Jan 222016
 

by Kim Pederson…….

A friend recently gave me a copy of The Constitution of the United States of America. It comes in a small blue booklet published by the American Civil Liberties Union. His comment was that everyone should have one of these on hand. I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read the entire Constitution, although I’m betting I am in the company of millions in this omission. So I decided to rectify this lapse of civic duty. I got stuck fairly quickly, though, when I came to Article I, Section 9.

Fortunately, "We the People" have wised up a wee bit since 1788.

Fortunately, “We the People” have wised up a wee bit since 1788.

What halted my perusal were these words:

Section 9. The Migration of Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

So my first thought was, hey, the US government gave itself the right to tax every slave brought into the country and forbade itself from outlawing slavery until 1808. What!!!? That can’t be right. So I looked it up and got gobsmacked. To put it in Wikipedia’s words, “The first clause in this section prevents Congress from passing any law that would restrict the importation of slaves into the United States prior to 1808.” And then comes this weird revelation: “On January 1, 1808, the first day it was permitted to do so, Congress approved legislation prohibiting the importation of slaves into the United States.”

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a lawful tax on “imported” human beings is described in our Constitution, given the circumstances and mindset toward slavery among the authors at the time. The acceptance of slavery is tacit in the earlier Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 9, the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise that decrees that people who were not “Free Persons” or Indians (that’s a whole other story) would count as three-fifths of a person in determining the state’s population for legislative representation and taxation.

Thankfully, the country was already moving in the direction of outlawing slavery at the time, as the Slave Trade Act of 1794 evidences. (We did, though, take another 71 years to actually end slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment.) I am stymied, however, by the year 1808. Why did the Constitution authors choose that year, twenty years after the document was ratified? The answer is probably out there in books detailing how our founding laws came into being. My guess is it was one of the numerous compromises between those from the northern states and those from the southern states.

The silver lining here, it seems, is that the attendees at the Constitutional Convention were able to work together and come to agreement, a lesson the current Congress needs to study and take to heart.

Meanwhile I will read on. Article II in the Constitution is all about presidential powers. This should be interesting. I will let you know.

Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.

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Kim Pederson
Kim Pederson has been a freelance writer and editor since 1996. Prior to that, he was Senior Editor with Charles River Associates, an international economics consulting firm. Kim earned a B.A. in English (Honors) from the University of Montana and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop. His plays have won awards and been produced in Seattle and other locations; his screenplays have won awards and been optioned, and he has done work-for-hire scripts for film production companies. Kim lives in Key West with his wife Kalo and two Maine coon cats, VeuDeu and Pazuzu.
 January 22, 2016  Posted by at 1:02 am Issue #150, Kim Pederson  Add comments

  2 Responses to “Article I, Section 9”

  1. Interestingly, the prohibition of importation of slaves was lobbied into existence by the Virginians. Virginia had the healthiest slaves in the colonies because the work and conditions were better. Virginia had the highest population of slaves and also the greatest birth rate among them. It was Virginia’s plan to become the nation’s sole supplier of slave labor.
    JR

  2. JR, Very interesting. Do you think we will ever start teaching that in our public schools … or any of our schools? Maybe they teach it in Virginia? After all it shows what an enlightened state they were. Good stuff, ciao, Jerome

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