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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

But there was another threatened conflict


Such

were the main lines of the compromises which were effected between the conflicting views of the extreme Federalists and extreme State Rights advocates, and the conflicting interests of the larger and smaller States. But there was another threatened conflict, more formidable and, as the event proved, more enduring, with which the framers of the Constitution had to deal. Two different types of civilization had grown up on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon line. How far Slavery was the cause and how far a symptom of this divergence will be discussed more fully in future chapters. At any rate it was its most conspicuous mark or label. North and South differed so conspicuously not only in their social organization but in every habit of life and thought that neither would tamely bear to be engulfed in a union in which the other was to be predominant. To keep an even balance between them was long the principal effort of American statesmanship. That effort began in the Convention which framed the Constitution. It did not cease till the very eve of the Civil War.

The problem with which the Convention had to deal was defined within certain well-understood limits. No one proposed that Slavery should be abolished by Federal enactment. It was universally acknowledged that Slavery within a State, however much of an evil it might be, was an evil with which State authority alone had a right to deal. On the other hand, no one proposed to make Slavery a national

institution. Indeed, all the most eminent Southern statesmen of that time, and probably the great majority of Southerners, regarded it as a reproach, and sincerely hoped that it would soon disappear. There remained, however, certain definite subjects of dispute concerning which an agreement had to be reached if the States were to live in peace in the same household.

First, not perhaps in historic importance, but in the insistence of its demand for an immediate settlement, was the question of representation. It had been agreed that in the House of Representatives and in the Electoral College this should be proportionate to population. The urgent question at once arose: should free white citizens only be counted, or should the count include the Negro slaves? When it is remembered that these latter numbered something like half the population of the Southern States, the immediate political importance of the issue will at once be recognized. If they were omitted the weight of the South in the Federation would be halved. In the opposite alternative it would be doubled. By the compromise eventually adopted it was agreed that the whole white population should be counted and three-fifths of the slaves.

The second problem was this: if Slavery was to be legal in one State and illegal in another, what was to be the status of a slave escaping from a Slave State into a free? Was such an act to be tantamount to an emancipation? If such were to be the case, it was obvious that slave property, especially in the border States, would become an extremely insecure investment. The average Southerner of that period was no enthusiast for Slavery. He was not unwilling to listen to plans of gradual and compensated emancipation. But he could not be expected to contemplate losing in a night property for which he had perhaps paid hundreds of dollars, without even the hope of recovery. On this point it was found absolutely necessary to give way to the Southerners, though Franklin, for one, disliked this concession more than any other. It was determined that "persons held to service or labour" escaping into another State should be returned to those "to whom such service or labour may be due."


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