Slavery, States Rights, and the Constitution [No. 86]
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Slavery, States Rights, and the Constitution [No. 86]


Some have questioned the legitimacy of the
original Constitution because they claim that the Founders supported slavery and therefore
anything that they did is illegitimate. In fact, many of the Founders were quite opposed
to slavery and the Constitution was a result of a compromise between states where slavery
was abolished or was going to be abolished soon and states where it wasn’t going to be
abolished. And the result of that compromise was a system
of federalism, in which states were given a great deal of power over their own citizenry. In fact, states had so much power over their
own citizens that they could authorize some citizens to own other citizens and this tells
us that under the original structural Constitution, states had a great deal of power and the federal
government have very little power. With respect to slavery, the original Constitution
adopted a view that the later Republican party would identify as freedom national, slavery
local. And what they meant by that is that the Constitution,
nationally, said very little if anything about slavery. Nationally, Congress was free to do pretty
much whatever it wanted when it regulated the territories, when it regulated the District
of Columbia, when it regulated federal institutions. It could be pro- or anti-slavery under the
text of the original Constitution. Where the Constitution is pro-slavery, or
at least sanctions slavery, is at the local level. It allows states to authorize slavery, if
states wish to. And it allowed states to abolish slavery where
they thought it was appropriate, as many states did. So that was freedom national and slavery local
and essentially what the amendments to the Constitution did, the Reconstruction Amendments
did, was abolish the slavery local part of this provision. This original structure was fundamentally
altered after the Civil War by the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments, the 13th,
14th, and 15th amendments, that created new federal powers to protect citizens from having
their rights violated by their own state governments. The 13th amendment made slavery unconstitutional
at the local level, not just at the federal level, and that’s why the Republicans promoted
it. They thought it was necessary to have a constitutional
amendment to change the Constitution from freedom national, slavery local to a Constitution
where it’s freedom national and freedom local as well.

3 Comments

  • Ballistic Bob

    We settled this with civil war that was fought with nothing but muzzle loading cannon and rifles…yet killed more than 10x the Americans lost in 10 years of Vietnam and 17 years of Iraq and Afghanistan together… state's rights really no longer legally exist. The only reason the constitution was ratified was because they agreed to empower the individuals rights to freedom over the governmental right to rule…the entire premise of your organization is a daydream.

  • Christopher Scruggs

    Slavery was not only state sanctioned before the civil war, you had the fugitive slave act, and the 3/5ths compromise that counted enslaved Africans as 3/5ths of a person in order for southern states with high enslaved persons population to have representation in national elections

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