Updated: Feb 27
Kathleen Wells - The Black American Family has been through a lot over the decades and even centuries. My long-held belief and byline have been how the Political Left, liberals, have misled and destroyed Black America. While I am not writing about the Saga by Alex Haley called Roots, there is a common struggle and a truth I want everyone to hear. The Naked Truth is always nuanced as the devil is always in the details. Too many people do not take the time to know the details. I always say this on the radio show.
There is a myth perpetuated by the Left and naturally embraced by the intellectuals, well-informed, also known as the Woke mob. How are we to understand the fact that in a nation committed to the principles of liberty, equality, natural rights, justice, and government by consent, with all those principles underpinning the nation, slavery persisted. And, not only persisted but became so entrenched that it took a vicious 4-year long civil war to dislodge it.
When examining the motivation and interest of the Founding Fathers in drafting the US Constitution, one cannot help but come away with the thought that they had a deeper and fuller understanding of human nature and life than people have today, despite today’s modern advances in technology.
What did the Founders think about slavery?
Are we to understand that because slavery survived, the Founders were indifferent to it or didn’t recognize they had a problem on their hands? Remember, Thomas Jefferson had remarked that the British had imposed slavery on America. In fact, when drafting the Declaration of Independence, because of dissent from delegates from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and northern interest in the transatlantic slave trade , Jefferson’s passage condemning slavery was omitted. Arguably, this passage removed was the most important passage of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s original passage on slavery appears below.
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
There is a mountain of evidence that indicates that the Founders knew that slavery was wrong in principle. Hamilton and Madison, for instance, both referred to slaves as men. This is a critical insight because if slaves were men that means, they have inalienable natural rights and that means that slavery could only rest on the basis of positive law and therefore by definition slavery is an injustice and they understood this.
When talking about a program to enlist slaves in the Continental Army, Alexander Hamilton wrote in a letter to Chief Justice John Jay during March 1779, “I foresee that this project will have to combat much opposition from prejudice and self-interest. The contempt we have been taught to entertain for blacks makes us fancy many things that are founded in neither reason nor experience.”
Hamilton placed prejudice and self-interest on one hand and reason and experience in the other hand. We also know from studying the founding and the Constitution, that we are to be guided by reason and experience.
Thomas Jefferson in one of the most famous statements on slavery to come out of the American founding wrote in his notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18, explaining that slavery was at war with human nature and justice writing, “it’s bad for the slaves because [slavery] teaches them to hate their country and [slavery] teaches them to lack self-assertion but [slavery] is also bad for masters because [slavery] teaches masters to become tyrants, [slavery] warps them, [slavery] teaches them to have contempt for the rights of other human beings. And, once they learn to have contempt for their slaves, they then transfer that and learn to have contempt for others who are not slaves. And finally, it’s bad for society, for the country, as a whole.”
Jefferson said we are so wrong on the question of slavery that it is certain that God will punish us if we don’t get it right. He wrote, “if it ever came down to a contest between slaves and masters over the future of the country, the Almighty has no attribute which can take sides with us in a contest.”
We can see that the Founding Fathers understood that they had a colossal problem on their hands, that slavery was a massive injustice and they understood slavery as such. Today, the so-called Woke mob has not read the primary documents of the Founding Fathers.
To say the Founders didn’t end slavery altogether is not the same as saying they did not do anything about it, at all. During the founding and early American period, 9 states became free. All were the original states North of Maryland from Pennsylvania Northward abolished slavery in one way or another. Sometimes that abolishment was immediate, as in Massachusetts and sometimes it was gradual, as in New Jersey, which according to the 1860 Census, New Jersey had a few legal slaves on the brink of the Civil War. Also, remember when Thomas Jefferson drafted the Northwest Ordinance, his desire was to have slavery abolished in all states, however, New Jersey was the state that prevented that from coming to fruition.
If one looks to the Constitution itself, one notice’s that conspicuously absent from the entire Constitution, including the provisions that deal directly with slavery, is the word, “slave.” James Madison, Frederick Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln all came to the same conclusion as to why this was the case. The Founders did not want to taint the document with any implication that slavery existed. If anyone would come along in the future without having any particular knowledge of our history or politics, they could read our original Constitution and not know that slavery had been a part of it.
If one turns to particular provisions in the Constitution, that deal with slavery, one can also see ambiguities and compromises that reflect the Founder's desire to see slavery gradually removed from our society.
With the 3/5th Clause in Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, that number 3/5th was not indicative of some judgment about the human value of slaves or the monetary value of slave labor. That would be something the Left and most Black Americans may widely believe, however, the clause was simply a compromise. One can imagine that pro-slavery states in the South wanted their slaves counted as 5/5th’s so that they would have a majority to push their pro-slavery agenda in Congress.
Congress under the Articles of Confederation had attempted to adopt the 3/5ths ratio and had gotten 11 states to approve it. But amending the Articles of Confederation required all 13 states. So, when they got to the Continental Congress where they knew they would only need 9 states to approve the 3/5ths ratio, they knew they had enough states to get the 3/5th ratio beyond the ratification hurdle and would not need to actually amend the Constitution.
Just think today, the issues faced with Biden’s Build Back Better legislation and compare that to members in Congress starting a new country independent from King George.
Today, we can see in Congress how one has to compromise to get anything substantial achieved and Congress back in the 1780s was much more effective than Congress today in 2021.
The Importation Clause in Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution was looked upon by many people, as a death sentence for slavery, because it was widely believed at the time, that slave populations could not be self-sustaining. In other words, only continual importation could allow slavery to survive. So many people such as James Wilson believed that cutting off the slave trade stopped slavery itself. This proved to be true, in many places. Remember, at this time many countries practiced slavery, including Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. In fact, Nigerian Igbos buried their Osu’s slaves alive, which is indicated in the article in The New Yorker titlted, My Great-Great-Grandfather the Nigerian Slave Trader. However, many Black Americans seem to not understand this fully. And, many Black Americans tend to think African slaves were treated as family members. Is burying a slave alive, familial? In other words, one would want to see their slave in the afterlife because they loved them so much or as indicted in the article the slave master wanted the slave to still work for the master in the afterlife.
Even though cutting off the importation of slaves worked in other countries, that action did not work in America. In America, slavery was self-sustaining.
The Fugitive Slave Clause, Article 4, Section 2, of the Constitution, which allows for slaves to be returned to their masters upon a claim of that master or his agent was ambiguous because the clause simply says that the slave shall be delivered up. However, the clause never says delivered up by whom. That is to say, the clause did not impose an affirmative obligation upon the federal government or anybody else to return those slaves.
Finally, if one is looking at what the Founders did about slavery perhaps the most important action was to pass a piece of legislation called the Northwest Ordinance. Now laws under the Articles of Confederation were called ordinances, but the Northwest Ordinance was also repassed, by Congress, after the ratification of the Constitution.
The Northwest territory is present-day: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. The Northwest Ordinance was significant because the entire area was under federal jurisdiction with regard to slavery — pro slavery states could not affect slavery in those states. Also, pro-slavery states could not affect slavery in the Southwestern territories because agreements had been made with North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia to give up their Western land claims since they would not outlaw slavery in the Southwest territories.
So, the Northwest Territories was the full area over which the federal government could control slavery and the Northwest Ordinance banned it in perpetuity and it was passed by a large margin in Congress, both times, under both forms of government.
Finally, the language used for the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Ordinance became the basis for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery nationwide by the Constitutional amendment. So, many things were done to restrict slavery, and as Lincoln would later say that would hem it in within the narrowest limits of necessity.
Why Did The Founders Not Do More?
There are several reasons why and the first is self-interest, which is part of the human condition. It doesn’t make it right, but it helps us to understand why they did what they did. Many people believed, rightly or wrongly, that slavery was essential for their livelihood. It is very difficult to get people to ignore what they perceive to be a critical interest for the sake of an abstract principle. Continuing slavery does not make slavery right but the socio-economics help us to understand.
Another reason was survival, not economic, but literal and physical survival. Despite all of the claims slavery apologists later made that slaves were content in their conditions, slave owners and slave owner communities, at the time of the drafting of the Constitution, lived in perpetual terror of slave insurrections and there were plenty examples; Stono’s Rebellion, Denmark Vessey’s conspiracy, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, and the rebellion on the island of Santa Domingo, present-day Haiti, which led to a 10-decade long civil war, which was incredibly brutal on both sides. The Founders were desperate to avoid an insurrection or civil war.
The third reason why the Founders didn’t do more was that they were greatly concerned for the survival of the Union. Certain states, particularly South Carolina and Georgia, had made it abundantly clear that if the delegates at the Constitutional Convention tried to outlaw slavery in the Constitution, that they would leave and would set up an independent republic or republics as separate states, and this in the eyes of the Founders was a disaster in the making. Washington’s farewell address and early essays of the Federalist Papers dealt directly with the importance of a Union to preserving the liberty of all. They were terrified that America would turn into Europe, Jr., i.e., a bunch of feuding, small, tribalized nations. And even worse we would become a client state of various European powers and they would use America as proxy warriors for their own benefit. So the Founders were forced with the choice: should we end slavery and force disunion or do we preserve the Union and tolerant slavery, at least for the time being. They chose to preserve and establish the Union first.
One must ask, knowing what we know now, what would have happened to the slaves of South Carolina and Georgia if South Carolina had not stayed in the Union. It took a violent civil war to end slavery in those states and other states. The Founders were optimistic. Why? Because a lot of progress had been achieved. America was the first nation to declare, as a people, that slavery was bad for everyone and that every man should be free. Not just for Americans or you or your friends, but for everyone, the world over. This concept was momentous. They declared this principle and it was no coincidence that all this was happening, at the same time, in the 1780s, when people began to think about the laws of nature and nature’s God and justice, equality, liberty, and natural rights.
Black America has the ability in the people to make the necessary changes that improve our own lives. We do not need liberals or the Woke Mob to tell us anything. We can take it upon ourselves to read the primary documents of the Founding Fathers, in order to get a deeper and fuller understanding of America and her principles and history. We do not need liberals to take action for us. If America's founding persists then we have all the tools we need to do the right thing. Of course, there are no guarantees on results but the results are not possible without our efforts.