John Kaminski on the word "slavery" in the Constitution
|Resource Bank Contents|
Q: The word "Slavery" or "slave" never appears as a word in the Constitution. Is there any significance to that?
A: There was also a sense: let's keep that word out of the Constitution. And that's very significant. Keep it out because some people were very sensitive to this. They felt it was not an appropriate thing to be in a Constitution.
Now, from a long-term perspective, I think that their attitude was, slavery would eventually be eliminated, and it would be best if the word "slavery" was not in the Constitution.
There was tremendous amount of shame. There was also consternation on the part of northerners. Could they get this Constitution ratified with the acknowledgment of slavery, not just the word but the amount of credence given to the institution of slavery in the body of the Constitution? They were worried that they might have great difficulty, just as southern delegates said, if they don't get slavery and the slave trade protected, there would be danger that they couldn't get the Constitution ratified in their states.
John P. Kaminski
Professor of History
University of Wisconsin Madison
Part 2: Narrative | Resource Bank Contents | Teacher's Guide
Africans in America: Home | Resource Bank Index | Search | Shop
WGBH | PBS Online | ©