Many of the founding fathers and framers of the constitution were vehemently opposed to slavery, yet even though the constitution never mentions slavery by name even once, it contains several protections of the nefarious institution.Southern states were afraid the north would outnumber them in congress, and needed a way to boost their numbers despite having a smaller voting population.The awful solution was to give southern states extra congressmen as if three fifths of their slave populations were actually citizens.The three-fifths compromise did not say black people were only partially human. It had nothing to do with the slaves, and everything to do with giving their owners extra votes. To protect that extra voting power, the constitution prohibited regulation of the slave trade until 1808, and also prohibited free states from emancipating runaway slaves who reached their borders.By making these concessions, the framers avoided the real issues, and sowed the seeds of civil war and social scars that are still unhealed.

So the guy in pink is the younger Pinckney, of South Carolina. (I’m so clever, I know.) And pipe guy is Oliver Ellsworth. You’ve already met most of the other speakers — Gouverneur Morris in the very dark suit and a Caesar haircut, Gov. Rutledge in the various shades of green, James Madison in blue and gray, Alexander Hamilton in a cameo role, and James Wilson in blue and yellow. (If you ever read their dialogue aloud, Wilson was from a little village outside St. Andrews, and I always imagine him with a soft Fife Scots accent.)

It can’t be helped, but some very admirable people said some exceedingly distasteful things here. And shameless advocates of slavery said some possibly sensible things, for that matter. People, right? Impossible to direct. Always breaking character.

I know I mentioned at the beginning of this topic that most law students are never even assigned to read the Constitution itself. But THIS stuff? If you happen to be a law student, and your professor has gone into anything we’ve touched on in this chapter, count yourself very lucky indeed. We’re not going to spend a whole lot more time on what the Framers were thinking, before diving into the juicy modern-day stuff. But I firmly believe it’s impossible to have a meaningful discussion about what the Constitution says if you don’t know what it was TRYING to say.

Also, I purposely excluded discussion of the fugitive slave clause in Article IV Section 2 (third clause, the one that says free states can’t emancipate runaway slaves who reach their territory, etc.) You’d think it fits in with the whole 1808 thing, as yet another guarantee to preserve those precious extra seats in Congress… except it doesn’t. To give it the correct context, I’d have had to get into the whole privileges and immunities thing, delve into the Northwest Ordinance story, and we’d have an even longer digression of this already long digression! But yes, that’s another bloody stupid protection of slavery they included.

And all of those protections were very carefully drafted so as not to use the actual¬†word “slavery.” They truly thought they were being clever, hiding it like that. The three-fifths compromise they buried three deep, in references to other references! For the sake of historical accuracy, here is a list of every American at the time who failed to grasp precisely what this language meant:

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