History of the United States Constitution

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The three clauses of the United States Constitution that address slavery were the Three-Fifths Slave Clause, the Slave Trade Clause, and The Fugitive Slave Clause. The Three-fifths Slave Clause is found within Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution stating, “three fifths of all other Persons” (Constitution) shall count when determining how many people from each state would sit at the House of Representatives.

The Slave Trade Clause refers to Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution which reads, “a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation.” This Clause was meant to put strains on how many enslaved persons could be imported, mainly to the Southern states. (Lloyd and Martinez) Lastly, the Fugitive Slave Clause in Article 4, Section 2 prevented slaves from being considered free if they escaped their holdings in service or labor and fled to another state. (Constitution of the United States)

These Clauses in the actual Article verbiage never address slavery by name. Founders at the Constitutional Convention and Continental Congress were hesitant to do so. After the Constitution was signed, United States laws dealing with slavery arose which would eventually lead to the Civil War and long-term implications for the decision to protect slavery.

The Three-Fifths Compromise was a direct result of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The Southern Framers wanted slaves to count towards population, for a legislative advantage, but did not want them to be counted in taxation. (Boyd) The Framers from the North, where slavery was few and far between, argued that slaves should be counted as property for taxation purposes but not in population. (Applestein Esq.) The result of this contention was Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, also known as the Three-Fifths Clause (or compromise). The Clause makes it that for every five slaves, or “all other persons”, three would count toward population.

On a state level, starting with Vermont and ending with New Jersey, all Northern states ended slavery between 1777 – 1804. During this emancipation, Northern states made sure that their state’s constitution would not invite or encourage fugitive slaves to escape to and settle there. (Harper) This was to uphold the Fugitive Slave Act and later the Compromise of 1850. The Fugitive Slave Act is based on Article 4, Section 1 of the Constitution, which states that no one held to service in one state but escapes to another shall be discharged from their service. (Constitution of the United States) The Compromise of 1850 amended the Fugitive Slave Act to avert conflict between the North and South. It abolished slave trade in Washington, D.C. but reinforced the return of escaped slaves to their home state. (Primary Documents)

The long-term effect of protecting slavery when the Framers wrote the Constitution was the divide of the nation in the Civil War. The Civil War lasted from 1861 – 1865. When the North ultimately won, slavery was abolished and Amendments to the Constitution were put in place to protect the freed slaves. These Amendments were the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery entirely “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to anyone who was born or naturalized in the U.S. and provided them with equality under the law. This Amendment later lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended racial discrimination and gave every citizen, no matter race or gender, equal rights. The Fifteen Amendment prohibited states from discouraging citizens to vote based on their race or “previous condition of servitude.” (Landmark Legislation)

In summation, although the Constitution never out-right addressed slavery, it’s Framers created a lasting animosity and contention for almost a hundred years until the Civil War. Even after the Civil War and passing of the Thirteenth-Fifteenth Amendments, prejudice still exists a hundred and fifty years later. Thankfully, the Clauses and Laws that allowed slavery are abolished and gone but the impact remains.


  1. The Constitution of the United States.
  2. Applestein, Donald. “The Three-Fifths Compromise: Rationalizing the Irrational.” National Constitution Center – Constitutioncenter.org, National Constitution Center, 12 Feb. 2013, constitutioncenter.org/blog/the-three-fifths-compromise-rationalizing-the-irrational/.
  3. Boyd, Susan. “A Look Into the Constitutional Understanding of Slavery.” Ashbrook, Apr. 1995, ashbrook.org/publications/respub-v6n1-boyd/.
  4. “Landmark Legislation: Thirteenth, Fourteenth, & Fifteenth Amendments.” U.S. Senate: Contacting The Senate > Search, 5 Dec. 2017, www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/CivilWarAmendments.htm.
  5. Lloyd, Gordon, and Jenny S Martinez. “The Slave Trade Clause.” National Constitution Center – Constitutioncenter.org, National Constitution Center, constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/articles/article-i/the-slave-trade-clause-lloyd-martinez/clause/43.
  6. “Primary Documents in American History.” Planning D-Day (April 2003) – Library of Congress Information Bulletin, Victor, 25 Apr. 2017, www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/compromise1850.html.

Cite this paper

History of the United States Constitution. (2021, Apr 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/history-of-the-united-states-constitution/

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