|Chapter 1:||Constitutional Law and Slavery|
Constitutional Law and Slavery
We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale; and self-preservation is in the other. Thomas Jefferson (1820).
––Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson (2001)
A primary key to the union’s creation was the founders’ calculated hedge on the issue of slavery. Despite significant antislavery sentiment among some northern delegates, opposition melted as the choice between a union with slavery or no union became clear. Antislavery concerns were ameliorated by a belief, nurtured by southern delegates, that slavery would wither or vanish over the course of time. The consensus necessary to establish the union, however, provided only temporary cover for divisions that ultimately proved to be irreconcilable. The founders’ conflict avoidance resulted in a document that, without ever using the term “slavery,” included several provisions for accommodating and regulating it.These terms and conditions sent mixed signals but ultimately favored the institution’s maintenance.