I haven’t watched a show on the big three networks – ABC, CBS, NBC – for years. Since the 2012 election, I haven’t watched Fox News. I’ve been getting my news and entertainment elsewhere.
This means that if anything of significance develops on a network show, I have to hear about from some alternative news source.
The following is from MRCNewsBusters:
“ABC’s Scandal, which has a fresh episode tonight, last week featured ‘President Fitzgerald Grant,’ supposedly a Republican, channeling Piers Morgan as he used the State of the Union address to plead for more gun control: ‘How many other people’s children are we going to let die before we put a stop to this?’
“He then compared gun rights with slavery: ‘The right to bear arms — set in stone in the Constitution by our founding fathers. So was slavery, by the way.”
There’s no doubt that many people will fall for this “logic.” But in order for an argument to be sound, it must be factual.
The issue of slavery was a major concern at the Constitutional Convention and was discussed at length in the debates. A significant minority of the delegates to the Federal Convention were staunch opponents of slavery. Franklin and Hamilton opposed slavery. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice of the United States, was president of the New York anti-slavery society. Northern Federalist leaders Rufus King and Gouvernour Morris were outspoken opponents of slavery and the slave trade. “Southern and Border State Federalists also openly opposed the institution.”1
The Constitution, however, does not use the word “race,” “slavery,” “slave,” “white,” or “black.” The word “slavery” did not enter the Constitution until after the Civil War in the 13th Amendment.
The constitutional codification of slavery is seen in the “three-fifths clause” found in Article I, section 2, clause 3. Contrary to what some historians claim, the three-fifths clause (“three fifths of all other Persons”)2 is a clear indication that a number of our constitutional founders wanted to end slavery; it is not a statement about personhood.
There is n doubt, however, that there are certain elements found in the Constitution that enabled slave-supporters3.
The Northern states did not want to count slaves when it came to empowering the House of Representatives which is based on population size. The Southern states hoped to include slaves in the population statistics so as to acquire additional representation in Congress. The compromise was to count slaves as “three-fifths” of a person for representation purposes.
The goal of the Northern delegates was to dilute Southern voting strength so as to outlaw slavery by constitutional means. “The struggle that took place in the convention was between the Southern delegates trying to strengthen the constitutional supports for slavery and the Northern delegates trying to weaken them.”4
If none of the slaves had been included in the population count for representation, as Northern delegates wanted, the slave states would have had only 41 percent of the seats in the House. If all the slaves had been included, as Southerners wanted, the slave states would have had 50 percent of the seats. By agreeing to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for representation purposes, the Southern slaveholding states ended up with a minority voting position — 47 percent. Robert L. Goldwin concludes:
“[T]he point is that the ‘three-fifths clause’ had nothing at all to do with measuring the human worth of blacks. Northern delegates did not want black slaves included, not because they thought them unworthy of being counted, but because they wanted to weaken the slaveholding power in Congress. Southern delegates wanted every slave to count ‘equally with the Whites,’ not because they wanted to proclaim that black slaves were human beings on an equal footing with free white persons, but because they wanted to increase the pro-slavery voting power in Congress. The humanity of blacks was not the subject of the three-fifths clause; voting power in Congress was the subject.”5
All of this means that there was a debate over the issue. No such debate ensued over “the right to keep and bear arms.”
While the words “slave” and “slavery” are not found in the Constitution, the words “right to bear arms” are. While there is no constitutional right to own and keep slaves, there is a constitutional amendment specifically protecting Americans the right to “keep and bear arms.”
- Nathaniel Weyl and William Marina, American Statesmen on Slavery and the Negro (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1971), 48. [↩]
- “[B]ound to Service for a Term of Years” refers to indentured servitude to pay off a debt, something the 13th Amendment does not outlaw. [↩]
- Article IV, Section 2: Note that this provision also applied to indentured servants who were working to pay off a debt. [↩]
- Robert A. Goldwin, “Why Blacks, Women & Jews Are Not Mentioned in the Constitution,” Commentary (May 1987), 29. [↩]
- Goldwin, “Why Blacks, Women & Jews Are Not Mentioned in the Constitution,” 30. [↩]
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