It singularly and fortunately happens that one of the ``thirty-nine,'' ``while engaged on that instrument,'' viz., while advocating its ratification before the Pennsylvania Convention, did express an opinion upon this ``precise question,'' which opinion was never disputed or doubted, in that or any other Convention, and was accepted by the opponents of the Constitution, as an indisputable fact. This was the celebrated James Wilson, of Pennsylvania. The opinion is as follows:---
MONDAY, Dec. 3, 1787.
``With respect to the clause restricting Congress from prohibiting the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, prior to the year 1808: The Hon. gentleman says that this clause is not only dark, but intended to grant to Congress, for that time, the power to admit the importation of slaves. No such thing was intended; but I will tell you what was done, and it gives me high pleasure that so much was done. Under the present Confederation, the States may admit the importation of slaves as long as they please; but by this article, after the year 1808, the Congress will have power to prohibit such importation, notwithstanding the disposition of any State to the contrary. I consider this as laying the foundation for banishing slavery out of this country; and though the period is more distant than I could wish, yet it will produce the same kind, gradual change which was pursued in Pennsylvania. It is with much satisfaction that I view this power in the general government, whereby they may lay an interdiction on this reproachful trade. But an immediate advantage is also obtained; for a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding $10 for each person; and this, sir, operates as a partial prohibition; it was all that could be obtained. I am sorry it was no more; but from this I think there is reason to hope that yet a few years, and it will be prohibited altogether. And in the meantime, the new States which are to be formed will be under the control of Congress in this particular, and slaves will never be introduced amongst them.''---2 Elliott's Debates, 423.
It was argued by Patrick Henry in the Convention in Virginia, as follows:
``May not Congress enact that every black man must fight? Did we not see a little of this in the last war? We were not so hard pushed as to make emancipation general. But acts of Assembly passed, that every slave who would go to the army should be free. Another thing will contribute to bring this event about. Slavery is detested. We feel its fatal effects. We deplore it with all the pity of humanity. Let all these considerations press with full force on the minds of Congress. Let that urbanity which, I trust, will distinguish America, and the necessity of national defence---let all these things operate on their minds, they will search that paper, and see if they have power of manumission. And have they not, sir? Have they not power to provide for the general defence and welfare? May they not think that these call for the abolition of slavery? May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power? There is no ambiguous implication, no logical deduction. The paper speaks to the point; they have the power in clear, unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise it.''---3 Elliott's Debates, 534.
Edmund Randolph, one of the framers of the Constitution, replied to Mr. Henry, admitting the general force of the argument, but claiming that, because of other provisions, it had no application to the States where slavery then existed; thus conceding that power to exist in Congress as to all territory belonging to the United States.
Dr. Ramsay, a member of the Convention of South Carolina, in his history of the United States, vol. 3, pages 36, 37, says: ``Under these liberal principles, Congress, in organizing colonies, bound themselves to impart to their inhabitants all the privileges of coequal States, as soon as they were capable of enjoying them.
In their infancy, government was administered for them without any expense. As soon as they should have 60,000 inhabitants, they were authorized to call a convention, and, by common consent, to form their own constitution. This being done, they were entitled to representation in Congress, and every right attached to the original States. These privileges are not confined to any particular country or complexion. They are communicable to the emancipated slave, (for in the new State of Ohio, slavery is altogether prohibited), to the copper-colored native, and all other human beings who, after a competent residence and degree of civilization, are capable of enjoying the blessings of regular government.''
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