Slavery in America
Slavery was a prominently recognized institution in the United States of America for many years. During the enlightenment period many men began to abhor the institution that had greatly been perfected in the U.S. Since Christopher Columbus arrival the institution of slavery was a major part of the American economy. The wages for indentured servitude rose as time went by and as a result the economics of slave trade triggered its upsurge. By 1710 the institution of slavery was well established and firmly established in law. The Northern parts including Massachusetts had a Puritan view to slavery, and the Puritans recognized slavery as being legalized in biblical terms. They also believed that the slaves were the responsibility of their masters and thus he had to take care of their physical and spiritual needs, and it was common for masters to work alongside their slaves. In the north the slaves status was least onerous. Slavery in the north where farms were not large required few slaves and thus slavery was not rife as it was in the south where the plantations were large. During the constitutional convention tides of change in Massachusetts had outlawed slavery (U.S Constitution Online, 2010).
The Constitution and the Founding Fathers
In 1787, during the constitutional convention slavery was grim in the U.S. Slaves were counted in all states except districts of Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts. Out of a 3.8 million population, 18% of them constituted of slaves. The Articles of confederation make no mention on slavery, and as the Constitutional convention convened there was effort geared towards slavery abolishment till 1830s when the anti-slavery societys formation by William Lloyd. However, before the Convention quite a number of the Founding Fathers had opinions of condemnation on slavery. John Jay, Oliver Ellsworth, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were all examples of people that expressed the need to stop slavery (U.S Constitution Online, 2010).
Although there were freedoms declared within the constitution and demanded within the Bill of rights and Declaration, slavery was still tolerated and codified within the constitution: Thus the famous statement that; the constitution is a living tribute espousing the art of compromising (Finkelman, 2001). This is vividly evident in the slavery issue. The Convention was composed of members from all states including the southern states where slavery was the back bone of the agricultural economy and the agricultural economy of the south would not have survived without the slaves. Slaves may not have been cheap but hiring people to the work would have been a lot more expensive. If the United States would allow the continuation of slavery for the south, it was questioned as to whether they would create their independent nation.
Slavery appears within the constitution in few sections, the first appearance occurs on the Enumeration clause which deals with apportioning of representatives. Representative numbers from each state were determined by the states population. The article recognizes inclusion of slaves in the population who are referred in this case as the other persons and they were recognized as three fifths. The northerners greatly disputed this article seeking to have slaves be uncounted because they were property just like mules or nay other animal (U.S Constitution Online, 2010). On the other hand, southerners were cognizant of the fact that their population would be boosted by the large number of slaves within their states. The Congress agreed to use three fifths ratio in their legislation. Congress was limited from explicitly stopping slave importation prior to 1808 by Article 1, section 9. Slave trade became a bone of contention and most people expressed dislike of the trade. The debate did not immediately yield any results and a compromise period of 20 years was set for 1808. Finally, in January 1st 1808 Congress passed legislation’s which outlawed the trade of slaves.
The Fugitive Slave Clause was the final mention on slavery. This clause contained a resolution to the extradition of runaway slaves made. In this clause the laws in one state are do not have the mandate to excuse anyone from labor or service within the jurisdiction of another state. The clause stipulated that an escapee found in another state should be delivered to the state of origin. The Civil War may be attributed to the issue of slavery and the subsequent compromises within the issues highlight in the constitution. The slave trade which had began on violent basis had to probably end in a violent manner. The revolutionary war ended in devastation after causing a lot of unrest under these articles, and as a result; there was a need for a time of peace for recovery to take place and the nation to be strengthened. It was however, so tragic that for over a century in between the Revolutionary War to the end of the Civil war a large number of slaves had to suffer serving and even dying so that the country could become prosperous (Gerstle et al.2007).
Slavery may have finally died but the south was never happy about it the Emancipation Proclamation, the 15th, 14th and 13th Amendments. The southerners finally gained power over their governance and they enacted the Black codes. The 15th and 14th Amendments were reactions elicited by the Black Codes which were put in place in the South. Under constitutional and legal terms blacks had equality and most of the Black Codes were illegalized with the onset of the initiation of the amendments. Legislators and black voters attained power immediately thereafter. Eventually other Black Codes were put in place to ensure blacks were denied their voting powers. These efforts were championed by movements such as the Ku Klux Klan which acted by intimidating black voters (U.S Constitution Online, 2010).
The tactics used included literacy tests and poll taxes as well as other extra-legal and legal efforts and measures were undertaken to hinder black voters from voting. The lack of a black voice within the government and voting powers made it appear virtually impossible to have black legislators. The Plessy versus Ferguson ruling in 1896 in the Supreme Court stated that despite the fact that blacks had equal rights there was legal separation of facilities. This led to enactment of laws which allowed blacks to be kept away from whites. These laws were famously known as Jim Crow Laws and they affected every aspect of the free blacks. (Robinson, 1970). Eventually, the phrase: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” came to pass when the Jim Crow laws on segregation fell in the sixties. The phrase is mostly attributed to the constitution, but originally it exists in the Declaration of Independence.
Finkelman, P. (2001),.Slavery and the founders: Race and liberty in the age of Jefferson, 2nd edition, M.E. Sharpe
Gerstle, G. McPherson, L. J. Johnson, E. P. and Murrin, M. J. (2007),. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, 5th edition, Cengage Learning
U.S Constitution Online (2010),. Slavery, retrieved on 6th January 2011 from http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_slav.html#const
Robinson, L. D. (1970),.Slavery in the structure of American politics, 1765-1820, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
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