Subsequently a proposition was moved for reckoning three-fifths of the slaves in estimating taxes, and making taxation the basis of representation, which was adopted.
Continuing The Constitutional Convention of the United States,
with a selection from The American Statesman by Andrew W. Young published in 1860. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in 6.5 easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Constitutional Convention of the United States
In settling a rule of apportionment, several questions were to be considered: What should be the number of representatives in the first branch of the Legislature? Ought the number from each State to be fixed, or to increase with the increase of population? Ought population alone to be the basis of apportionment, or should property be taken into account? Whatever rule might be adopted, no apportionment founded upon population could be made until an enumeration of the inhabitants should have been taken. The number of representatives was, therefore, for the time being, fixed at sixty-five, and apportioned as directed by the Constitution.
In establishing a rule of future apportionment, great diversity of opinion was expressed. Although slavery then existed in all the States except Massachusetts, the great mass of the slave population was in the Southern States. These States claimed a representation according to numbers, bond and free, while the Northern States were in favor of a representation according to the number of free persons only. This rule was forcibly urged by several of the Northern delegates. Mr. Paterson regarded slaves only as property. They were not represented in the States; why should they be in the General Government? They were not allowed to vote; why should they be represented? It was an encouragement of the slave trade. Said Mr. Wilson: “Are they admitted as citizens? Then why not on an equality with citizens? Are they admitted as property? Then why is not other property admitted into the computation?” A large portion of the members of the convention, from both sections of the Union, aware that neither extreme could be carried, favored the proposition to count the whole number of free citizens and three-fifths of all others.
Prior to this discussion, a select committee, to whom this subject had been referred, had reported in favor of a distribution of the members on the basis of wealth and numbers, to be regulated by the Legislature. Before the question was taken on this report, a proviso was moved and agreed to that direct taxes should be in proportion to representation. Subsequently a proposition was moved for reckoning three-fifths of the slaves in estimating taxes, and making taxation the basis of representation, which was adopted, New Jersey and Delaware against it, Massachusetts and South Carolina divided; New York not represented, her three delegates being all absent. Yates and Lansing, both of the State rights party, considering their powers explicitly confined to a revision of the confederation, and being chagrined at the defeat of their attempts to secure an equal vote in the first branch of the Legislature, had left the convention, not to return. From that time (July 11th) New York had no vote in the convention. Alexander Hamilton had left before the others, to be absent six weeks; and though he returned and took part in the deliberations, the State, not having two delegates present, was not entitled to a vote. On the 23d Gilman and Langdon, the delegates from New Hampshire, arrived, when eleven States were again represented.
The term of service of members of the first branch was reduced to two years, and of those of the second branch to six years; one-third of the members of the latter to go out of office every two years; the representation in this body to consist of two members from each State, voting individually, as in the other branch, and not by States, as under the confederation. Sundry other modifications were made in the provisions relating to this department.
The reported plan of the executive department was next considered. After much discussion, and several attempts to strike out the ineligibility of the executive a second time, and to change the term of office and the mode of election, these provisions were retained.
The report of the committee of the whole, as amended, was accepted by the convention, and, together with the New Jersey plan, and a third drawn by Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, was referred to a committee of detail, consisting of Messrs. Rutledge, Randolph, Gorham, Ellsworth, and Wilson, who, on August 6th, after an adjournment of ten days, reported the Constitution in proper form, having inserted some new provisions and altered certain others. Our prescribed limits forbid a particular account of the subsequent alterations which the Constitution received before it was finally adopted by the convention. There is one provision, however, which, as it forms one of the great “Compromises of the Constitution,” deserves notice.
To render the Constitution acceptable to the Southern States, which were the principal exporting States, the committee of detail had inserted a clause providing that no duties should be laid on exports, or on slaves imported; and another, that no navigation act might be passed except by a two-thirds vote. By depriving Congress of the power of giving any preference to American over foreign shipping, it was designed to secure cheap transportation to Southern exports. As the shipping was principally owned in the Eastern States, their delegates were equally anxious to prevent any restriction of the power of Congress to pass navigation laws. All the States, except North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, had prohibited the importation of slaves; and North Carolina had proceeded so far as to discourage the importation by heavy duties. The prohibition of duties on the importation of slaves was demanded by the delegates from South Carolina and Georgia, who declared that, without a provision of this kind, the Constitution would not receive the assent of these States. The support which the proposed restriction received from other States was given to it from a disposition to compromise, rather than from an approval of the measure itself. The proposition not only gave rise to a discussion of its own merits, but revived the opposition to the apportionment of representatives according to the three-fifths ratio, and called forth some severe denunciations of slavery.
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