By tracing slavery from before the revolution, through the Constitution’s framing, and into the public debate that followed, Waldstreicher rigorously shows that slavery was not only actively discussed behind the closed and locked doors of the Constitutional Convention, but that it was also deftly woven into the Constitution itself. For one thing, slavery was central to the American economy, and since the document set the stage for a national economy, the Constitution could not avoid having implications for slavery. Even more, since the government defined sovereignty over individuals, as well as property in them, discussion of sovereignty led directly to debate over slavery’s place in the new republic. Finding meaning in silences that have long been ignored, Slavery’s Constitution is a vital and sorely needed contribution to the conversation about the origins, impact, and meaning of our nation’s founding document.
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American slaves were almost entirely African and formed the basis of the cotton economy of the South until the Civil War. The Constitutional Convention produced the document but the Constitution did not take effect until ratified by two-thirds of the states, and the process continued until Rhode Island agreed in 1790. The Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787 to produce a successor to the inadequate Articles of Confederation.