Friday, September 18, 2015

Peter Sagal Responds to Sean Wilentz on Slavery and the Constitution

We did a post on this earlier today.  

It seems that more and more smart people are weighing in against Sean Wilentz.  Here is a letter to the editor published in today's New York Times by Peter Sagal, host of the PBS show Constitution USA:

Prof. Sean Wilentz’s essay arguing that the Constitution was not built on slavery (“Lincoln and Douglass Had It Right,” Op-Ed, Sept. 16) is profoundly mistaken.

That the Southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia wanted more than they got doesn’t matter, especially not to the millions of slaves whose misery continued. What matters is the text of the Constitution as ratified, which clearly and obviously sanctions slavery, in the three-fifths clause and the fugitive slave clause.

The three-fifths clause was not, as Professor Wilentz argues, one of the “consolation prizes” for the slave states. By allowing Southern states to count their slaves at all for purposes of representation, while denying those slaves all other civil or human rights, the Constitution granted slave holders magnified political power, while creating an incentive to acquire more slaves.

Professor Wilentz ignores (as many do) one of the most sinister aspects of the three-fifths clause. Electoral votes are granted to states based on the number of representatives in the House. Thus, the South had disproportionate power in presidential elections as well.

Race-based slavery was this nation’s original sin. We were born with it in our charter. As Lincoln suggested, that sin could not be expurgated “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword."