The Constitution Condones Slavery?

In a recent series called "The State Against Blacks," John Stossel interviewed Rep. Charles Rangel and made the case that big government has failed the black American family.  Congressman Rangel, an unabashed proponent of big government, asked Stossel, "What do you want?  No government?"  Stossel held up a copy of the Constitution and answered, "No.  I want it this size again.  The Constitution and the Declaration -- great government right here."  To which Rangel responded, "No, that government will throw me back into slavery.  You don't want that government. Come on, now.  I mean, they weren't thinking about me when they wrote that book.  I wasn't even three-fifths of a guy.  So let's pass that book and say that it was a good beginning and it's there to improve order and that's what we've done."

Rep. Rangel ought to be asked to explain how limiting the size and scope of the federal government to constitutional standards would throw him back into slavery.  The idea is preposterous, but it's clearly one that liberals like.  Liberals are terrified at the rise of serious talk in America about going back to the principles of the Constitution, and I believe we will see Rangel's invidious argument trotted out again and again.  But the "Constitution was an instrument of slavery" argument will be effective for the liberals only if we are ignorant of the truth.

It should be understood that if the Founders had failed to organize the states into a union, slavery would have continued unabated -- certainly in the South, and perhaps in the North as well.  Once the conventional representatives decided to satisfy both the Northern and the Southern states with two houses of Congress, the question then became which "inhabitants" of each state would be counted for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives.  The Northern states insisted that only free citizens of each state be counted for purposes of apportionment in the House.  The Southern states, wanting to garner as much power and influence in the new government as possible, argued that all people within their borders, whether free or not, be counted for purposes of apportionment.

This was a deadly serious impasse.  It must be said, however, that many of those representatives at the convention who owned slaves recognized that slavery would be a blot on the new nation and that it had to end.  But it was also certain that if they tried to abolish slavery immediately with the Constitution, it would be rejected by the southern states, and the union would fail.

Two compromises were made.  First, the Southern states agreed to count only three-fifths of slaves.  In turn, the Northern states agreed to a clause prohibiting Congress from abolishing slavery for twenty years, until the year 1808.

Charles Rangel and many others argue that under the Constitution, a black man's worth was only three-fifths of a white man.  But the Constitution says no such thing.  Article I, Section 2 reads (in part), "Representatives ... shall be apportioned among the several states ... according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons ... three fifths of all other persons."  "All other persons" referred to slaves.  In other words, only 60% of slaves could be counted for purposes of a state's representation in the House.  That's a far cry from arguing that the Constitution valued black men at three-fifths of a white man.  And what would Rangel and others have preferred -- that all slaves be counted, thus increasing the power and influence of the slave states when the time came to vote to abolish slavery?  What if the Founders had allowed all slaves to be counted for purposes of representation in the House, thus eliminating the three-fifths compromise that so offends Rep. Rangel?  And then what if, because of increased slave state representation, the legislation to abolish slavery had failed in 1808?  Is that what Rangel would have preferred?

The result of these compromises was that a major obstacle to a union of the states and the establishment of the nation of America was overcome, and slavery as it was known in early America was eventually abolished.  It should also be pointed out that America, its flaws and imperfections notwithstanding, has become a beacon of individual liberty to the whole world.

We modern Americans allow ourselves a certain self-congratulatory pride because we think we are morally superior to the Americans of the eighteenth century.  But let's consider what it is we so smugly condemn them for.  What is slavery?  Is not slavery the idea that the fruit of a man's labor is deemed not to be his own by the system of laws under which he is held in servitude, and that it is taken from him by those who have power and authority over him?  When one adds up all the taxes and fees -- local, state, and federal -- that Charles Rangel and many other like-minded persons of power and authority have gradually imposed on us, we have certainly become a nation of slaves.

I don't mean to suggest that there is equivalency between eighteenth-century slavery and slavery today.  The slavery of two hundred fifty years ago was a hard slavery, while today's slavery is much more subtle.  Yet there it is: a large portion of the fruit of our labor today is taken from us by people like Charles Rangel, who then use those fruits to purchase the votes they need to keep themselves in power to rule and reign over us.

Liberals' defense of today's soft slavery is essentially the same as what the slave masters of the eighteenth century said: this is our system, and the economy depends upon it.  But in truth, their own personal wealth and influence also depend on it.  In addition to legally confiscating large portions of the fruit of our labor, they control our compulsory education system.  They tell us how much water we can use to flush a toilet and what kind of light bulbs we must use. They have shut down vast reserves of our nation's natural resources which we require for our energy needs, intentionally driving up the cost of energy.  They intend to disarm us.  They intend to tell us what doctors we can see and when.  They insult and demean us in our airports.  They seek to divide and inflame us by race and by economic status.  They intervene in every aspect of our personal and business lives.  They are destroying the value of our currency.

These are the soft, but ever-hardening, slave masters of the twenty-first century.  And sadly, most Americans seem to support this system.  We are a generation who self-righteously condemns the eighteenth-century American for the moat we see in his eye, all the while largely blinded to the beam in our own.

The Constitution is a framework for a government intended to protect the individual liberty of each citizen -- his life, his liberty, and his property -- from the encroachments of his neighbor.  But the Constitution is an impediment to the slave masters, and they have no regard nor use for it.  Remember that the next time you hear Charles Rangel, or anyone else, dismissing the Constitution as the antidote to our national decline.

As for this American, you can count me among the twenty-first-century abolitionists.