The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Fugitive Slave Clause Passed

August 29, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes)


A committee was formed to consider Article 16. A fugitive slave clause was passed to be added to the end of Article 15.

Influences on the Delegates

Although not an example of an influence, I think the following passage from Virginia’s Edmund Randolph regarding trade puts the lie to the claim that Ben Franklin’s call to prayer had some immediate impact to bring the delegates together. Here we are in late August and Randolph says the Constitution has “odious” elements and he is on the fence about his support.

Mr. RANDOLPH said that there were features so odious in the Constitution, as it now stands, that he doubted whether he should be able to agree to it. A rejection of the motion would complete the deformity of the system. He took notice of the argument in favor of giving the power over trade to a majority, drawn from the opportunity foreign powers would have of obstructing retaliatory measures, if two thirds were made requisite. He did not think there was weight in that consideration. The difference between a majority and two thirds, did not afford room for such an opportunity. Foreign influence would also be more likely to be exerted on the President, who could require three fourths by his negative. He did not mean, however, to enter into the merits. What he had in view was merely to pave the way for a declaration, which he might be hereafter obliged to make; if an accumulation of obnoxious ingredients should take place, that he could not give his assent to the plan.

On the slave trade, the delegates considered a report and had the following discussion about Article 15 (see below):

Any person charged with treason, felony or high misdemeanor in any State, who shall flee from justice, and shall be found in any other State, shall, on demand of the Executive power of the State from which he fled, be delivered up and removed to the State having jurisdiction of the offence.

The delegates unanimously added a strict fugitive slave clause.

Mr. BUTLER moved to insert after Article 15, “If any person bound to service or labor in any of the United States, shall escape into another State, he or she shall not be discharged from such service or labor, in consequence of any regulations subsisting in the State to which they escape, but shall be delivered up to the person justly claiming their service or labor,” — which was agreed to, nem. con.

David Barton has been lately claiming that most of the founding fathers were anti-slavery. However, the only numbers that matter on that subject are the vote tallies in favor of making slavery acceptable in the new nation. In this case, fugitive slaves lost 11-0. It didn’t help slaves to have declarations against slavery when the delegates voted to keep it legal.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)
To follow on social media, click the following links:
Facebook (blog posts and news)
Facebook (Getting Jefferson Right – history news)