April 17, 2011


Van Cleve, George William, A Slaveholders' Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2010) ("The Constitution was an obstacle to ending black slavery in America. It was proslavery in its politics, its economics, and its law. The critical question is why. In drafting the Constitution, the Founders were centrally concerned with creating a new framework for continental government. That framework had to respect Americans' concerns about both the political liberty and political power because national unity--and national strength--depended on it. By the late 1780s, a majority of Americans wanted to create a union with a strong republican government that would be capable of creating a continental empire; but to preserve liberty within that empire, they also wanted a government based on federalism principles." "The Constitution's proslavery character was a necessary result of its drafters' effort to endow the national government with strong military, fiscal, and commerce powers and to suppress sectional conflicts while also adopting federalism as its core structural principle. If the new republic's government had not met all these goals, this would in all probability either have prevented the formation of the Union or have led to its early dissolution. But a government that met all those goals could not have been formed and then have territorially expanded as America did unless it protected slavery and its expansion." "The reason for this was that the federal republic created by the Constitution could not act against slavery at the national level and still be strong enough to support American expansion into into the West and to govern a continental empire. . . ." "American were willing to compromise with 'constitutional evil' with their eyes open to create the federal republic, at least where slavery was concerned. . . ." Id. at 271.).