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West, slave society against free society-each must be willing to give as well as to take, or the common cause was lost. The theorists, too, must make their sacrifices; the believers in centralization, the believers in diffusion of power; Madisonians, Hamiltonians, Jeffersonians-all must concede something, or there could be no nation. And between principles of moral right and wrong,-here, too, can there be compromise? Easy to give a sweeping No; but when honest men's ideas of right and wrong fundamentally differ, when personal ideals and social utilities are in seeming contradiction, the answer may be no easy one.
The great difficulty at the outset, as to the relative power in Congress of the large and small States, was settled at last by the happy compromise of making the Senate representative of the States in equality, and the House representative of the whole people alike. But then came the question, Should the representation be based on numbers or on wealth? The decision to count men and not dollars was a momentous one; it told for democracy even more than the framers knew. But now again, Shall this count of men include slaves ? Slaves, who have no voice in the government, and are as much the property of their owners as horses and oxen? Yes, the slaves should be counted as men, in the distribution of political power,—so said South Carolina and Georgia. In that demand there disclosed itself what proved to be the most determined and aggressive interest in the convention,—the slavery interest in the two most southern States. Virginia, inspired and led by Washington, Madison, and Mason, was unfriendly to the strengthening of the slave power, and the border and central as well as the eastern States were inclined the same way. But South Carolina and Georgia, united and determined, had this powerful leverage; from the first dispute,
their representatives habitually declared that unless their demands were granted their States would not join the Union. Now it had been agreed that the Constitution should only become operative on the assent by popular vote of nine of the thirteen States, and it was plain that at the best there would be great difficulty in getting that number. With two lost in advance the case looked almost hopeless. South Carolina and Georgia saw their advantage, and pushed it with equal resolution and dexterity. The question of representation was settled by a singular compromise: To the free population was to be added in the count three-fifths of the slave population. The slave was, for political purposes, three-fifths a man and two-fifths a chattel. Illogical to grotesqueness, this arrangement-in effect a concession to the most objectionable species of property of a political advantage denied to all other property-yet seemed to the wisest leaders of the convention not too heavy a price for the establishment of the Union. The provision that fugitive slaves should be returned had already been made, apparently with little opposition.
But the price was by no means all paid. When the powers of Congress came to be defined, the extreme South demanded that it be not allowed to forbid the importation of African slaves. With the example of Virginia and Maryland in view, it was clear that the tide was running so strongly against the traffic that Congress was sure to prohibit it unless restrained from doing so. Against such restraint there was strong protest from Virginia and the middle States. “The traffic is infernal," said Mason of Virginia. “To permit it is against every principle of honor and safety," said Dickinson of Delaware. But the two Pinckneys and their colleague said, " Leave us the traffic, or South Carolina and Georgia will not join your Union.” The
leading members from the northern and New England States actually favored the provision, to conciliate the extreme South. The matter went to a committee of one from each State There it was discussed along with another question: It had been proposed to restrict Congress from legislating on navigation and kindred subjects except by a twothirds vote of each House. This went sorely against the commercial North, which was eager to wield the whole power of the government in favor of its shipping interests. Of this power the South was afraid, and how well grounded was the importance each section attached to it was made plain when a generation later the North used its dearlybought privilege to fashion such tariff laws as drove South Carolina to the verge of revolt. Now in the committee a bargain was struck: The slave trade should be extended till 1800, and in compensation Congress should be allowed to legislate on navigation as on other subjects. The report coming into the convention, South Carolina was still unsatisfied. “Eight more years for the African trade, until 1808," said Pinckney, and Gorham of Massachusetts supported him. Vainly did Madison protest, and Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey vote against the whole scheme. The alliance of New England commerce and Carolina slavery triumphed, and the African slave trade was sanctioned for twenty years.
For the compromise on representation it might be pleaded, that by it no license was given to wrong; there was only a concession of disproportionate power to one section, fairly outweighed in the scale of the public good by the establishment of a great political order. But the action on the slave trade was the deliberate sanction for twenty years of manstealing of the most flagitious sort. It was aimed at the strengthening and perpetuation of an institution which even its champions at that time only defended as a
And this action was taken, not after all other means to secure the Union had been exhausted, but as the price which New England was willing to pay for an advantage to her commercial interests.
At a later day, there were those who made it a reproach to the convention, and a condemnation of their whole work, that they imposed no prohibition on slavery as it existed in the States. But if such prohibition was to be attempted, the convention might as well never have met. The whole theory of the occasion was that the States, as individual communities, were to be left substantially as they were; self-governing, except as they intrusted certain definite functions to the general government. When only a single State, and that almost without cost, had abolished slavery within itself, it was out of the question that all of the States should through their common agents decree an act of social virtue wholly beyond what they had individually achieved. Any human State exists only by tolerating in its individual citizens a wide freedom of action, even in matters of ethical quality; and a federated nation must allow its local communities largely to fix their own standard of social conduct. At the point which the American people had reached, the next imperative step of evolution was that they unite themselves in a social organism, such as must allow free play to many divergencies. For the convention to take direct action for the abolition of slavery was beyond the possibilities of the case. It was in making provision for the extension of the evil that it was untrue to its ideal, sacrificed its possibilities, and opened the door for the long domination of a mischievous element.
But the main work of the convention was well and wisely done. Not less fine was the self-control and sagacity with which the people and their leaders debated and finally adopted the new order. Advocates of a stronger govern
ment, like Hamilton, and champions of a more popular system, like Samuel Adams and Jefferson, sank their preferences and successfully urged their constituents to accept this as the best available settlement. Slavery played very little part in the popular discussions, and only a few keen observers like Madison read the portents in that quarter. The young nation was swept at once into difficulties and struggles in other directions.
A word, before we follow the history, as to the sentiments of the great leaders in this period. Broadly, they all viewed slavery as a wrong and evil; they looked hopefully for its early extinction; they recognized great difficulties in adapting the negro to conditions of freedom; and they were in general too much absorbed in other and pressing problems to direct much practical effort toward emancipation. Washington's view is nowhere better given than in the casual talk so graphically reported by Bernard. He desired universal liberty, but believed it would only come when the negroes were fit for it; at present they were as unqualified to live without a master's control as children or idiots. Washington's way was to look at facts and to deal with a situation as he found it, and not to try to order the world by general and abstract ideals. He was intensely practical, responsive to each present call of duty, and in his conception of duty taking wider and wider views as he was trained by years and experience. The incident which brought him and Bernard together was characteristic; if any chaise was upset in his neighborhood, trust Washington to have a hand in righting it! The natural reply to his talk about the negroes might have been: “Since you desire their freedom, but think them not fit for it, why not make a business—you and the country-of making them fit?” And the answer fairly might have been: “The country and I have as yet had too much else to do.” Besides his public,