Slavery and The Constitution

Notes from the Constitutional Convention on the slave trade, August 21, 1787

Background: During the Constitutional Convention, James Madison took notes on what the participants said. This portion of his notes focuses on the debate about the slave trade.

Directions: Read the summary of Madison's notes. As you read, identify whether the speaker is for or against the slave trade.

Mr. Luther Martin (of Maryland) ...It was inconsistent (opposed; goes against) with the principles of the revolution and dishonorable to the American character to have such a feature (the slave trade) in the Constitution.

Mr. John Rutledge (of South Carolina) ...The true question at present is whether the Southern states shall or shall not be parties to the Union. If the Northern states consult their interest, they will not oppose the increase of slaves, which will increase the commodities (goods; products) of which they will become the carriers.

Mr. Oliver Ellsworth (of Connecticut) ...Let every state import what it pleases. The morality (worthiness) or wisdom of slavery are considerations belonging to the states themselves...The old Confederation had not meddled (interfered) with this point, and he did not see the (need) for bringing it within the policy of the new one.

...Let us not intermeddle (interfere). As population increases, poor laborers will be so plenty as to render slaves useless. Slavery, in time, will not be a speck in our country.

Mr. Charles Pinckney (of South Carolina)... South Carolina can never receive the plan if it prohibits the slave trade.

...South Carolina and Georgia cannot do without slaves. As to Virginia, she will gain by stopping the importations...He admitted that it would be reasonable that slaves should be taxed like other imports; but should consider a rejection of the clause as an exclusion of South Carolina from the Union.

Mr. Roger Sherman (of Connecticut)...He disapproved of the slave trade; yet as the states were now possessed of the right to import slaves, and as it was expedient (useful) to have as few objections as possible to the proposed government, he thought it best to leave the matter as we find it. He observed that the abolition (end) of slavery seemed to be going on in the United States...

Col. George Mason (of Virginia) ...This infernal (evil) slave trade originated in the avarice (greed) of British merchants...The present question concerns not the importing states alone, but the whole Union....Maryland and Virginia he said, had already prohibited the importation of slaves expressly. North Carolina had done the same in substance. All this would be in vain if South Carolina and Georgia be at liberty to import. The Western people are already calling for slaves for their new lands....(slavery) brings the judgment of Heaven on a country....He held it essential in every point of view, that the general government should have power to prevent the increase of slavery.

Look at the chart below and answer the following questions.

Article 1 - The Legislative Branch

Section 9 - Limits on Congress
The Migration (movement) or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited (stopped) by the
Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Writing a Thesis and Supporting it with Evidence

A thesis is the main argument of a piece of historical writing. It is what you want the reader of your paper to believe. To help make your thesis convincing, you will need to support your argument with evidence and analysis. Evidence and its analysis are the facts, examples, ideas and “proof” you use to back up your argument. In history evidence should largely come from the primary source documents you are studying.

A. Models of a thesis statement with a preview of evidence
1) Los Angeles is a good place to live because it has nice weather, lots of entertainment, and interesting people.
2) Los Angeles is a terrible place to live because it has far too many people, too much violent crime, and is too expensive.

What are you noticing about these two examples?

B. An example of a thesis relating to an historical topic
The Roman Empire declined due to barbarian invasions, corrupt leaders, and economic problems.

What do you notice about this example?

C. Practice
Respond to the following question by copying the text and filling in the blanks.

Should students study history in middle school?

Students __________________________ study history in middle school because ____________________________________, _________________________________, and ________________________________________________________ .

Respond to the following question by writing a thesis statement with three supporting pieces of evidence.

Who was the most important person in American history?

What questions do you still have about thesis statements and evidence?

The Founders and the Slave Trade

Background: In 1787 twelve states sent delegates to Philadelphia for a Constitutional Convention. The delegates at the Constitutional Convention disagreed about many issues. One issue that they disagreed about was the slave trade. By reading the debates on the slave trade and Article 1 Section 9 of the Constitution, you can see what the Founders thought and decided about the slave trade. Based on these two sources, answer the following question.

Prompt: Were the Founders for or against the slave trade?

Task: Write a paragraph in which you:
1. Write a clear thesis statement that addresses the question.
2. Provide at least three pieces of evidence from the documents to support your argument.

Suggested Vocabulary: (Use at least 5 of the words in your paragraph)
slave trade
political or politics