I put aside, as equally fabulous, the common saying, that this provision was one of the original compromises of the Constitution, and an essential condition of Union. Though sanctioned by eminent judicial opinions, it will be found that this statement is hastily made, without any support in the records of the Convention, the only authentic evidence of the compromises; nor will it be easy to find any authority for it in any contemporary document, speech, published letter, or pamphlet of any kind. It is true that there were compromises at the formation of the Constitution, which were the subject of anxious debate; but this was not one of them.
There was a compromise between the small and large States, by which equality was secured to all the States in the Senate.
There was another compromise finally carried, under threats from the South, on the motion of a New England member, by which the Slave States are allowed Representatives according to the whole number of free persons and “three fifths of all other persons,” thus securing political power on account of their slaves, in consideration that direct taxes should be apportioned in the same way. Direct taxes have been imposed at only four brief intervals. The political power has been constant, and at this moment sends twenty-one members to the other House.
There was a third compromise, not to be mentioned without shame. It was that hateful bargain by which Congress was restrained until 1808 from the prohibition of the foreign Slave-trade, thus securing, down to that period, toleration for crime. This was pertinaciously pressed by the South, even to the extent of absolute restriction on Congress. John Rutledge said:
“If the Convention thinks that North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia will ever agree to the Plan (the National Constitution), unless their right to import slaves be untouched, the expectation is vain. The people of those States will never be such fools as to give up so important an interest.” Charles Pinckney said: “South Carolina can never receive the Plan, if it prohibits the slave-trade.” Charles Cotesworth Pinckney “thought himself bound to declare candidly, that he did not think South Carolina would stop her importations of slaves in any short time.” The effrontery of the slave-masters was matched by the sordidness of the Eastern members, who yielded again. Luther Martin, the eminent member of the Convention, in his contemporary address to the Legislature of Maryland, described the compromise. “I found,” he said, “The Eastern States, notwithstanding their aversion to Slavery, were very willing to indulge the Southern States at least with a temporary liberty to prosecute the slave-trade, provided the Southern States would in their turn gratify them by laying no restriction on navigation acts.” The bargain was struck, and at this price the Southern States gained the detestable indulgence. At a subsequent day Congress branded the slave-trade as piracy, and thus, by solemn legislative act, adjudged this compromise to be felonious and wicked.