Michael Benedict's "Slavery and Constitution": Book Review

Freshman (College 1st year) ・Business ・MLA

Michael Benedict's "Slavery and Constitution" is devoted to the laws defining slavery and the rights of slaves, especially in the south. When the people from the South voted for the constitution, they believed it would support all states' interests, but the interests of the northerners were backed disproportionally. The Fifth Amendment prohibited Congress from allowing slavery in the territories (155). This indicates the constitution's intention to end slavery and establish a no-slavery policy that would perceive every human as important on American soil. The southerners fancied Congress to enable them to take their slaves to all regions, but this notion was rejected. However, the Supreme Court decision supported the South. This resulted to Civil War since the southerners threatened to leave the Union forcing Lincoln to suppress the chaos through the military. The states that supported slavery were not in support of any actions by the Federal government that tried to protect slaves. According to Benedict the Fugitive Slave law violated the Bill of Rights and the victims were denied liberty especially the southerners.

Slaves were counted as wealth in America and in 1860, it accounted for about 20 percent of the wealth by American people. This was a high percent since it exceeded the proportion of wealth created by railroads, manufacturing sector, and bank combined. Southerners were becoming more racist since to them Africans did not have a right to live in a civilized community, as they lacked self-discipline and intelligence. They argued that if slaves were given any freedom they would turn into paupers and survive by stealing from the whites. The slave codes became harsher and the masters were required to protect slaves from abuse, torture, and murders. However, some white masters were very brutal although only a few were tried for abuse of slaves.

The constitution law preferred freedom of the slaves to bondage but others were worried that this would encourage more slaves to fight for their freedom. Every state had a rule that helped in determining who was white or colored and the freed slaves were required to leave. The Northerners became more racist since they denied black residents political rights such as the right to serve in militia or become juries. The blacks could not testify against the whites in courts, were denied employment, and children were denied a chance to attend public schools. The northerners did not recognize African Americans as citizens thus were not protected by the constitution. Abolitionists did not agree with the Northern Democrats that the Constitution “divorced the north from slavery” (160). This is an indication that the North and South had different opinions regarding slavery and their freedom. The 1830s saw the abolitionists circulate petitions in which they asked the Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia (160). According to the Southerners, the Supreme Court had accepted the Slave Clause Act of Article IV, section 2 that gave some authority to pass federal Fugitive Slave Act. Since the bill of rights sections 9 and 1 assured rights to citizens, freed African Americans were to enjoy all rights just like the white Americans. However, several antislavery advocates wanted endorsement of the nationalist constitutionalism of Hamilton, Marshal, and Clay (164). The colored people continued the struggle for freedom although it was very challenging.  

Some Northerners thought that the proslavery Democrats with their president James K Polk wanted more territory suited for slavery (170). The House of Representatives in which the Northerners were the majority supported and passed the Wilmot Proviso although it was defeated by the Senate. Another group that supported antislavery was the Know-Nothings in the North when many Republicans did not like the idea of the Catholic immigrants of supporting the Democratic Party. However, the changes in the economic and social organizations led to more heterogeneity in the local communities (171). The Republicans were not in support of the bigotry of the Know-Nothings.

Slavery became controversial and divided the Democrats leading to a Constitutional crisis in America. The Southern Democrats became extreme proslavery advocates in which they adopted the state-sovereignty law while rejecting the state-rights constitutionalism of Jackson (172). The Congress had power over territories but could not bar slavery due to the Fifth Amendment that barred it from depriving citizens liberty or property without following the due law process. Several Democrats vowed not to offer support that would restore the Union by force. Lincoln encouraged everyone to be patient and peaceful in his inaugural address but argued that the constitution was younger than the Union. This showed that the Union held significant importance and needed to be respected. He gave his assurance that he was not going to support violence but he was to follow the Federal laws. Benedict’s arguments show the struggle by various parties in fighting against slavery in America and promoting their liberty. The northerners and Southerners could not agree on many issues regarding slaves’ freedom resulting to the civil war and other disagreements.


Work Cited

Les Benedict, Michael. "The Blessings of Liberty." A Concise History of the Constitution of the United States. Cegange/Houghton Milflin (1996). Print.

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