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Things to Know about Slavery in the Constitution

Before there was a United States of America, in the 18th Century, we were 13 independent British colonies. Each had a charter from either the King of England, or the British Parliament. Each colony had a Governor appointed by the British Crown, and a colonial legislature elected by the male citizens who owned property. English Common Law, the law in Britain itself, was the form of law shared by the colonies.

After the French and Indian War, that ended in 1763, Britain wanted to recover their costs for the war by levying taxes on the colonies. These tax laws were passed by the British Parliament, but only applied to the colonies. Since the colonists had no representation in the British Parliament, they felt that these taxes were illegal. We’ve all heard the chant “No taxation without representation!”


What followed was over a decade of protests by the colonists, to which the British responded with increasingly harsh measures. For the most part, the colonial rebellion had its roots in the northern colonies; the North depended more on trade than on farming, and were more subject to the tax increases.

In 1774, a Continental Congress was formed in Philadelphia to consider the various options available to the colonies. In the end, representatives of the 13 colonies agreed that the colonies must separate from Britain, and form our own Country. In 1776, the Continental Congress published the colonies’ Declaration of Independence, and our Revolutionary War officially began.


While the Continental Congress was able to agree to declare our independence from Britain, there was one significant area of disagreement that had to be resolved: the northern states wanted to declare that all citizens are free, and put an end to slavery, but the southern colonies refused to participate in the revolution if they could not keep their slaves.

With great reluctance, the northern colonies agreed to strike the slavery clause; winning our independence from Britain must be achieved, and all 13 colonies were needed to accomplish that. Dealing with slavery in the constitution would have to come later.


Things to Know about Slavery in this Country

Even as our Revolutionary War was being fought, representatives of the 13 colonies once again gathered in Philadelphia and formed the Second Continental Congress. In November, 1777, the “Articles of Confederation” were sent to the 13 States (né colonies) for ratification. While the Articles were ratified on March 1, 1781, it soon became clear that the Articles as written would never work. The States, having been virtually robbed of their freedom while under British rule, created a “Federal Government” that had virtually no power.


And so, the Constitutional Convention was formed on May 15, 1787. While their initial mandate was to modify the Articles, they quickly agreed that an entirely new document, our Constitution, must be created. The completed Constitution was ratified by the State Legislatures in 1788, and became the controlling document of our Country in 1789. The words of the Preamble are historic:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


Note that “We the people...” are the authors of our Constitution, and it can be considered the book of rules that our Federal Government is required to abide by. Our Constitution was not shoved down our throats by a king, a dictator, or a group of elite, privileged individuals who held a special station in life granted by birth or obtained by force.

This doesn’t mean that all the Convention members were in total agreement. We still had the sharp difference of opinion between the pro-slavery Southern States, and the anti-slavery Northern States.


As a new Nation, just coming into existence, we needed all 13 States to support our Constitution, and be available if any foe were to attack. A compromise was arranged wherein each slave in the slave states would only count as 3/5 of a person. The south initially didn’t want the slaves to count for anything. The object was to apply political pressure on the slave states because each freed slave would add to the state’s count of representatives in the House. None of the slave states ever exercised their option to increase their House membership. While very unpleasant, the “free” states had to accept slavery in the southern states.

This aberration continued until 11 southern states seceded from the Union in 1860 and 1861. While slavery was still legal in the Southern states, and illegal in the North, the real issue was the matter of slavery in the new states opening up in the west. Naturally, the South wanted more slave states, and the North wanted not just the admittance of new states as free, but the elimination of slavery throughout our Country. The first battle of our Civil War was the South’s attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.


What Are the Main Progressive vs Conservative Differences?

When it comes to progressive vs conservative ideologies, it is worth mentioning that these ideologies have little in common. While both forms appear to accept our Constitution as the controlling document, the progressives seek to re-interpret or re-write areas that were written by the Framers. During the 231 years since our Constitution was ratified, there have been a number of progressive decisions by the Supreme Court that have significantly departed from the Framer’s intent, in each case moving our Country toward progressive or socialist ideology.


Conservative ideology:
• Small Federal Government limited by a list of Enumerated Powers, with everything else handled by the States or citizens themselves.
• A very strong National Defense capability.
• Minimum Federal Government involvement in the National Economy.
• Personal freedom to achieve personal goals, and the responsibility to provide for one’s self.
• Enforce fundamental Rights granted by our Federal Constitution, or by the Almighty.

Progressive or Socialist Ideology:
• Large Federal Government with unlimited powers of governance.
• A minimum National Defense capability.
• Guaranteed income established by the Government, and no personal responsibility.
• Transfer of wealth from the successful and industrious to those who produce little, if anything.
• Approve and fund abortion with taxpayer dollars, more than 2 sexes, and any-sex marriage.


When it comes to the dichotomy of progressive vs conservative, it is worth mentioning that conservatives advocate individual liberty and responsibility, which they consider to be the main rights and obligations of free people. This was accomplished by the Framers in the Constitution by limiting the Federal Government to the Enumerated Powers, listed in Article 1, Section 8. Unfortunately, at various times, the Supreme Court issued activist rulings that altered the meaning of sections of the Constitution. Most of our current National challenges are due to such decisions.

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