Giving “petty tyrants” a seat at the table : the U.S. Constitution and the political logic of slavery
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GovernmentControversies regarding the slavery and the Constitution often turn on investigation of original intent: Is the Constitution an antislavery or proslavery document? The arguments of West, Storing, Graber, and Finkelman show that scholarly opinion is greatly divided on this issue. This study, however, will present the case that the status of the document need not be resolved in order to determine whether the Constitution inaugurated a proslavery or antislavery project. Instead of attempting to determine the intent of the founders or to derive constitutional principles directly from their document a different task will be undertaken here. This paper will examine the “political logic” of the Constitution, both in terms of specific clauses and the structure of the whole. This study shows that the political logic of the Constitution is hostile to abolitionist paths of national, political development. Instead of setting in motion a project that places the institution of slavery on the road to elimination, the Constitution’s concessions to slavery provided a permanent privileging of slaveholding interests in the further development of the polity.