In 2020, the award-winning documentary filmmaker Gloria Greenfield, President of Doc Emet Productions, established a series called “Deep Dives into Critical Issues.” The March issue of the series features Robert Paquette, President of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), addressing the question of whether the United States Constitution was proslavery or antislavery.
The intellectual architects of the New York Times’s gleefully subversive 1619 Project pronounced the United States Constitution as unabashedly proslavery. “[T]he framers,” Nikole Hannah-Jones writes, “carefully constructed a document that preserved and protected slavery without ever using the word.” Paquette challenges this contention.
To be sure, more than thirty of the fifty-five framers of the Constitution owned slaves. But as Paquette points out, the majority of delegates to the Constitutional Convention would have considered themselves as antislavery in theory or sentiment. At a time when “all the world’s great religion” had given authoritative approval to the institution, the framers hoped for conditions that would bring about a gradual end to slavery. The consciously chose not to sully the document with the words slave or slavery, using euphemisms instead in the few articles in which slavery is indeed a presence.
Paquette intertwines the institution of slavery in the Early Republic with the contentious idea of sovereignty. The creation of the great experiment in republican governments raised a vital debate, settled by the Civil War, as to the very meaning of the word and how the sovereignty of the people would be institutionalized in a form of government that was something new under the sun. “Was the Constitution proslavery or antislavery?” Paquette concludes, “It was neither, and it was both.”