SLAVERY AND THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1787
This research paper examines the relationship between the issue of slavery and the political decisions made at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The institution of slavery of blacks (African Americans) in the original colonies which made up the new union was left intact as a result of the Constitutional Convention and in some important respects its constitutional status was buttressed. At the same time, partial limitations were placed on its spread by the constitutional phased in abolition of the importation of slaves into the United States and the contemporaneous Congressional ban on its spread into the Northwest Territory. These seemingly contradictory political decisions arose out of the dynamics of the debates at the Constitutional Convention which reflected conflicts between the larger and smaller states over the powers of the new central government, the competing economic interests of different sections of the country and of the dominant property-owning elites represented in Philadelphia and the prevailing attitudes of most white Americans toward blacks and slavery.
Slavery in America in the Late 1780s
Small numbers of blacks accompanied the first Spanish and later French explorers of North America. The trans-Atlantic slave trade to North America reached its apogee in the first half of the 18th century. According to Eltis, "after 1700 . . . the British slave trade tripled in size compared to the four decades before 1700" (38). Its expansion was spurred by the growth of the English plantation system in the West Indies and in the American South and the need perceived by the colonists for cheap, manual agricultural labor. Franklin and Moss said the number of black slaves in Virginia increased from 12,000 in 1708 to 120,000 in 1756 (66).
By 1787, over 700,000 blacks resided in the territory of the original colonies, 90 per cent of them in the South, and made up ...