To provide an introductory overview of the unit, show the six-minute thematic documentary, All Other Persons: Slavery, the Constitution, and the Presidency, available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmMOvLCCO0c.
A. Distribute Handout A: Slavery and the Constitution and The United States Constitution.
B. Divide students into pairs and assign an equal number of pairs to analyze the constitutional citations.
C. After allowing a few minutes for students to discuss in their pairs, conduct a large group discussion to fill in the blanks on the chart. Use an overhead to record responses. See the Answer Key for suggested responses.
D. Explain to students that individuals throughout history, including the Founders themselves, have debated whether the Constitution protected slavery, or, on the contrary, doomed the institution of slavery. What do students think?
Slavery: Presidents and the Constitution
At the Constitutional Convention, the delegates were concerned with the survival of the young nation. Many delegates called for strong protections for slavery, while many others hated the idea of putting into the Constitution the idea that there could be property in people. With the goal of forming a Union, they reached a compromise. Slave states would count 3/5ths of their slave populations towards their state populations to calculate taxation and representation in Congress. Additionally, Congress could not outlaw the international slave trade until 1808. The debate over the federal government's power to regulate slavery continued through the Civil War. James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson, who served as President of the United States in the years immediately before, during, and after the Civil War, each had different approaches to the constitutional powers of the President, if any, to interfere with the spread of slavery.
Slavery and the Constitution
Today there are few more controversial topics in the study of American history and government than the issue of slavery and the Constitution. On the surface, the Constitution seemed to protect slavery in the states, prohibited Congress from banning the slave trade for twenty years, and required that fugitive slaves, even in the North, be returned to their masters. Because of these apparent constitutional protections, a bloody Civil War was fought to free the slaves and win ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to end slavery in the U.S. forever. The Constitution, therefore, in the eyes of some scholars, seems to be a contradiction to the universal ideals of liberty and equality in the American Founding and the Declaration of Independence which proclaimed “all men are created equal” and endowed with “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Constitutional Connection: Slavery and the Constitution
This lesson allows students to analyze the Constitution and ask questions about how the Constitution relates to the institution of slavery.
I WILL BE HEARD: William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionism, Colonization, and Identity
In this lesson, students will explore the life of William Lloyd Garrison and follow the development of his identity. Through his example, students will understand how they can develop and refine their identity in their own lives, and how through this refinement help advance freedom for themselves and others.
Reading Frederick Douglass & William Lloyd Garrison | A Primary Source Close Read w/ BRI
BRI Senior Teaching Fellow Tony Williams is joined by Dan Monroe, associate professor of history and Department of History and Political Science chair at Millikin University, to explore Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison's drastically different views on the Constitution's relationship with slavery. Why did Garrison declare the Constitution a "covenant of death" while Douglass elevated it as a "glorious liberty document"? What stance did each abolitionist take on the Founding promise of liberty?