The Constitutional Convention — Lesson Plan for Act III

 

by Natalie Bolton and Gordon Lloyd

Introduction:

To assist teachers in teaching the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Professor Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University has created a website in collaboration with the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University on the Constitutional Convention. Professor Lloyd organizes the content of the Constitutional Convention in various ways on the website. Four lesson plans have been created to align with the content the Constitutional Convention as a Four Act Drama. Within each lesson students will use Madison’s daily Notes of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as their primary source for acquiring content.

Act Three focuses on the debates during August over the Committee of Detail Report, especially concerning the itemization and limitation of Congressional powers. With the Connecticut Compromise in place, the delegates turned from the question of structure to the question of national and state powers. Under the Virginia Plan, Congress was empowered to do anything the States were incompetent to do. By July, that was no longer acceptable to the delegates. A Committee was created to draft a Constitution–the Committee of Detail–that would address the division of powers between the central and state governments and also the separation of powers between Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court.

Another issue that emerged in Act Three is the slavery question and that is the focus of this lesson. What could Congress do and not do to regulate and/or abolish slavery? This is a vital question and deserves special coverage. It is instructive to compare the clause in the Committee of Detail Report of August 6 with the Signed Constitution of September 17. The former forbids Congress from ever regulating the slave trade and prohibits Congress from discouraging the trade by means of a tax or tariff. By contrast the final Constitution limits the prohibition on Congress until 1808 and permits Congress to discourage the slave trade. In March 1807, President Jefferson signed into law an Act of Congress prohibiting the slave trade effective January 1, 1808, and during the 1790s Congress took specific steps to discourage the importation of Africans for the purpose of being sold into slavery.

(Act Three description taken from: www.teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/intro.html)

Guiding Question:

Lesson 3: How did the delegates during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 address the issue of slavery?

Learning Objectives:

After completing this lesson, students should be able to:

  1. Analyze how the Framers did or did not address the issue of slavery during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
  2. Explain the compromises over slavery made during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Background Information for the Teacher:

The Slave Trade

No issue is more in need of careful consideration than the slavery question, because no issue is more likely to impeach the entire Founding enterprise than the slavery issue. Unfortunately, historians have a way of reading history backwards rather than forwards and when we read the slavery issue backwards it looks like in the most critical area–Article I, Section 9 on the Slave Trade–the delegates are unequivocally and perpetually endorsing the institution of slavery. It is as if Judge Roger Taney, in the Dred Scott Case–the Constitution embraces the perpetual enslavement of African Americans–has the story correct and Abraham Lincoln, in his debates with Douglas–the Framers intended to put slavery in the course of ultimate extinction–has it all wrong. There is no evidence that either Taney or Lincoln read Madison’s Notes. When we turn to the evidence in Madison’s Notes, which position makes more sense?

We need to ask a prior question: how did Article I, Section 9 get to be the way it is? Was there unanimity among the delegates, was there even a discussion, and if, so, was there anybody who put up the slightest resistance to the continuation of slavery?

On August 6, the Committee of Detail Report was presented to the delegates. Article VII, Section 1 itemized the powers of Congress and sections two through seven placed limitations on the powers of Congress. Section 4 stated that:

No tax or duty shall be laid by the Legislature… on the migration or importation of such persons as the several States shall think proper to admit; nor shall such migration or importation be prohibited.

This is clearly a slaveholder’s document: Congress is forbidden forever from prohibiting the slave trade and any incentive through taxation is also prohibited. This section is the result of a demand from the North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia delegations to think practically rather than in terms of humanity and religion.

On September 17, the delegates signed the Constitution, Article I, Section 9 of which states the following: The Migration or Importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such importation. Note that the final version permits Congress to eliminate the slave trade in 1808–which it did effective January 1, 1808–and permits Congress in the meantime to discourage the trade by taxation. Also the final version limits the Congressional prohibition to the existing States thus inviting the future restriction of slavery in the territories. In this regard, it is important to note that the Confederation Congress restricted slavery in the Northwest Territories in exchange for the return of fugitive slaves. The delegates adopt this Ordinance solution as part of Article IV.

What took place between August 6 and September 17? Rutledge of South Carolina argued on August 21, “Interest alone is the governing principle with Nations. The true question at present is whether the Southern States shall or not be parties of the Union.” Sherman and Ellsworth, moreover, recommended not making the slave trade a divisive issue: “Slavery in time will not be a speck in our Country.” Luther Martin disagreed: slavery “was inconsistent with the principles of the revolution.” On August 22, Mason supported Martin’s position: “Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a Country.” Dickinson, from Delaware, considered slavery “as inadmissible on every principle of honor & safety.” And Randolph stated, “he could never agree to the clause as it stands.”

On August 25, the delegates received a Committee compromise recommendation to permit Congress to prohibit the slave trade in 1800. Pinckney moved to alter this to 1808. Madison’s response was prophetic: “twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves.” The first time the slavery issue was raised in the convention is by Madison on June 6. There in his itemization of the causes of faction, or the unjust use of power, he says “that we have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.” G. Morris from Pennsylvania, on August 25, was rather blunt: why not say that this part of the Constitution was a compliance with… North Carolina, South Carolina & Georgia.”

The delegates agreed to the 1808 prohibition by a vote of Ayes 7, Noes 4. The 4 noes were New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia and they voted “no” because they thought that 1808 was too compromising. Lincoln, and not Taney, has the weight of the Founders on his side of the argument.

Northwest Ordinance, Article VI, July 13, 1787

(Slavery excluded in territories and Fugitive Slave Clause)

There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed, and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.

June 6 (Slave question raised by Madison in relation to causing faction. Madison returns to this idea on June 30)

Madison– All civilized Societies would be divided into different Sects, Factions, & interests, as they happened to consist of rich & poor, debtors & creditors, the landed, the manufacturing, the commercial interests, the inhabitants of this district or that district, the followers of this political leader or that political leader, the disciples of this religious Sect or that religious Sect. In all cases where a majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger. What motives are to restrain them? A prudent regard to the maxim that honesty is the best policy is found by experience to be as little regarded by bodies of men as by individuals. Respect for character is always diminished in proportion to the number among whom the blame or praise is to be divided. Conscience, the only remaining tie, is known to be inadequate in individuals: In large numbers, little is to be expected from it. Besides, Religion itself may become a motive to persecution & oppression.… We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man. What has been the source of those unjust laws complained of among ourselves? Has it not been the real or supposed interest of the major number? Debtors have defrauded their creditors. The landed interest has borne hard on the mercantile interest. The Holders of one species of property have thrown a disproportion of taxes on the holders of another species. The lesson we are to draw from the whole is that where a majority are united by a common sentiment, and have an opportunity, the rights of the minor party become insecure. In a Republican Govt. the Majority if united have always an opportunity. The only remedy is to enlarge the sphere, & thereby divide the community into so great a number of interests & parties, that in the 1st. place a majority will not be likely at the same moment to have a common interest separate from that of the whole or of the minority; and in the 2d. place, that in case they shd. have such an interest, they may not be6 apt to unite in the pursuit of it. It was incumbent on us then to try this remedy, and with that view to frame a republican system on such a scale & in such a form as will controul all the evils wch. have been experienced.

June 11 (3/5 Clause introduced and accepted)

The clause concerning the rule of suffrage in the natl. Legislature postponed on Saturday was resumed.

Mr. SHARMAN proposed that the proportion of suffrage in the 1st. branch should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second branch or Senate, each State should have one vote and no more. He said as the States would remain possessed of certain individual rights, each State ought to be able to protect itself: otherwise a few large States will rule the rest. The House of Lords in England he observed had certain particular rights under the Constitution, and hence they have an equal vote with the House of Commons that they may be able to defend their rights.

Mr. RUTLIDGE proposed that the proportion of suffrage in the 1st. branch should be according to the quotas of contribution. The justice of this rule he said could not be contested. Mr. BUTLER urged the same idea: adding that money was power; and that the States ought to have weight in the Govt. in proportion to their wealth.

Mr. KING & Mr. WILSON, in order to bring the question to a point moved “that the right of suffrage in the first branch of the national Legislature ought not to be according2 the rule established in the articles of Confederation, but according to some equitable ratio of representation.” The clause so far as it related to suffrage in the first branch was postponed in order to consider this motion.

Mr. DICKENSON contended for the actual contributions of the States as the rule of their representation & suffrage in the first branch. By thus connecting the interests of the States with their duty, the latter would be sure to be performed.

Mr. KING remarked that it was uncertain what mode might be used in levying a national revenue; but that it was probable, imposts would be one source of it. If the actual contributions were to be the rule the non-importing States, as Cont. & N. Jersey, wd. be in a bad situation indeed. It might so happen that they wd. have no representation. This situation of particular States had been always one powerful argument in favor of the 5 Per Ct. impost.

……

On the question for agreeing to Mr. Kings and Mr. Wilsons motion it passed in the affirmative Massts. ay. Ct. ay. N. Y. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. divd. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.9

It was then moved by Mr. RUTLIDGE 2ded. by Mr. BUTLER to add to the words “equitable ratio of representation” at the end of the motion just agreed to, the words “according to the quotas of contribution.” On motion of Mr. WILSON seconded by Mr. C. PINCKNEY, this was postponed; in order to add, after, after the words “equitable ratio of representation” the words following “in proportion to the whole number of white & other free Citizens & inhabitants of every age sex & condition including those bound to servitude for a term of years and three fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, except Indians not paying taxes, in each State,” this being the rule in the Act of Congress agreed to by eleven States, for apportioning quotas of revenue on the States, and requiring a Census only every 5-7, or 10 years.

Mr. GERRY thought property not the rule of representation. Why then shd. the blacks, who were property in the South, be in the rule of representation more than the Cattle & horses of the North.

On the question,–Mass: Con: N. Y. Pen: Maryd. Virga. N. C. S. C. & Geo: were in the affirmative:10 N. J. & Del: in the negative. 10

Mr. SHARMAN moved that a question be taken whether each State shall have one vote in the 2d. branch. Every thing he said depended on this. The smaller States would never agree to the plan on any other principle than an equality of suffrage in this branch. Mr. ELSWORTH seconded the motion. On the question for allowing each State one vote in the 2d. branch.

Massts. no. Cont. ay. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no.11

Mr. WILSON & Mr. HAMILTON moved that the right of suffrage in the 2d. branch ought to be according to the same rule as in the 1st. branch. On this question for making the ratio of representation the same in the 2d. as in the 1st. branch it passed in the affirmative:

Massts. ay. Cont. no. N. Y. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.12

Resol: 11,13 for guarantying Republican Govt. & territory to each State being considered: the words “or partition” were, on motion of Mr. MADISON, added, after the words “voluntary junction:”

Mas. N. Y. P. Va. N. C. S. C. G. ay14 Con: N. J. Del. Md. no. 14

June 30 (Prior to the Connecticut Compromise, Madison states that the representation question was not a large state vs. small state issue but rather a northern vs. southern divide because of slavery)

Madison– But he contended that the States were divided into different interests not by their difference of size, but by other circumstances; the most material of which resulted partly from climate, but principally from the effects of their having or not having slaves. These two causes concurred in forming the great division of interests in the U. States. It did not lie between the large & small States: It lay between the Northern & Southern, and if any defensive power were necessary, it ought to be mutually given to these two interests. He was so strongly impressed with this important truth that he had been casting about in his mind for some expedient that would answer the purpose. The one which had occurred was that instead of proportioning the votes of the States in both branches, to their respective numbers of inhabitants computing the slaves in the ratio of 5 to 3, they should be represented in one branch according to the number of free inhabitants only; and in the other according to the whole no. counting the slaves as if13 free. By this arrangement the Southern Scale would have the advantage in one House, and the Northern in the other.

July 23 (Connecticut Compromise has been passed. Committee of Detail is formed to discuss the powers of Congress. Pinckney stresses to delegates that the Southern States must be able to maintain slavery or the Southern States will not vote to pass the revised Constitution.)

Genl. PINKNEY reminded the Convention that if the Committee (of Detail) should fail to insert some security to the Southern States agst. an emancipation of slaves, and taxes on exports, he shd. be bound by duty to his State to vote agst. their Report

August 6 – Article VII (Consider the involvement of Congress with the issue of slavery based on which powers were enumerated to them and which powers were limited)

Article VII

Sect. 1 (4 of 18 enumerated powers to Congress potentially related to slavery).

The Legislature of the United States shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises;

2. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States;

13. To subdue a rebellion in any State, on the application of its legislature;

18. And to make all laws that shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested, by this Constitution, in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer7 thereof;

Sect. 3.(3/5 clause) The proportions of direct taxation shall be regulated by the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants of every age, sex and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, (except Indians not paying taxes) which number shall, within six years after the first meeting of the Legislature, and within the term of every ten years afterwards, be taken in such8 manner as the said Legislature shall direct.

(Things Congress cannot do in relation to slavery)

Sect. 4. (total restriction on Congress abolishing slave trade) No tax or duty shall be laid by the Legislature on articles exported from any State; nor on the migration or importation of such persons as the several States shall think proper to admit; nor shall such migration or importation be prohibited.

Sect. 6. No navigation act shall be passed without the assent of two thirds of the members present in the each House.

Article IV – U.S. Constitution

Section. 2. The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime. (connection to Aug. 6 Committee of Detail)

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due. (connection to Fugitive Slave Clause)

Preparing to Teach this Lesson:

Prior to teaching this lesson the teacher should cover content related to the origins of the 3/5th Clause and Fugitive Slave Clause under the Articles of Confederation, Madison’s condemnation of slavery on June 6, the introduction of the 3/5ths Clause at the Constitutional Convention 1787 on June 11, Madison’s observation that slavery is the great American divide on June 30, the passage of Article VI of the Northwest Ordinance (slavery excluded in territories and Fugitive Slave Clause) and the Committee of Detail Report on August 6 (Article VII). The teacher should familiarize her/him self with Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 on the following days outlined below.

Act 1

June 6: Madison raises slave question

June 11: 3/5 Clause introduced and accepted

Act 2

June 30: Madison and representation question

July 23: Pinckney’s Warning

Act 3

August 6: Twenty-Three Articles presented

August 8: Article IV deliberated

August 21: Report of Committee of 11

August 22: Article VII Section 4 and slavery

August 24: Committee of 11 reports on slavery

August 25: The slavery question

August 28: Article XII – XV discussed

Act 4

September 15: Fugitive slave clause

September 17: Constitution signed

Students will be asked to research delegates of the Constitutional Convention. Students can use the following website to research biographical information on each delegate by state. www.teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/delegates/

Analyzing Primary Sources:

If your students lack experience in dealing with primary sources, you might use one or more preliminary exercises to help them develop these skills. The Learning Page at the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Digital Classroom of the National Archives, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets. Finally, History Matters offers pages on “Making Sense of Maps” and “Making Sense of Oral History” which give helpful advice to teachers in getting their students to use such sources effectively.

Suggested Activities:

Introductory Activity:

Time required for activity: In class activity 20 minutes.

The teacher should tell students’ that after the Connecticut Compromise was passed a Committee of Detail was formed that consisted of 5 members. The Committee of Detail was granted the privileged role of drafting the Constitution. When the draft was presented to the entire convention for discussion and approval in August (Act III of the Four Act Drama) one topic emerged that lead to great debate and compromise, the issue of slavery.

Tell students that you are going to post a statement related to the content they will be exploring the next two days. Students should review the statement and then respond to the question using the graffiti board. A graffiti board is made from large pieces of paper attached to classroom walls or placed on classroom tables.

Graffiti boards allow students to: select the best means to share their ideas and thoughts; build upon other students’ ideas or thoughts; use think time before recording their ideas; be creative in their responses; record their prior knowledge before reading/writing a text.

Graffiti Board Question: Once the Committee of Detail presented their report of the draft of the Constitution, why do you think the issue of slavery was an issue of great debate and compromise during the Constitutional Convention of 1787?

The teacher should tell students that they should make an initial response to the question in red, review and respond to the responses of others in blue, and add any additional thoughts in green to the graffiti board. The class should then take a few minutes to reflect and discuss general ideas that emerged from the graffiti board responses.

Activity:

Time required for activity: In class activity two to three 45 minute class periods.

The teacher should then tell students that they are going to work with a partner and participate in a simulation in which they will take on the role of a Framer. Teacher explains that students that with their partner they will analyze and debate the issue of slavery from the perspective of their assigned Framer using Madison’s Notes on the reactions to the Committee of Detail report in August. One of the partner students will then take on the role of the Framer during the simulation. The partner who is not “acting” in the simulation can provide notes and tips to the “acting” partner while the simulation is occurring.

Divide students into pairs and assign them one of the following delegates:

Oliver Ellsworth (delegate, Connecticut)
Roger Sherman (delegate, Connecticut)
John Dickinson (delegate, Delaware)
Abraham Baldwin (delegate, Georgia)
Luther Martin (delegate, Maryland)
Rufus King (delegate, Massachusetts)
William Paterson (delegate, New Jersey)
John Langdon (delegate, New Hampshire)
Hugh Williamson (delegate, North Carolina)
Benjamin Franklin (delegate, Pennsylvania)
Gouverneur Morris (delegate, Pennsylvania)
James Wilson (delegate, Pennsylvania)
Charles Pinckney (delegate, South Carolina)
John Rutledge (delegate, South Carolina)
James Madison (delegate, Virginia)
George Mason (delegate, Virginia)
Edmund Randolph (delegate, Virginia)
George Washington (convention president, Virginia) (this is the teacher)

Teacher shares the task with students.

There were three major compromises related to slavery: the 3/5ths Clause, Fugitive Slave Clause, and most importantly the regulation of the international slave trade at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The ideas of the 3/5ths Clause (representation and taxation) and the Fugitive Slave Clause (no slavery in new territories and returning slaves to owner) originated in congressional debates under the authority of the Articles of Confederation. The Committee of Detail report raised a new issue about slavery, the federal regulation of the international slave trade. At this time, states regulated the international slave trade.

Task: Using the graphic organizer, analyze how the Framers did or did not address the three issues of slavery during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In your analysis explain the compromises over slavery made during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

To prepare for the simulation consider August 6 Article VII (Consider the involvement of Congress with the issue of slavery based on which powers were enumerated to them and which powers were limited)

Article VII

Sect. 1 (4 of 18 enumerated powers to Congress potentially related to slavery).

The Legislature of the United States shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises;

2. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States;

13. To subdue a rebellion in any State, on the application of its legislature;

18. And to make all laws that shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested, by this Constitution, in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer7 thereof;

Sect. 3.(3/5 clause) The proportions of direct taxation shall be regulated by the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants of every age, sex and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, (except Indians not paying taxes) which number shall, within six years after the first meeting of the Legislature, and within the term of every ten years afterwards, be taken in such8 manner as the said Legislature shall direct. (Things Congress cannot do in relation to slavery)

Sect. 4. (total restriction on Congress abolishing slave trade) No tax or duty shall be laid by the Legislature on articles exported from any State; nor on the migration or importation of such persons as the several States shall think proper to admit; nor shall such migration or importation be prohibited.

Sect. 6. No navigation act shall be passed without the assent of two thirds of the members present in the each House.

The teacher should give students Madison’s Notes on Slavery to assist students in reviewing how slavery was discussed during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Students should use Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to research their assigned delegate on the following days to gain an understanding of their attitudes towards slavery and how a compromise could be made between the northern and southern states during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

July 23: Pinckney’s Warning
August 6: Twenty-Three Articles presented
August 7: Article IV and the suffrage issue
August 8: Article IV deliberated
August 21: Report of Committee of 11
August 22: Article VII Section 4 and slavery
August 23: Discussion of Articles VII- IX
August 24: Committee of 11 reports on slavery
August 25: The slavery question
August 28: Articles XVI – XVII deliberated
Sept. 15: Fugitive slave clause
Sept. 17: Constitution signed

Students can use the following website to research biographical information on each delegate by state: www.teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/delegates/

Depending on student content vocabulary readiness the teacher may need to review vocabulary used in Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. One way to review is to use a word wall. The teacher will tell students that the class will be adding several words to the word wall today. Word walls are a literacy strategy that may be used before reading (explicit teaching and modeling, during reading (guided practice) and after reading (guided practice). For proper use of “word walls” please see: http://www.ccsso.org/projects/secondary_school_redesign/adolescent_literacy_toolkit/resources_for_teachers/10620.cfm

The teacher should give students one day to research their assigned delegate. On the following day, the teacher should set up a seating chart for the day with the names of delegates indicated, so that the moderator/teacher (i.e. George Washington) will be able to call on students by their role name.

*Note: The teacher could project Christy’s painting of the signing of the Constitution to provide students a visual to assist in setting the stage.

Delegates should sit together by state. “George Washington” (the teacher) should sit in front of the group to act as moderator. Teacher should play this role and have the final say of the day, since he or she will be busy managing the floor during the debate. Ask students to create placards large enough so other students know whom they are role-playing. All speakers must ask the moderator for permission to address the mock convention/class, either to present their ideas or to respond to the ideas presented by other figures.

Teacher may invite James Wilson of Pennsylvania to be the “ice-breaker,” asking to speak and pointing out that southern states wanted to count slaves as part of their population for determining apportionment in the House of Representatives yet not to count slaves as part of the population for tax purposes, and that he objected to them having it both ways. Alternatively, Luther Martin of Maryland may lead off on the issue of the slave trade by condemning it and saying it was “inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution and dishonorable to the American character to have such a feature in the Constitution.”

The teacher should share the Slavery Debate scoring guide with students prior to the simulation and use the scoring guide to assess students during the simulation.

Assessment:

September 17, the delegates signed the Constitution, Article I, Section 9 which states the following:

The Migration or Importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such importation.

Note the final version of the Constitution permitted Congress to eliminate the slave trade in 1808–which it did effective January 1, 1808–and permitted Congress in the meantime to discourage the trade by taxation. Also the final version limited the Congressional prohibition to the existing States thus inviting the future restriction of slavery in the territories. Only three states clearly benefitted from this clause, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. It is important to note that the Confederation Congress restricted slavery in the Northwest Territories in exchange for the return of fugitive slaves. The delegates adopt a version of the fugitive slave clause in Article IV of the final Constitution.

Students will receive the think dot handout and complete the selected assessment task. All students will be asked to complete a product that addresses the following:

Why do you think the Constitution, written in 1787 did not permit Congress to abolish the international slave trade until 1808, counted slaves as 3/5 of a person towards the apportionment of representatives and direct taxes and incorporated a fugitive slave clause?

Extending the Lesson:

Extension 1: Students may use Committee Assignments Chart to explore the Committee of Slave Trade created on Aug. 22, also known as “the Livingston Committee.” Students should review the 11 members who made up the Committee and review their report delivered on Aug. 24.

Extension 2: Students may use the Slavery Extension resource to explore how slavery was discussed over time by Founders in the Northwest Ordinance, Article VI, July 13, 1787, Madison’s Notes from Aug. 28, Aug. 29, Sept. 15, Article IV U.S. Constitution and Washington’s Last Will and Testament.

Related EDSITEment Lesson Plans:

Selected EDSITEment Websites:

 

Standards Alignment:

  • NCSS-10
    Civic ideals and practices.
  • NCSS-5
    Individuals, groups, and institutions.
  • NCSS-6
    Power, authority, and governance.

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