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can select and arrange the objects of such taxation so as to do nearly equal justice to all its producing interests. If, for example, the article of wine were produced only by a single province of France, and all the other provinces produced no commodities sought for by other nations, an export duty upon wine would fall wholly upon the single province where it was produced, and would place its production at an unequal competition with the wines of other countries. But France produces a variety of wines, the growth of many different provinces ; and therefore, in the adjustment of an export duty upon wines, the government of that country, after a due regard to the demand for each kind or class of this commodity, has chiefly to consider the effect of such a tax in the competition with the same commodity produced by other nations.
At the time of the formation of the Constitution of the United States, there was not a single production, common to all the States, of sufficient importance to become an article of general exportation. Indeed, there were no commodities produced for exportation by so many of the States, that a tax or duty imposed upon them on leaving the country would operate with anything like equality even in different sections of the Union. In fact, from the extreme northern to the extreme southern boundary of the Union, the exports were so various, both in kind and amount, that a tax imposed on an article the produce of the South could not be balanced by a tax imposed upon an article pro
ducea or manufactured at the North. How, for example, could the burden of an export duty on the tobacco of Virginia, or the rice or indigo of South Carolina, be equalized by a similar duty on the lumber or fish or flour of other States? Possibly, after long experience and the accumulation of the necessary statistics, an approach towards an equality of such burdens might have been made; but it could never have become more than an unsatisfactory approximation; and while the effect of such a tax at one end of the Union on the demand for the commodity subjected to it might be estimated, because the opportunity for other nations to supply themselves elsewhere might be so precise as to be easily measured, — its effect at the other end of the Union, on another commodity, might be wholly uncertain, because the demand from abroad might be influenced by new sources of supply, or might from accidental causes continue to be nearly the same as before.
However theoretically correct it might have been, therefore, to confer on the general government the same authority to tax exports as to impose duties on imported commodities, and the argument for it drawn from the necessities for revenue and protection of manufactures was exceedingly strong,—the actual situation of the country made it quite impracticable to obtain the consent of some of the States to a full
and complete revenue power Several of the most important persons in the Convention were strongly in favor of it. Washington, Madison, Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, and Dickinson are known to have
held the opinion, that the government would be incomplete, without a power to tax exports as well as imports. But the decided stand taken by South Carolina, whose exports for a single year were said by General Pinckney to have amounted to £600,000, the fruit of the labor of her slaves, probably led the committee of detail to insert in their report of a draft of the Constitution a distinct prohibition against laying any tax or duty on articles exported from any State.
A similar question, in relation to the extent of the commercial power, was destined to arise out of the relations of the different States to the slave-trade. If the power to regulate commerce, that might be conferred upon the general government, was to be universal and unlimited, it must include the right to prohibit the importation of slaves. If the right to sanction or tolerate the importation of slaves, which, like all other political rights, belonged to the people of the several States as sovereign communities, was to be retained by them as an exception from the commercial power which they might confer upon the national legislature, that exception must be clearly and definitely established. For several reasons, the question was necessarily to be met, as soon as the character and extent of the commercial power should come into discussion. While the trade had been prohibited by all the other States, including Virginia and Maryland, it had only been subjected to a duty by North Carolina, and was subjected to a similar discouragement by South
Carolina and Georgia. The basis of representation in the national legislature, in which it had been agreed that the slaves should be included in a certain ratio, created a strong political motive with the Northern States to obtain for the general government a power to prevent further importations. It was fortunate that this motive existed; for the honor and reputation of the country were concerned to put an end to this traffic. No other nation, it was true, had at that time abolished it; but here were the assembled States of America, engaged in framing a Constitution of government, that ought, if the American character was to be consistent with the principles of the American Revolution, to go as far in the recognition of human rights as the circumstances of their actual situation would admit. What was practicable to be done, from considerations of humanity, and all that could be successfully done, was the measure of their duty as statesmen, admitted and acted upon by the framers of the Constitution, including many of those who represented slaveholding constituencies, as well as the representatives of States that had either abolished both the traffic in slaves and the institution itself, or were obviously destined to do it.
This just and necessary rule of action, however, which limited their efforts to what the actual circumstances of the country would permit, made a clear distinction between a prohibition of the future importation of slaves, and the manumission of those already in the country. The former could be ac
complished, if the consent of the people of the States could be obtained, without trenching on their sovereign control over the condition of all persons within their respective limits. It involved only the surrender of a right to add to the numbers of their slaves by continued importations. But the power to determine whether the slaves then within their limits should remain in that condition, could not be sur rendered by the people of the States, without overturning every principle on which the system of the new government had been rested, and which had thus far been justly regarded as essential to its establishment and to its future successful operation.
It is not, therefore, to be inferred, because a large majority of the Convention sought for a power to prohibit the increase of slaves by further importation, that they intended by means of it to extinguish the institution of slavery within the States. So far as they acted from a political motive, they designed to take away the power of a State to increase its congressional representation by bringing slaves from Africa; and so far as they acted from motives of general justice and humanity, they designed to terminate a traffic which never has been and never can be carried on without infinite cruelty and national dishonor. That the individuals of an inferior race already placed in the condition of servitude to a superior one may, by the force of necessity, be rightfully left in the care and dominion of those on whom they have been cast, is a proposition of morals entirely fit to be admitted by a Christian statesman.