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Slave Trade Compromise

What was the Slave Trade Compromise? Definition
Definition: The Slave Trade Compromise resolved the controversial issue of Commerce relating to the Slave Trade that emerged at the  Constitutional Convention. that was held between May 25, 1787 - September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia.

Summary of the Slave Trade Compromise
Summary: The Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise was presented  at the Constitutional Convention,
which was a meeting of states whose delegates were formulating plans for the National government. There were many disputes over the proposals between the North and the South. One of the major disputes was over the issue of commerce relating to the Slave Trade. The states in the North wanted Congress to have power to regulate commerce. But the states in the South opposed this power because they feared Congress would use its authority to end to the slave trade. A compromise was reached by stating that Congress could not prohibit the slave trade until 1808, but imported slaves could be taxed.

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Events leading to the Slave Trade Compromise of 1787: The North and the South
The events leading to the Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise arose at the Constitutional Congress (Philadelphia Congress) and related to the plans submitted containing ideas for the powers and the structure of the United States system of government. The Constitutional Convention was attended by delegates representing twelve of the thirteen first colonies. (Rhode Island declined to attend the Convention because it was fearful of losing its states' rights). The views of the delegates were totally diverse on the subject of slavery and unless the conflicts between the slave states and the free states were resolved the Conference would be destroyed. The Three Fifths Compromise was the first concession that was reached concerning slavery. The second concession was the Slave Trade Compromise.

Slave Trade Compromise: The Southern Slave States
The free states of the North wanted Congress to have power to regulate commerce. The Southern slave states were totally opposed to this power because they feared Congress would use its authority over tax and commerce to end to the slave trade by restricting or outlawing the slave trade. They believed their agriculture based economy would immediately crash without slaves.

  • The Southern states were South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia

  • In 1787 approximately 90% of slaves lived in the South and accounted for about 30% of the southern population

What wasthe Slave Trade Compromise?
The Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise
was reached at the Constitutional Convention by stating that:

 Congress could not prohibit the slave trade until 1808, but that any imported slaves could be taxed.

What didthe Slave Trade Compromise mean?
What did the Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise mean?

  • It allowed the continued "importation" of slaves

  • It allowed Congress to place a tax on imported slaves

  • Slaves continued to be technically classed as merchandise and it was therefore within the power of Congress to tax slaves

  • The Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise prohibited changes to regulate the slave trade for two decades

  • The compromise effectively protected the interests of slave owners and the slave trade until 1808, giving the slave trade a 20 year reprieve

The effect of the Slave Trade Compromise was that for the next twenty years the number of imported slaves increased significantly from the previous years. It encouraged the systematic breeding of slaves to avoid incurring the cost of purchase and tax and it allowed the continuance of slave auctions throughout the south.

Who proposed the Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise?
The first ideas for a compromise on the issue of Commerce and the Slave Trade was made by the Committee of Detail  which was chaired by John Rutledge of South Carolina. Their compromise was rejected and the issue was referred to the Committee of Eleven  that was chaired by William Livingston of New Jersey. Their compromise was accepted to prevent the ruin of the Congressional Congress.

Slave Trade Compromise: Which delegates were Slave Owners?
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention who were slave owners had a vested interest in slavery as slaves played a significant role in their livelihoods. Twelve delegates owned, or managed, plantations or large farms that were operated using slaves. The names of the slave owning delegates were Bassett, Blair, Blount, Butler, Carroll, Jenifer, Mason, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Rutledge, Spaight, and Washington. James Madison also owned slaves at this time, although like many owners he did not agree with the concept and practice of slavery.

The Slave Trade Compromise: The Constitution and Slavery
The references to Slave Trade Compromise in the Constitution are as follows. The words "slave" or "slavery" do not exist in the United States Constitution, it is implied in the phrase "all other Persons".  During the Constitutional Convention James Madison argued that it was "wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men." and later explained in the Federalist Papers that a slave should be regarded "as a moral person, not as a mere article of property."

  • The Slave Trade Compromise is included in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution and elates to Congress not interfering with early laws relating to slavery

  • The compromise is also detailed in Article 5 which allowed the slave trade to continue until 1808

  • Section 2 of Article I designated "other persons" (slaves) to be added to the total of the state's free population, at the rate of three-fifths of their total number

  • The 13th Amendment abolished slavery following the American Civil war (1861-1865)

Significance and Importance of the Slave Trade Compromise
The importance of the Slave Trade Compromise cannot be underestimated. The issues of apportionment, representation and slavery threatened to destroy the convention. The Significance of the Slave Trade Compromise was that:

  • The Slave Trade Compromise ensured the continuance of the Constitutional Convention

  • The Slave Trade Compromise was the first independent restraint on congressional powers

  • It was included in the United States Constitution

  • The Slave Trade Compromise was one of the Causes of the Civil War between the North and the South

The other major concession made at the Constitutional Convention was the Great Compromise which related to the subject of representation.

Slave Trade Compromise: Fugitive Slave Law and the Slave Trade Act
Two important acts were passed during the presidency relating to slaves. The first law was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was signed on August 7, 1789 and included the Fugitive Slave Law as a concession to the South, to ensure runaway slaves would be returned to their owners if caught in the northwest. The second law was the Slave Trade Act of 1794 that limited the importation of slaves to the United States. 

President George Washington Video
The article on the Slave Trade Compromise provides the definition and history of one of the major achievements of his presidential term in office. The following video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 1st American President whose presidency spanned from April 30, 1789 to March 4, 1797.

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