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1984 Dbq - the Constitutionality of Slavery

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Essay title: 1984 Dbq - the Constitutionality of Slavery

Benjamin Reed

Mr. Pezza/ Mr. Haldemen

AP US History

22 December 2005

The Constitutionality of Slavery

Throughout the nineteenth-century the issue of slavery polarized the country along sectional lines. Northern abolitionists continually sought to outlaw slavery, while Southern slaveholders vehemently fought for the alternative. As the abolitionist movement gained momentum, many Northerners began to support the cause, while questioning the morality of slavery. Likewise, even non-slave holders in the South backed the pro-slavery movement, mainly because of financial commitments to powerful plantation owners. Both Northern abolitionists and Southern slaveholders held fast to their arguments, which were both equally compelling in their own respect. The North arguing the case that slavery was inherently evil and the Constitutional amendments in its favor were equally corrupt. Alternatively, the Southern slaveholders made the argument of the “original intent” of the Constitution, claiming that they had a divine right to own slaves under United States law as it had originally been written. Thus, because of the vague terms of the Constitution and the blurring issue of “original intent,” the document only offered a stale mate, which in turn resulted in the downfall of the Union.

Abolitionists spoke out with harsh words against the Constitutional amendments that supported slavery and took a strong stance against pro-slavery legislature, claiming the right to resist immoral law. Southern legislation, such As the Fugitive Slave Act was forced upon Northerner’s, who greatly disagreed with the institution, but were mandated to comply or face the alternative option of breaking the law (F). Angered by such legislation, Abolitionist groups did jus that, and resisted the law by warning African Americans in the North of the possibilities of being deported to the South by local authorities and slave-catchers ( C ). Ralph Waldo Emerson explained the need to resist immoral laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act under the Compromise of 1850 (A) when he stated, “An immoral law makes it a man’s duty to break it…the Union is at an end as soon as an immoral law is enacted” (D). William Lloyd Garrison also embodied the need to resist the immoral law of the Constitution when he exclaimed, “Three millions of the American people are crushed under the American Union! The Constitution which subject them [blacks] to hopeless bondage is one that we cannot swear to support” (E). Clearly, the issue of morality is the main topic of discussion within the North. According to Garrison, the Constitution did in fact support the institution of slavery; however, it’s a basic concept that the United States was formed on the bases of “Life, Liberty, and Property.” The controversy stems from the question of whether or not African Americans are humans who disserve life, or whether they are the property of others. As this contradiction blurs the issue, the argument basically comes down to the interpretation of the original intent of Constitution, as well as the basis on which the Union was formed. Such contradictions create for a broad span of interpretations, ones that are not necessarily successfully refuted by the other.

As the North questioned the morality of slavery, the South argued its right to Slavery as granted by the Constitution and continually passed pro-slavery legislation that had a direct affect on those living in the North. An Anonymous Georgian reflected the pro-slavery argument of upholding the original intent of the Constitution when he exclaimed, “The framers of the Constitution acted wisely, and embodied in the Constitution all that the South could ask…We hold that the Constitution of the Union does recognize slavery where it exists…(thus) the Union’s destruction is inevitable unless the original guarantees are respected and maintained” (B). As Southerners claimed

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