Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Part 1: 1450-1750
<---Part 2: 1750-1805
Part 3: 1791-1831
Part 4: 1831-1865

Narrative | Resource Bank | Teacher's Guide



Historical Document
The Constitution
1787

Resource Bank Contents



Click here for the text of this historical document.

On September 17, 1787, just before the delegates to the Constitutional Convention voted to adopt the document over which they had labored for four months, Benjamin Franklin said:

"For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views...."

The pro-abolition Franklin was undoubtedly referring to the compromises made over the issue of slavery, including the "three-fifths" standard for representation and taxation, the delayed prohibition of the international slave trade, and the return of fugitive slaves.

Although four key provisions of the Constitution dealt with slavery, the words "slave" and "slavery" were not mentioned a single time. In each case, "Person" or "Persons" appear as euphemisms for slaves and slavery. In its draft form, Article I, Section 9 referred to "prohibiting the importation of slaves," but the word was struck and "Persons" substituted.

The first direct mention of slavery in the Constitution appeared 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified.




previous | next


Related Entries:
The Constitutional Convention, 1787





Part 2: Narrative | Resource Bank Contents | Teacher's Guide

Africans in America: Home | Resource Bank Index | Search | Shop


WGBH | PBS Online | ©