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date: 02 April 2020

Constitution, U.Slocked

  • Paul Finkelman


The U.S. Constitution, written in 1787, did not specifically mention slavery or race. Throughout the Constitutional Convention the delegates talked about “blacks,” “Negroes,” and “slaves,” but the final document avoided these terms because northerners made it clear that using these terms would undermine support for the new form of government among their constituents. As James Iredell, one of North Carolina's delegates, told his state's ratifying convention, “The word slave is not mentioned” because “the northern delegates, owing to their particular scruples on the subject of slavery, did not choose the word slave to be mentioned, the southerners at the Convention were willing to do without the word slave.”

A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619–1895.

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