Summary Objective 6

Students will demonstrate the ways that the Constitution provided direct and indirect protection to slavery and imbued enslavers and slave states with increased political power. Maps to Key Concepts 2, 3, 4, 7 & 10


What else should my students know?

6.A Articles 1, 4 and 5 of the Constitution offer direct protection of slavery.

  • Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 – The “three-fifths” clause counted three-fifths of the enslaved population to determine a state’s representation in Congress. The clause also stated that three-fifths of the enslaved population would be counted if a direct tax were levied on the states according to population, though most delegates assumed this would never happen. 
  • Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 4 – This section repeated the tax section of the three-fifths clause. It reiterated that if a head tax were ever levied, enslaved persons would be taxed at three-fifths the rate of white people. 
  • Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 9 – The slave trade clause prohibited Congress from banning the international slave trade before 1808. It did not require Congress to ban the trade at that time. This clause exempted the slave trade from the Congressional power to regulate interstate commerce.
  •  Article 4, Section 2, Paragraph 3 – The "fugitive slave" clause required that people who escaped enslavement be returned to their enslavers even if they had fled to another state.
  • Article 5 – This article prohibited any amendment of the slave trade or head tax clauses before 1808.

6.B Articles 1, 2, 4 and 5 also offer indirect protection of slavery.

  •  Article 1, Section 8, Paragraph 15 – This section empowered the use of the militia to suppress rebellions, including rebellions by enslaved people.
  • Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 5 – This section prohibited taxes on exports. This prevented Congress from indirectly taxing slavery by taxing products produced by enslaved laborers.
  • Article 2, Section 1, Paragraph 2 – This section included the three-fifths clause as part of the Electoral College, giving white people in slave states a disproportionate influence in the election of the president.
  • Article 4, Section 3, Paragraph 1 – This section established a process to admit new states—both slave and free—to the Union.
  • Article 4, Section 4 – This section guaranteed that the U.S. government would protect states from “domestic Violence,” including rebellions by enslaved people.
  • Article 5 – This section required three-fourths of the states to ratify any amendment to the Constitution. This gave slave states a veto over any constitutional changes so long as they were not greatly outnumbered by free states.

6.C The Constitution created a federal government without the power to interfere in the domestic institutions of the states. This ensured that the federal government could not emancipate enslaved people in particular states.


How can I teach this?

  • Between 1787 and 1860, the majority of presidents and Supreme Court justices enslaved people. Students could research presidents and justices to determine the role that slavery played in the lives of some of the most powerful Americans.
  • The speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass draws specific and repeated attention to the hypocrisy of a “land of liberty” that preserves and defends slavery.
  • The U.S. Constitution includes many connections to slavery, enslaved people and enslavers. Students could study the text of the document itself to search for these connections.
  • The Electoral College has affected elections since its founding. Students could research election results to explore this impact and examine arguments for and against retaining the Electoral College.
  • In a short video by Learning for Justice, Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed shows how debates over slavery shaped the founding documents of the United States.
  • Episodes 10 and 11 of Learning for Justice’s Teaching Hard History: American Slavery podcast explore the many ways the Constitution and the Supreme Court protected slavery.



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