By such a course of thought and reading, I was conducted to the conclusion that the Constitution of the United States—inaugurated ‘to form a more perfect union, establish justice, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty’—could not have been designed at the same time to maintain and perpetuate a system of rapine and murder like slavery, especially as not one word ban be found in the Constitution to authorize such a belief. Then again, if the declared purposes of an instrument are to govern the meaning of all its parts and details, as they clearly should, the Constitution of our country is a warrant for the abolition of slavery in every State of the Union.
Douglass took a more advanced view of the Constitution even than President Abraham Lincoln. But Lincoln agreed with Douglass that the Constitution should be interpreted in light of its principles, not in terms of the limited but necessary compromises the Founders were forced to make with the “peculiar institution” of slavery as it existed among them.
Even the Three-Fifths Compromise has been notoriously misconstrued in our own time. Al Gore has wildly claimed that the Founders thought black people “three-fifths of a person.” No such thing. It was a straight-out compromise between slaveholders and the anti-slavery majority of the delegates.
The Three-Fifths Compromise meant that whenever a state abolished slavery on its own—as seven of the original thirteen were hastening to do when the Constitution was drafted and ratified—it would get a “bonus” in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Upon emancipation, it would be allowed to count fully all its citizens for purposes of representation.
Abraham Lincoln said it best. The Founders never mentioned the words slave or Negro, or even identified the horrible Slave Trade as coming from Africa because they wanted to “hide it away, as an afflicted man hides away a wen or a tumor.” Lincoln ’s careful study of the Founders’ work convinced him that they were ashamed of the institution and longed for its “eventual extinction.” They didn’t just long for its end, they took positive steps to arrest its spread.
The Constitutional Convention was no conspiracy against any Americans’ rights. It was truly a Miracle at Philadelphia . And the TEA Party movement, by bringing us back to our constitutional roots, is doing a great and good service to all Americans.
Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are Senior Fellows at Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. They have advocated replacing the statue of Roger B. Taney in front of the Maryland State House with one of Frederick Douglass.