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That new individuals may rightfully be placed in the same condition, not by the act of Providence through the natural increase of the species, but by the act of man in transferring them from distant lands, is quite another proposition. The distinction between the two, so far as a moral judgment is concerned with the acts of the framers of the Constitution upon the circumstances before them, defines the limits of duty which they intended to recognize.
No satisfactory means exist for determining to what extent a continuance of the importation of slaves was necessary, in an economical point of view, to the States of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. There is some reason to suppose that the natural increase of the slave population in Virginia at that period more than supplied her wants; and perhaps the less healthy regions of the more southern States may have still required foreign supplies in order to keep the lands already occupied under cultivation, or to make new lands productive.1 All that is historically certain on this subject is, that the representatives of the three most southerly States acted upon the belief, that their constituents would not surrender the right to continue the importation of slaves, although they might, if left to themselves, discontinue the practice at some future time.
These declarations, however, had not been made at the time when the principles on which the Constitution was to be framed were sent to the commit
1 See the remarks of Mr. Ellsworth and General Pinckney, as
reported by Mr. Madison, Elliot, V. 458, 459.
tee of detail. Nothing had yet occurred in the Convention, to make it certain that the power to import would be retained by any of the States. The committee of detail had, therefore, so far as the action of the Convention had gone, an unrestricted choice between a full and a limited commercial power. They consisted of three members from nonslaveholding and two from slaveholding States; but as one of them, Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, was one of the persons who subsequently announced to the Convention the position that would be taken by his own State and by North Carolina and Georgia, there can be no doubt that he announced the same determination in the committee. In their report, they shaped the commercial power accordingly. They provided that the legislature of the United States should have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; and to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States.
But they also reported several restrictions upon both the revenue and commercial powers. Besides providing, in accordance with the ninth resolution
1 They were Messrs. Rutledge, Randolph, Gorham, Ellsworth, and Wilson. I have classed Mr. Ellsworth among the representatives of non-slaveholding States; for although there were between two and three thousand slaves in Connecticut at this time, provision had already been made for its prospective and gradual abolition. It was not finally extinct in that State
until after the year 1840. The United States census for 1790 returned 2,759 slaves for Connecticut; the census for 1840 returned 17; in the census for 1850 none were returned. A like gradual abolition took place in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania. In Massachusetts, slavery was abolished by the State Constitution of 1780.
adopted by the Convention, that direct taxation should be proportioned among the States according to the census, to be taken by a particular rule, they added the further restrictions, that no tax or duty should be laid by the national legislature on articles exported from any State, nor on the migration or importation of such persons as the several States might think proper to admit; that such migration or importation should not be prohibited; that no capitation tax should be laid, unless in proportion to the census; and that no navigation act should be passed without the assent of two thirds of the members present in each house.
That the new government must have a direct revenue power, was generally conceded, and it was also generally admitted that it must have a power to regulate commerce with foreign countries. But the idea was more or less prevalent among the Southern statesmen, that the interest of their own States, considered as a distinct and separate interest from that of the commercial States, did not require a regulation of commerce by the general government. It is not easy to determine to what extent these views were correct. Taking into consideration nothing more than the fact, that the staple production of Virginia was tobacco, as it was also partly that of North Carolina; that rice and indigo were the great products of South Carolina and Georgia; and that neither of these four States possessed a large amount of shipping; it might certainly be considered that an unrestricted foreign intercourse was important to them.
But, on the other hand, if those States, by clothing the Union with a power to regulate commerce, were likely to subject themselves to a temporary rise of freights, the measures which might have that effect would also tend directly to increase Southern as well as Northern shipping, to augment the commercial marine of the whole country, and thus to increase its general maritime strength. The general security thus promoted was as important to one class of States as to another. The increase of the coasting trade would also increase the consumption of the produce of all the States. The great benefit, however, to be derived from a national regulation of commerce, a benefit in which all the States wouldi equally share, whatever might be their productions,
was undoubtedly the removal of the existing and injurious retaliations which the States had hitherto practised against each other.1
Still, these advantages were indirect or incidental. The immediate and palpable commercial interests of different portions of the Union, regarded in the mass, were not identical; and it was in one sense true, that the power of regulating commerce was a concession on the part of the Southern States to the Northern, for which they might reasonably expect equivalent advantages, or which they might reasonably desire to qualify by some restriction.
On the reception of the report of the committee of detail, and when the article relating to representation was reached, the consequences of agreeing that 1 See the remarks of Mr. Madison, Elliot, V. 490.
the slaves should be computed in the rule, taken in connection with an unrestrained power in the States to increase the slave populations by further importation, and with the exemption of exports from taxation, became more prominent, and more likely to produce serious dissatisfaction. The concession of the slave representation had been made by some of the Northern members, in the hope that it might be the means of strengthening the plan of government, and of procuring for it full powers both of revenue and of commercial regulation. But now, it appeared that, as to two very important points, the hands of the national legislature were to be absolutely tied. The importation of slaves could not be prohibited; exports could not be taxed. These restrictions seemed to many to have an inevitable tendency to defeat the great primary purposes of a national government. All must agree, that defence against foreign invasion and against internal sedition was one of the principal objects for which such a government was to be established. Were all the States then to be bound to defend each, and was each to be at liberty to introduce a weakness which would increase both its own and the general danger, and at the same time to withhold the compensation for the burden? If slaves were to be imported, why should not the exports produced by their labor supply a revenue, that would enable the general government to defend their masters? To refuse it, was so inequitable and unreasonable, said Rufus King, that he could not assent to the representation of the slaves, unless