavery.

Although odious on the surface, you can see from the quote that the Three-Fifths Compromise was in the long run meant to be a positive.

Buy My Book!

Buy My Book!

Hit DaTipJar and Support Conservative Journalism & Opinion




Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,148 other subscribers

DH Gate Dot Com, Online Shopping

Cheap ecigarette from China - DHgate

Best Grassroots Blogs

Winner - 2014 Fabulous 50 Blog Awards

Catholic CD of the Month

Know your Catholic Faith

Da Pages

Winner - 2014 Fabulous 50 Blog Awards

Donald Trump Calls on DaTechGuy Worcester MA

 
%d bloggers like this: