Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XI.: THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE PEOPLE. - The Unconstitutionality of Slavery
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CHAPTER XI.: THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE PEOPLE. - Lysander Spooner, The Unconstitutionality of Slavery 
The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (Boston: Bela Marsh, 1860).
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THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE PEOPLE.
Although the inquiry may be of no legal importance, it may nevertheless be one pertinent to the subject, whether it be matter of history even—to say nothing of legal proof—that the people of the country did really understand or believe that the constitution sanctioned slavery? Those who make the assertion are bound to prove it. The presumption is against them. Where is their contrary history?
They will say that a part of the people were actually slaveholders, and that it is unreasonable to suppose they would have agreed to the constitution, if they had understood it to be a free one.
The answer to this argument is, that the actual slaveholders were few in number compared with the whole people; comprising probably not more than one eighth or one sixth of the voters, and one fortieth or one thirtieth of the whole population. They were so few as to be manifestly incapable of maintaining any separate political organization; or even of holding their slave property, except under the sufferance, toleration and protection of the non-slaveholders. They were compelled, therefore, to agree to any political organization, which the non-slaveholders should determine on. This was at that time the case even in the strongest of the slaveholding States themselves. In all of them, without exception, the slaveholders were either obliged to live, or from choice did live, under free constitutions. They, of course, held their slave property in defiance of their constitutions. They were enabled to do this through the corrupting influence of their wealth and union. Controlling a large proportion of the wealth of their States, their social and political influence was entirely disproportionate to their numbers. They could act in concert. They could purchase talent by honors, offices and money. Being always united, while the non-slaveholders were divided, they could turn the scale in elections, and fill most of the offices with slaveholders. Many of the non-slaveholders doubtless were poor, dependent and subservient, (as large portions of the non-slaveholders are now in the slaveholding States,) and lent themselves to the support of slavery almost from necessity. By these, and probably by many other influences that we cannot now understand, they were enabled to maintain their hold upon their slave property in defiance of their constitutions. It is even possible that the slaveholders themselves did not choose to have the subject of slavery mentioned in their constitutions; that they were so fully conscious of their power to corrupt and control their governments, that they did not regard any constitutional provision necessary for their security; and that out of mere shame at the criminality of the thing, and its inconsistency with all the princip es the country had been fighting for and proclaiming, they did not wish it to be named.
But whatever may have been the cause of the fact, the fact itself is conspicuous, that from some cause or other, either with the consent of the slaveholders, or in defiance of their power, the constitutions of every one of the thirteen States were at that time free ones.
Now is it not idle and useless to pretend, when even the strongest slaveholding States had free constitutions—when not one of the separate States, acting for itself, would have any but a free constitution—that the whole thirteen, when acting in unison, should concur in establishing a slaveholding one? The idea is preposterous. The single fact that all the State constitutions were at that time free ones, scatters forever the pretence that the majority of the people of all the States either intended to establish, or could have been induced to establish, any other than a free one for the nation. Of course it scatters also the pretence that they believed or understood that they were establishing any but a free one.
There very probably may have been a general belief among the people, that slavery would for a while live on, on sufferance; that the government, until the nation should have become attached to the constitution, and cemented and consolidated by the habit of union, would be too weak, and too easily corrupted by the innumerable and powerful appliances of slaveholders, to wrestle with and strangle slavery. But to suppose that the nation at large did not look upon the constitution as destined to destroy slavery, whenever its principles should be carried into full effect, is obviously to suppose an intellectual impossibility; for the instrument was plain, and the people had common sense; and those two facts cannot stand together consistently with the idea that there was any general, or even any considerable misunderstanding of its meaning.