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1787-1790: We adopt a Constitution for our new Republic

August 28, 1787
Delegates face the awful dilemma of slavery

Constitution

“The Convention is in a dilemma. By agreeing to the clause it will revolt [many] in the States having no slaves. On the other hand, two states might be lost to the Union.”
—Edmund Randolph, Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention

Slavery. The issue every delegate thinks about, yet hopes to avoid.

Southern states want slaves counted in their population, to boost their representation in the House. Georgia and South Carolina say they’ll leave if they can’t keep importing slaves.

An impossible dilemma. Delegates who hate slavery don’t want to see the convention fail. So just three days after they agree not to interfere with the slave trade for twenty years, they compromise again and state that fugitive slaves must be returned.

And they have already agreed that for representation purposes, each slave will be counted as three-fifths of a person. The convention moves forward, but slavery remains unsettled for years.

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