the quartet orchestrating the second american revolution 1783 1789.pdf

It is clear that several delegates like dickinson

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was a moral travesty that rendered the Constitution “a covenant with death.” It is clear that several delegates, like Dickinson, shared their moral concerns. But they chose to subordinate those concerns to the political priority of creating a national government that included the South. Hamilton, for example, who was a charter member of the Manumission Society in New York, never rose in debate to express his antislavery convictions because he knew the political consequences. Moral purity on this score would come at the cost of American nationhood. And if you lost that, all moral concerns would become irrelevant, because there would be no political framework to enforce them. Historians who have embraced a neoabolitionist critique of the Constitution need to come to terms with the intractability of that dilemma. At an even deeper psychological level, the circumlocutions deployed for evasive purposes in the Constitution accurately captured the denial mechanisms that many of the southern delegates had developed in their daily lives as slave owners: ways of talking and even thinking designed to obscure the moral implications of their livelihoods and lifestyles. Twenty-five of the delegates owned slaves, including George Mason, who oversaw three hundred slaves at Gunston Hall and never freed them but incongruously delivered several passionate critiques of slavery at the convention. George Washington arrived in Philadelphia accompanied by three slaves, including his personal valet, Billy Lee, who stood behind his master’s chair throughout the convention, tending to his personal needs. One can only wonder what Billy Lee thought about the tortured debate over slavery. Or whether
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Washington wondered what Billy Lee was thinking. On the latter score, the likely answer is that Washington gave the matter no thought at all. And if he did, it would be the last thing he would ever talk about or record in his diary. The unofficial policy of silence at the convention on the all-important question of slavery was, to be sure, a political decision driven by a collective awareness of its explosive implications, but silence and willful obliviousness came naturally to most southern slave owners. It was the way they had learned to live their lives. The crescendo moment in the convention occurred in mid-July. Madison had by then given up any hope for his federal veto of state laws, and it was now clear that the small states had the votes to block his other nonnegotiable principle, proportional representation in both branches of the legislature. Because Madison and the bloc of nationalists he was leading refused to budge on this core principle, the convention was gridlocked. A grim and somber mood began to settle in as the impasse seemed to suggest that the Philadelphia convention would go the way of Annapolis, meaning total and abject failure.
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