John Hinrichs

John Hinrichs is a Certified Financial Planner in Bellaire, TX with 25 years experience in estate planning.

As a military historian, I believe slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War, with states’ rights occupying a second chair. Now that I have read Max Farrand’s records, I suggest that the two issues reversed at Philadelphia in 1787. I hope my classmates upon reading
my essay agree with this determination based upon the evidence presented herein. While this essay will only scratch the surface in its treatment of slavery and republicanism, certain seeds were arguably planted here for the abolition of slavery.

In the latter stages, remarks profited from the education secured by hearing almost four months of deliberation. Mr. Sherman (Farrand, II-588) of Connecticut on September 12 declared, “The State Declarations of Rights are not repealed by this Constitution.” The
Report of Committee of Style in its final report inscribed in the first paragraph the words “in order to form a more perfect union” (Farrand, II-590).

Before passage on September 17, Mr. Randolph, Mr. Gerry, and Mr. Mason on September 15 gave their reasons for not signing (Farrand, II-631-40). Mr. Randolph wanted to go to the State Conventions and then convene a second general convention. Mr. Gerry enumerated seven basic objections one of which was the Constitution has given away every mode of revenue from the States. Mr. Mason felt the document needed a Declaration of Rights for he
feared its aristocratic tenor. My purpose in mentioning these three delegates is because each one refused on an issue of states’ rights. Also, on September 17, 1787, the Convention finalized its letter to Congress advocating their prompt approval. The letter contended
the final document is in “the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence (Farrand, II-666-67). Although the nucleus of the original intent of the framers was union, they accommodated slavery with constituent
concepts of republicanism, still hastening the abolition of slavery without surrendering the importance of states’ rights.

Also, on September 17, 1787, the Convention finalized its letter to Congress advocating their prompt approval. The letter contended the final document is in “the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence (Farrand, II-666-67). Although the nucleus of the original intent of the framers was union, they accommodated slavery with constituent concepts of republicanism, still hastening the abolition of slavery without surrendering the importance of states’ rights. 

As Adair (1974, 137) noted in one of his essays assembled by Trevor Colbourn, “the delegates by looking at history made a ‘scientific’ attempt to discover the ‘constant and universal principles’ of any republican government in regard to liberty, justice, and stability.” This historian expounds upon how Americans in designing their Articles of Confederation actually established a new form of governance unknown at that time in Europe of Asia. When the Confederation encountered one calamity after another, the political thinkers questioned their decisions. These post-Revolutionary leaders sometimes looked at the Greek and Roman republics (Adair, 127-28). 

Modern theorists such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke were also contemplated. Professor William E. Nelson (1987, 466-67) writing exactly two hundred years after the Constitutional Convention says that in order to capture the spirit of reason at the Convention one needs to refer to Rousseau’s concept of the general will. According to Nelson (1987, 466), this concept was germane to their “debates on issues on which no one’s constituent interests were at stake such as the issue of guaranteeing a republican form of government to the states.” Our visiting professor, Ralph Ketcham (1993, 27) makes a helpful reference to John Locke, as follows: To the framers, to be a republic meant to be a self-governing community where representatives of the people made laws for the good of the nation as a whole. The essence, as Locke (the great fountain of republican ideology for the framers) put it, was that “every Man, by consenting with others to make one Body Politick under one Government, puts himself under an obligation to everyone in that Society, to submit to the Determination of the Majority.” Returning to Nelson (1987, 476), he remarks “that the delegates whether federalists or antifederalists agreed on the main ends of government. They wanted to protect civil liberty and felt some form of republican government was the best way to accomplish this.” 

Sean Wilentz (1992, 40-45) of Princeton University in putting together his documents and essays on the United States as an early republic included one by Isaac Kramnick entitled “The Discourse of Politics in 1787.” He discusses the ways federalists and antifederalists evaluated republicanism. Kramnick says, for example: “The Federalist tendency was to depict America in amoral terms as an enlarged nation that transcended local community and moral conviction as the focus of politics.” As to the antifederalists’ positions, he writes, “Most Antifederalists held that a republican system required similarity of religion, manners, sentiments, and interests.” Although these political postures are clearly different, the men assembled in Philadelphia were acutely aware of their failed governing experiment.

Thus, the overarching framework of republicanism was approved fairly easily when contrasted with other issues hotly debated, slavery being one of them. If a reader follows the treatment of republicanism through Max Farrand’s ([1911] 1966, I-22, I-231, II-49, II- 133 and II-174, II-188, and II-662) compilation, he or she will notice this progression. Mr. Randolph included it in his initial plan; the Committee of the whole House resolved it, Mr. Wilson’s better expression of the idea was passed without objection; Committees of Detail, I and II approved it; it appeared as XVII on the report of the Committee of detail on August 6, 1787; and most importantly, it is in the Constitution under Article IV, Section 4 as follows: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government... .” 

Ketcham (1993, 169-70) emphasizes the importance of republicanism. For him it is an “enduring principle of the Constitution because it addresses the fundamental question of how the nation shall be governed.” Ketcham (1993, 26-37) asserts that beginning with the Declaration of Independence and continuing with the new constitutions after 1776, “the undergirding proposition was always republican: government according to the consent of the governed.” He noted that the guaranty “meant that there could be no military or other arbitrary takeover of any state, nor could new states be admitted with other than self-governing constitutions.” He argues, “Another essential feature of republicanism was the insistence that government be by law.” He concludes, “Thus, the first principle of the Constitution is the practice of selfgovernment, government by consent, republicanism.” What did Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, eminent scholars of federalist and antifederalist polity, respectively, believe with respect to this? 

Hamilton included it as §8 of the Hamilton Plan (Farrand, III-630). Adair (1974, 166-67) points out that Hamilton was for an “elective monarch.” “Hamilton despaired of republicanism because of the size of the country and the turbulence.” The author observes, “The strength of Hamilton’s logical position lay in the fact that his proposal was the traditional, the standard, indeed, as history showed the only solution for the specific dangers of interclass and interstate conflict that were destroying the imperfect Union.” 

Turning to Madison, in a document written by him near the close of his life, and commenting on the forms of Republics, he wrote [antifederalists] “anxious for a System that wd avoid the inefficacy of a mere Confederacy without passing into the opposite extreme of a Consolidated govt. (Farrand, III-548-49). Madison expressed this idea early on at the Convention when on June 11, 1787, he moved an amendment for “guaranteeing by the United States the republican constitutions and existing laws of each state” (Farrand, I-206). However, Ketcham (1993, 31) captures Madison’s endgame by concluding that Madison was willing “to go ahead and seek remedies, republican remedies, that would diminish the bad results.” According to Adair (1974, 98-100), Madison unlike Hamilton saw “the great expanse of the country as the surest preservative of liberty, and that the preservation of the state governments could serve the cause of liberty and union.” After the political lives of Hamilton and Madison, the intrepid historian and political scientist from France, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century. What were a few of his observations on American republicanism in action? 

He wrote, “What one calls a republic in the United States is the tranquil reign of the majority.” He believed this concept of the republic was more deeply rooted than the union. Accordingly, de Tocqueville felt that Americans would have to abandon all their laws and mores in order to abolish its sustaining principle of republicanism. He saw this as something remote, but if possible at all, the transformation away from republicanism would be a “long social travail.” Due to its unique history, de Tocqueville did not see the creation of an aristocracy in America. He was concerned for the union since his travels revealed the sectional divisions, due primarily to the issues of slavery and states’ rights (de Tocqueville, 379-84).

Donald G. Nieman (Wilentz, 49) summarized in his article entitled “Slavery and the Constitution” how the slavery issue came to the forefront during the Convention. Nieman contends that “after the Revolution the ideals of liberty and equality came squarely into conflict with the realities of slavery and racial subordination, systems supported by powerful economic interests and entrenched social mores.” Nelson (1987, 459-60) in “his discussion of interest-group conflict points out an interesting process that occurred in PhiladelphiaComment [John F. H1]: namely that the delegates would compromise on important interests, slavery, for example. He observed “that the political process did advance the agenda of one interest-group over another.” One of Lynd’s essays steadfastly asserts, “The conclusion seems inescapable that any interpretation of the Constitution which stresses realty and personalty, large states and small states, or monarchy and democracy, but leaves slavery out, is an inadequate interpretation” (Lynd, 177-78). Freehling (1972, 83) in stronger language believes, “The master passion of the age was not extending liberty to blacks but with erecting republics for whites.” What was the crux of the argument on slavery espoused by different interestgroups during the discourse?

Before looking at Farrand’s records on the slavery debates, Nieman places the compromises in the historical context. He writes, “Constitutional reform and continued union were impossible without the support of southerners, and southern delegates were unwilling to accept constitutional provisions that threatened the economic well-being of the South and the existence of its powerful planter class” (Wilentz, 50). The delegates grappled with slavery in the following manner: (1) On June 11, 1787 Mr. King brought forth the question of representation in the first house according to some equitable ratio of representation. Mr. Wilson soon moved for counting slaves as three fifths to one free inhabitant. Mr. Gerry objected and said slaves were considered property so horses and oxen should be counted in the north (Farrand, I-205-6). (2) Madison discussed the great division between Northern and Southern. He even mentioned on June 30 counting the slaves as if free in determining representation for one house and not at all for representation in the other house (Farrand, I-486). Later on the discourse picked up considerably. (3) Mr. King was confounded by what he considered the unfairness in the report from the committee of detail. On August 8 he asked how exports are not to be taxed yet slaves are to be imported tax-free and even counted in the representation. Mr. King said states are pledged to protect each other, and this cost money. Mr. King concluded his remarks by saying, “At all events, either slaves should not be represented, or exports should be taxable” (Farrand, II-220). (4) On August 21 Mr. Martin, Mr. Rutlidge, Mr. Elseworth, and Mr. Pinkney all took the floor. Mr. Rutlidge said the importation of slaves helped the northern states since they were the carriers. Pinkney bluntly stated, “South Carolina can never receive the plan if it prohibits the slave trade” (Farrand, II-364). (5) Col. Mason on August 22 argued that the country should not increase slavery. He lamented the fact that the western lands were calling out for slaves to be imported through South Carolina and Georgia. He reminded the delegates of how the country avoided a disaster in its war of independence because the British government was unable to mobilize slave insurrections. Mr. Pinkney on the same day insisted, “If slavery is wrong, it is justified by the example of all the world.” Pinkney said Virginia had all the slaves she needed, but South Carolina and Georgia could not do without more slaves. Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Gerry, Mr. Dickenson, Mr. Williamson, and Mr. Sherman also weighed in on the debate (Farrand, II-370-74). Additional debates ensued until compromises were finally achieved.

According to Nelson (1987, 461), “the Great Compromise is well-known for giving each slave three-fifths of a white person, barring importation of slaves after but not before 1808, and permitting the taxation of imports but not exports.” Nieman (Wilentz, 50-1) reminds us that “slaves could not vote, so the three-fifths clause had nothing to do with recognizing slaves as persons. By increasing the representation, the Southern states had more members in the House of Representatives, and consequently, more presidential electors. Nieman claims this made the Constitution a proslavery document.” According to the essay in Lynd (1967, 174), “The Southern states had fewer people in 1787. However, their populations were increasing faster at this time so they expected to be “large” states in the future. This explains why they acquiesced on their initial demands for a two-thirds majority on commercial laws including navigation.” So with respect to the final product, how should it be weighed? There are some countervailing factors.

Kramnick (1992, 53-3) writes that several other features mitigated the concessions made to the slaveholders. He writes, “The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, passed by the Confederation Congress as the Constitutional Convention met, prohibited slavery in the territories north of the Ohio River. This gave Congress authority to circumscribe slavery from the western lands to the southeast. Later on the passage of the Bill of Rights included the guarantee of due process of law- and these rights were hostile to the arbitrary power essential to maintain slavery.” Freehling (1972, 82) insists “the Founding Fathers hardly put slavery on the road to ultimate distinction. He claims that no American Revolutionary could square the principles of the Declaration with the perpetuation of human bondage.” 

The intent of the delegates is characterized by this struggle with slavery (which just about torpedoed the Convention) juxtaposed against the concept of liberty. Is it inherent in the original intent of the delegates to advance or retard liberty? Would not the erection of a more powerful national government as many delegates forcibly contended preserve individual liberties against onslaughts by the state governments? 

On August 20 these propositions were referred for study to the committee of five: each house shall be the judge of its own privileges and have the authority to request guidance from the judiciary; the right of habeas corpus shall be sacrosanct except in extreme circumstances; liberty of the press; and restrictions on the military. Indeed, Randolph’s Plan had as one of its aims the preservation of liberty. 

Adair (1974, 361) noted “that the Revolution had committed Americans to republicanism.” According to abolitionist thinking, “After the Revolution certain constituencies would not cope with or imagine a genuinely multi-racial society, and many had an over-scrupulous regard for private property” (Lynd, 180-82). So the issue of states rights’ was before these leaders who had framed the Articles of Confederation and were called upon to rectify its shortcomings. 

Thirty-five of the fifty-five delegates subsidized the right to secede from the convention because they recognized how the Randolph Plan proposed a wholesale revision to the role of the states. The conflict between a national government and state governments is about taking control of peoples’ rights. George Washington in a letter to Alexander Hamilton dated July 10, 1787 declared, “The Men who oppose a strong & energetic government are, in my opinion, narrow minded politicians, or are under the influence of local views” (Farrand, III-56). “The irony is in the presumption of both sections that the South would obtain Congressional majority. Therefore, the Senate and not the House became the bulwark of the South,” claimed the essayist (Lynd, 174-5). 

Freehling (1972, 84-7) informs us about how Jefferson in 1784 drafted a congressional ordinance declaring slavery illegal in all Western territories. It missed passage by a single vote. This author gives a concise summary as follows: 

The ideological stance of Jefferson and other Founding Fathers on slavery, then, was profoundly ambivalent. On the one hand they were restrained by their overriding interest in creating the Union, by their concern for property rights, and by their visions of race war and miscegenation; on the other hand they embraced a revolutionary ideology that made emancipation inescapable. 

 Nieman (1992, 52) reports, “The framers, concerned more with union than with liberty, thus made freedom a matter of local option.” “It was better to let Southern states import slaves than to part with them [the Southern states],” claimed Nelson (1987, 464) in evaluating the remarks of Gouverneur Morris and Roger Sherman. Freehling (1972, 83) observes “that Deep South’s ultimatums were quickly met.” 

In reading Farrand’s records comparing debates about slavery with republicanism, I felt like many of the delegates including Madison and Hamilton believed the country was ultimately destined for monarchical rule. The staggering interest-group conflicts over slavery were accommodated through compromise. John Dickinson writing in early 1788 while ratification was underway endorsed the “varied representation of sovereignties and people in the constitution now proposed. He disagreed that the Senate was a mere compromise. He said it was an original substantive proposition. This in his opinion allowed his country with vast territory to be governed by a combination of republics with equal suffrage” (Farrand, III-304). Dickinson’s view coalesced around the regard for states’ rights that each delegate seemed to possess. Benjamin Franklin secured Mr. Wilson to read his final remarks on September 17. Franklin aptly noted “that when you assemble men for their joint wisdom you have to accept in the process their prejudices. He implored delegates to emphasize to constituents the real or apparent unanimity, and not personal objections” (Farrand, II-641- 44). In retrospect, I am amazed how they spliced together in four months discordant views on slavery and republicanism. Tocqueville reasoned that the union might splinter but republicanism would persist. This observation causes me to assess republicanism for most delegates as being their state jurisprudence. 

Similar articles you may also enjoy:

German Soldiers Deserted and Settled in America After the War of Independence

Historians believe that up to 5,000 German Mercenaries (Hessians) may have deserted and settled in America after the war for independance.

Benjamin Franklin and His Meld of Franco-American Interests Into Two Treaties

To what extent was Benjamin Franklin responsible for the first two treaties between France and America? Although an American victory at the battle of Saratoga and other factors contributed to the signing of the first two Franco-American treaties, a preponderance of the evidence points to Benjamin Franklin as the linchpin for the meld of national interests.

Political Leadership Under the Shadow of FDR

The president of the United States is the most powerful person on the face of the earth. Although the average American inattentively appraises presidential leadership, the president’s standing and legacy depends upon our consensus.

The Constitution and the Reconstructive Presidents

Abraham Lincoln understood that the U. S. Constitution broadly endowed him with the opportunity for leading his countrymen as their agent of political change.

You may also enjoy the previous article:

Credit Default Swaps: The Eye of the Credit Hurricane

CDSs are aimed at insuring their holders against defaults by the borrowers. The risk of default is transferred from the holder of the debt instrument to the seller of the CDS.

You may also enjoy the Next article:

Political Leadership Under the Shadow of FDR

The president of the United States is the most powerful person on the face of the earth. Although the average American inattentively appraises presidential leadership, the president’s standing and legacy depends upon our consensus.

This posting is tagged with: