The Constitution of the United States

I wrote this essay when I was about 19 or 20 years old. This marks the time of my coming of age in an American culture based on concepts like the one called race. I am certain that in the same manner well-informed explorers were sure that the Earth is flat we will come to know these days of racism as more fantasy striking awe into the hearts of the misinformed. The writing here serves to move the reader toward that purpose. If you can read it and be changed or affirmed by it then this work has power and meaning. If not, then its big business as usual.

Buy this book at! As an African American making awkward attempts at scholarship, I find myself struggling with an almost Cartesian Principle of Doubt when examining historical information concerning my people in America. To my elders who have fathers and mothers whose respective fathers and mothers have seen first-hand some of the more dramatic events of Afro-American history in the making, I ask forgiveness for my ignorance. I am young and can count the years with the fingers of one hand when I cheered the Hollywood cowboys and cursed the villainy of their fictional Indians; when Tarzan really could have been, in my mind, The Lord of the Apes; when Moses could have looked like Charleston Heston—and Cleopatra could have looked more like Elizabeth Taylor than Lena Horne. I have emerged from this Hollywood Dream with a great and violent start, finding myself awake and shaking such “American” dreams from my head.

I like to think of myself as undergoing the transformation experienced by Malcolm Little as he changed into Malcolm X in his small prison cell at Norfolk Colony in Massachusetts. Malcolm’s self- and racial-realization came by reading, and I am now undergoing a similar education—and I am not ashamed to add that the level of fervor of my study is a mere indicator of how ignorant I have been. I now realize, to scramble the supposed words of Isaac Newton, that the Western culture stands not on the shoulders of giants but stands on their backs—and no back has bent lower than that of the African.

Even now as I write these words the almost super-egoistic voices echo from my not-so-distant childhood screaming opposition to this “new” position that I now maintain. I was ignorant, educated in public schools that are supplemented by the taxes of a government, which has only recently begun to recognize the human rights of its citizens.

With very little independent study into this view I call “new” I have found an elder of mine, born in 1868, who writes of men who are black and have been “whitened”:

“To be sure, behind the thoughts lurks the after thought—suppose, after all, the World is right and we are less than men? Suppose this mad impulse within is all wrong, some mock mirage from the untrue?”1

Buy this book at! W.E.B. DuBois, the man born in 1868, and I born in 1968 may have experienced being “whitened,” but this process of mental leprosy can be checked by an examination of the facts. The set of facts I shall center upon include the Constitution of the United States and how it related to my elders. My media super-ego wishes to maintain that the African-American was far from the minds those Founding Fathers of the United States of America. This is true as long as one associates the Africans with humanity; this is not true when one associates Africans with state-of-the-art agricultural machinery. To the Founding Fathers, Africans were objectified property and any moral or ethical—or religious stance stood in their minds as a hypothetical ideal perhaps. It would be likened to how a commuter would think of the effects of industrial pollution, absently burning fossil fuels in a freeway traffic jam, hearing the news of a devastating oil spill in Alaska over the car radio.

The Constitution of the United States recognizes in a subtle way the institution of slavery; consequently, the new nation is forced to recognize the people who are enslaved, the Africans: a people soon to be brutally molded into Afro-Americans. Section 2, paragraph 3, and Section 9, paragraph 1 of Article I, will be read as the preamble of the constitution of the slave sub-nation; Section 1, and Section 2, paragraph 3 of Article IV, will be read as laws to keep the sub-nation intact; and, the Amendments XIII and XIV despite their just nature will be revealed to show their respective capabilities to maintain an oppressed sub-nation imported from Africa. In conclusion, I will reflect on these facts and seek to find a reason why such oppression was vital and necessary.

Article I.
Section 2
3. (Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.)2

Let alone the use of the term “free persons,” this mysterious three-fifths person is introduced to us, a very subtle indication of what I believe to be the African-Americans. The three-fifths person is one who is not a free landowner nor a person bound to service for a series of years—nor is this person a Native American. This three-fifths person must have been African-American, a person who was by 1830 “bound to service” indefinitely. The three-fifths status of African-Americans was simply a tax-break for the planter who owned slaves. It could be also seen as a benefit for any powers in government afraid of over-representation in Congress, from a state using slaves through some underhand means for political power.

But, according to Philip S. Foner, more than tax-breaks were on the minds of the slave owners, who were of the Southern states.3 Moreover, the fear of “over-representation” came from Northern states—the representatives of Northern states saw the three-fifths ratio as a threat and would prefer to have representation of “such persons,” not “comprehended” as citizens, at all!4 But James Wilson, a Northerner of Pennsylvania, introduced this proposal to “primarily to please the representatives of the Southern states and to ensure their firm adherence to the proposed Constitution.”5

The sectionalism here is apparent and was evident to the Founding Fathers. One, in 1787, could hear the cannon of the Civil War rolling to future battle fields. James Madison agreed with Rufus King’s statement that “the difference in interests did not lie where it had hitherto been discussed, between the great and small states; but between the southern and eastern.”6

Article I.
Section 9
1. The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.

We see here that the involuntary migration or importation of the African was to be continued until at least 1808. This could have been a valve for the northern states to close on the three-fifths persons coming in to the southern states. Foner mentions that it was part of the “great compromise” on representation, which seemed to be in favor of the northern states.7 But the states of the upper South might have had an advantage as well: “As to Virginia,” declared Charles C. Pinckey of South Carolina, “she will gain by stopping importations. Her slaves will rise in value & she has more than she wants.”8

Nathan Huggins points out in his text that, “With the slave trade having ended in 1808, Upper South planters now found themselves with a slave property which, far from becoming a burden, had become an asset easily converted to cash and profit… Slave coffles moved regularly from Maryland and Virginia across the mountains into the West and the Deep South.”9

However in the same way that illicit narcotics may be brought into our country today, slaves were still being imported well after 1808. Du Bois laments, “But not till the Haytian Terror of Toussaint was the trade in men even checked; while the national statute of 1808 did not suffice to stop it.”10

I have discovered just how profitable the slave trade was. Foner points out “enormous” profits in human being trafficking. “It was generally agreed that it was possible to gain almost $175, 000 on a single successful voyage, and even if it averaged one out of four trips, the reward was worth the risk… Negroes sold in Cuba for six hundred dollars each would bring a total profit of $150,000. In several cases, the profits exceeded this estimate.”11 Foner quotes from the literature of the American consul at Key West, dated July 8, 1860:

“The trade cannot be checked while such great percentages are made in the business. The outlay of $35,000 often brings $500,000…. Just think, $1,000 and $1,200 for a negro costing passage, etc., less than $106. No wonder Boston, New York and Philadelphia have so much interest in the business.”12

Article IV.
Section 1
Full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.

Section 2
(3. No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.)

Here we have the proviso that keeps the slave a slave, the sub-nation intact. It is the most explicit reference to African-Americans of all the implicit references in this document.13 It may be needless to say that few Americans were held to service or labor that were not of African descent. It may be needful to add that fewer still were the Americans of African descent who were not held to service. Huggins: “Indeed, almost everywhere a black person was presumed a slave merely on evidence of color. Unless he had proof that he was free or unless some white person would step forward to testify his freedom, he stood to lose what little there was in being a free person of color.”14

I would add that, as expressed by Foner, “In England the courts held that a slave fleeing to free or neutral territory became free, but the framers, having just divested the new nation from British tyranny, also separated it from the tradition that might have helped the cause of freedom in the treatment of fugitive slaves.”15 Thus, this fourth Article, its section 3, has replaced British tyranny with American tyranny. All the free men in America were to be policemen for those few men in power having interests in slavery.

The following amendments to the Constitution came after the Civil War, a conflict rooted in the issue of slavery.

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Buy this book at! This benevolent action is not without loopholes, a loophole that the Southerner may make into a noose for African-Americans. The loophole here is that the criminal can now be a slave in theory and in practice. Associating this loophole with the modern American society’s assumption that blacks—especially black males—are criminals make “due conviction” all the more easier. “This plantation,” Du Bois writes, “owned now by a foreigner, was a part of the famous Bolton estate. After the war it was for many years worked by gangs of Negro convicts, —and black convicts then were even more plentiful than now; it was a way of making Negroes work, and the question of guilt was a minor one… the black folks say that only colored boys are sent to jail, and not because they are guilty, but because the State needs to eke out its income by their forced labor.”16

Hair writes, in Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900, of the fate of “lawbreakers of any color” in Vicksburg’s City Workhouse. Here “the escape prone were shackled with the traditional ball and chain” while doing their sanitation duties which included cleaning up animal excrement and other debris in the city streets. Prisoners were often “leased” to plantations such as Idlewide plantation, with taskmaster Charles Smith presiding. He was in charge of the “more serious offenders” these offenders must require punishments worse than unleased lawbreakers housed in the Workhouse, who were often hung up by the thumbs for “disobedience of the workhouse rules.”17

But Idlewide did not compare to Mississippi’s state penal system, “where convicts were leased for long terms to private plantations and lumber camps.” Hair reports that, “the death rate of black prisoners under the state lease varied during the 1880s from ten to sixteen percent a year. The white convict rate was also high, but only half that of blacks. Seven-eighths of the state’s convicts were black, and of these a substantial number had been sentenced to prison for ‘stealing a pig of the value of one dollar.’”18

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State where they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Again the benevolence is apparent in the amendment but one must underscore the words above, “without due process of law.” Here we have yet another loophole for a Southern Sunday’s picnic/lynching. Any Jim Crow law could be drafted by Jim Crow politicians elected into office by Jim Crow voters to be used to convict blacks at will in Jim Crow courts. It would be very difficult to make Jim Crow voters out of Afro-Americans. As a consequence, the ideology of Jim Crow would have blacks not vote at all. William Ivy Hair writes of post-Civil War Mississippi, for example:

“That year Mississippi decided to test the national commitment to black citizenship with a clever circumvention of the Fifteenth Amendment [Race no bar to voting rights.]; no mention in the 1890 constitution was made of race, but it contained a vital ‘understanding clause,’ which provided that every voter ‘shall… be able to read any section of the Constitution of this State; or shall be able to understand the same when read to him, or give a reasonable interpretation thereof.’ As to what was an acceptable interpretation, the Raymond Gazette slyly noted that ‘there might be honest differences of opinion between a corn-field nigger and inspectors of elections.’”19

It might be of interest to know that the United States Supreme Court in Williams v. Mississippi (1898) upheld this clause, which I imagine would be inspirational to other States in which Jim Crow lived.20 Just to illuminate the imaginative aspects of a racist culture in power, Hair writes of “the bad mule of Mt. Hope” of Copiah County, Mississippi who ate the ballots of African-American voters in the sheriff’s election of 1881.21 The man the blacks were voting for, J. P. Matthews, was shot to death two years later, when he, himself, tried to vote—shot gun blasts from a man called Ras Wheeler in broad daylight with plenty of witnesses. Ras Wheeler later became city marshal of Hazlehurst.22

According to Carole Marks, between 1890 and 1910, “a majority of black adults in southern states lost the right to vote.”23 She gives an economic interpretation of the systematic disenfranchisement of African-Americans, which has been called “Redemption” by some scholars. “Before capital could be invested,” Marks writes, “the area had to be made safe… The unstable Reconstruction governments, considered ‘positively harmful to important northern interests’ were forced out by Redeemers who promised ‘money invested here is as safe from the rude hand of mob violence as it is in the best United States bond.’”24

If I should be accused of “picking on” Mississippi, with regard to its racist politics, Marks points out that, “Other southern states followed Mississippi’s lead. In 1895, South Carolina enacted laws ‘with the explicit purpose of eliminating the electoral privileges’ of blacks. Louisiana in 1898, North Carolina in 1900, Alabama in 1901, Virginia in 1902, Georgia in 1908, and Oklahoma in 1910 successfully passed laws of similar intent.”25 “Pitchfork” Bill Tillman, the governor of South Carolina, put it like a down-to-earth, “good ol’ boy” should: “We have done our level best; we have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate the last one of them; we stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it.”26

That there is evil in the world, I do not pretend to be innocent of the thought. But that a culture so moved by greed and fear could do just a few of the things I have outlined above is beyond me. Moreover these acts were and can be permissible by the Constitution; thus, by appropriate Supreme Court decisions, evil can be institutionalized and be profitable. In our contemporary American culture an anti-abortion rights activist may wish to maintain that those who run abortion clinics are institutionalizing “evil,” that is destroying the life an unborn fetus and making profits in doing so. Yet, at the same time, a “pro-choice” or “pro-life” activist may stand on similar grounds, saying that a woman’s rights could be taken away by passing laws making it legal to interfere with a human being’s biology. Any such rhetoric may be seen as speculation without the proper documentation—without the facts. I have discovered in writing this paper that the issue of slavery’s influence on the Constitution is free from unfounded speculation. Slavery’s influence on the Constitution is not based on any racist hate of ignorant poor whites in some southern rural town of a by-gone era. It is based on the cold logic of American business, the liberty it has to remove justice when economically feasible. This logic, I believe, still lives today.

Slavery is not some “southern issue,” beneath the sophisticates of the northern businessman. In 1860 the London Times asked, “What would New York be without slavery?” James Dunmore De Bow, replied:

“The ships would rot at their docks; grass would grow in Wall Street and Broadway, and the glory of New York, like that of Babylon and Rome, would be numbered with the things of the past.”27

Indeed, New York business men received as much as forty cents out of every dollar paid for Southern cotton, picked by slaves. The total business for the merchants of New York, engaged in trafficking slaves and their cotton produce—and any other trappings needed for the “peculiar institution,” amounted to $200,000,000 annually, by 1850.28 One such merchant spoke to Samuel J. May, a prominent abolitionist:

“Mr. May, we are not such fools as not to know that slavery is a great evil, a great wrong. But a great portion of the property of the Southerners is invested under its sanction; and the business of the North, as well as the South, has become adjusted to it. There are millions upon millions of dollars due from Southerners to the merchants and the mechanics alone, the payment of which would be jeopardized by any rupture between the North and the South. We cannot afford, sir, to let you and your associates endeavor to overthrow slavery. It is not a matter of principles with us. It is a matter of business necessity… We mean, sir, to put you abolitionists down, by fair means if we can, by foul means if we must.”

The wealth and power of a nation of millions was behind this man’s logic. The country itself was founded upon men of such logic. With the exception of the John Adams, all of the presidents from 1789 to 1825 were born in Virginia, where the first 19 or 20 slaves landed in North America. All of these presidents were either planters or sons of planters, elected into office to do the bidding of the planters, to perpetuate a system of checks and balances to maintain minority rule over a vast working class and peasant/slave majority. It must be kept in mind that with the destruction of the working class’ Articles of Confederation, the ratification of the Constitution was performed by only one-fourth of the adult white men of the nation.29

These truths that I have printed into these pages, I daresay, are no match for the ignorance and ill-logic of American culture. Du Bois had labored in this way far more eloquently than I, almost one hundred years ago, appealing to the logic of his world to little or no avail. I fear that, with my Du Boisian exercise, I have saved only myself from the Mind of Media, the narrow Imagination of Hollywood, which will continue keeping the masses stupid to the true nature and history of their nation. I know now that there is little or no true justice in America only liberty for the rich few to exploit the many. I know now that behind every American act of what I have called “benevolence” there is a material advantage to be had by those in power. One speaks of the “cold cruel world” as if the cause of cruelty cannot be localized—as if the problems of pollution, drug abuse, or homelessness have no origins.

It is now clear to me—clear in the strongest terms: I believe that in order for America to exist, as it now exists, someone must lose; someone or something must suffer. Any American born into an upwardly mobile, achievement-oriented family knows how to feel about “failure” or knows what to think of a “loser.” I recall reading of John May, of the Protestant Diocese of 1860 New York, speaking before a convention of his Church, alerting them to the fact that the slave trade “hath been reopened,” appealing to their “benevolence.” Probably, John did not know that he was talking about a class of people, easily thought of by American popular culture as “a bunch of losers” being imported from Africa.30 John was received by his convention with “a sound of repressed laughter and a slight attempt at hissing.”31


(i) Alford, Terry. Prince Among Slaves. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

(ii) DuBois, William. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantam Books, 1989.

(iii) Foner, Philip Sheldon. Business & Slavery: the New York Merchants & the Irrepressible Conflict. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1941.

(iv) _______________. History of Black Americans: From Africa to the Emergence of the CottonKingdom. Greenwich: Greenwood Press, 1975.

(v) Grob, Gerald N., and Billias, George Athan. From Puritanism to the First Party System: Historical Interpretations, Volume I: 1620-1815. New York: The Free Press, 1972.

(vi) Hair, William Ivy. Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976.

(vii) Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Black Odyssey: the Afro-American Ordeal in Slavery. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

(viii) Marks, Carole. Farewell—We’re Good and Gone: the Great Black Migration. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Too many of the books mentioned in this document are not available from major, corporate online book resellers. If you are interested in your own research, I recommend searching or consulting your local librarian to read these books on your own.

End Notes

1 W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, p. 63.

2 The parentheses, according to Dr. Daniels, indicate that this article has been removed or is no longer in effect.

3 Huggins points out one interesting and practical reason why the slaves worked in the South. It seemed that the “sickle cells” of the blacks provided them with immunities from serious diseases: “So while Africans were not immune to malaria, they were less susceptible than Europeans, and incidents of the disease were less likely to be debilitating. White colonists in America seemed to accept this difference as absolute, claiming that blacks could work better in the rice plantations of South Carolina and Georgia or the marshes and swamps of the South than could whites. During the “sickly season” whites took to high ground, where the air was better.” Nathan Irvin Huggins, Black Odyssey: the Afro-American Ordeal in Slavery, pp. 59-60.

4 Eldrige Gerry of at the Constitutional Convention in , 1787: “[Why] should the blacks, who were property in the south, be, in the rule of representation, more than cattle and horses of the north?”

5 Philip S. Foner, History of Black Americans: From Africa to the Emergence of the , p. 390.

6 Ibid., p. 390.

7 Ibid., p. 389.

8 Ibid., p.394.

9 Nathan Irvin Huggins, Black Odyssey: the Afro-American Ordeal in Slavery, p. 193.

10 E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, p. 78.

11 Philip S. Foner, Business & Slavery: the Merchants & the Irrepressible Conflict, p. 166.

12 Ibid., p.167.

13 The framers of the Constitution were conscious of their vocabulary. They purposely did not mention “slave” or “slavery.” One Pennsylvania Quaker called this device “evidently chosen to conceal from , that in this enlightened country, the practice of slavery has its advocates among men in the highest stations.”Philip S. Foner, History of Black Americans: From Africa to the Emergence of the , p. 399.

14 Nathan Huggins, Black Odyssey: the Afro-American Ordeal in Slavery, p. 198.

15 Philip S. Foner, History of Black Americans: From Africa to the Emergence of the , p. 396.

16 W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, pp. 88-89.

17 William Ivy Hair, Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the Race Riot of 1900, p. 50.

18 Ibid., p. 50.

19 William Ivy Hair, Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the Race Riot of 1900, p. 15.

20 Ibid., p. 15. See footnote 9 on same page.

21 Ibid., pp. 22-23.

22 Ibid., pp. 28-34.

23 Carole Marks, Farewell—We’re Good and Gone: the Great Black Migration, p. 67.

24 Ibid., p. 68.

25 Ibid., p. 71.

26 Ibid., p. 73.

27 Philip S. Foner, Business & Slavery: the Merchants & the Irrepressible Conflict, p. 4.

28 Ibid., p.7. This is business done with the five “cotton states.”

29 Gerald N. Grob, George Athan Billias. From Puritanism to the First Party System: Historical Interpretations, Volume I: 1620-1815, p.208.

30 Do you not feel that one of ’s responses to the victims of AIDS was that these victims were “a bunch of losers”? What about a drug addict or a poor person?

31 Philip S. Foner, Business & Slavery: the Merchants & the Irrepressible Conflict, p. 168.