Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Missouri Compromise: Missouri Drafts a Constitution

The legislation that comprised the first Missouri Compromise, described in my last post, was passed and signed into law at the beginning of March 1820. In June, the people of Missouri held a convention and drafted a constitution

Article III of the proposed constitution, entitled “Of Legislative Power,” was the analog of Article I of the U.S. Constitution. Section 26 of that article, which became the focal point of subsequent attacks, contained provisions relating to slaves and “free negroes and mulattoes”. In broad terms, the section was divided into three parts, identifying (a) laws the legislature had “no power to pass,” (b) laws the legislature did “have power to pass,” and (c) laws that the legislature had a “duty” to pass.

It’s worth reading the entire Section 26, I think, because it reflects a number of conflicting impulses. On the one hand, it attempts to encourage the immigration of slave-owning settlers, severely restricts emancipation and forbids the immigration of free blacks. On the other hand, it demonstrates an aversion for the slave trade, and the constitutional exhortation to treat slaves “with humanity” is particularly surprising.

I have retained the odd punctuation and paragraph breaks of the copy that was apparently delivered to Washington. They may prove significant:
The general assembly shall have no power to pass laws; First, For the emancipation of slaves without the consent of their owners, or without paying them, before such emancipation, a full equivalent for such slaves so emancipated; and, Second, To prevent bona fide emigrants to this state, or actual settlers therein, from bringing from any of the United States, or from any of their territories, such persons as may there be deemed to be slaves, so long as any persons of the same description are allowed to be held as slaves by the laws of this state.

They shall have power to pass laws; First, To prohibit the introduction into this state of any slave who may have committed any high crime in any other state or territory; Second, To prohibit the introduction of any slave for the purpose of speculation, or as an article of trade or merchandise; Third, To prohibit the introduction of any slave, or the offspring of any slave, who heretofore may have been or who hereafter may be, imported from any foreign country into the United States, or any territory thereof, in contravention of any existing statute of the United States; and, Fourth, To permit the owners of slaves to emancipate them, saving the rights of creditors, where the person so emancipating will give security that the slave so emancipated shall not become a public charge.

It shall be their duty, as soon as may be, to pass such laws as may be necessary.

First, To prevent free negroes and mulattoes from coming to, and settling in, this state, under any pretext whatsoever; and,

Second, To oblige the owners of slaves to treat them with humanity, and to abstain from all injuries to them extending to life or limb.

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