Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIX.: SLAVE REPRESENTATION. - The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: Part Second
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CHAPTER XIX.: SLAVE REPRESENTATION. - Lysander Spooner, The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: Part Second 
The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: Part Second (Boston: Bela Marsh, 1860).
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The injustice to the North that is involved in allowing slaves, who can have no rights in the government, who can owe it no allegiance, who are necessarily its enemies, and who therefore weaken, instead of supporting it—the injustice and inequality of allowing such persons to be represented at all in competition with those who alone have rights in the government, and who alone support it, is so palpable and monstrous, as utterly to forbid any such construction being put upon language that does not necessarily mean it. The absurdity, also, of such a representation, is, if possible, equal to its injustice. We have no right—legal rules, that are universally acknowledged, imperatively forbid us—unnecessarily to place upon the language of an instrument a construction, that either stultifies the parties to it to such a degree as the slave construction does the people of the North, or that makes them consent to having such glaring and outrageous injustice practised upon them.
But it will be said in reply to these arguments, that, as a compensation to the North for the injustice of slave representation, all direct taxes are to be based on population; that slaves are to be counted as three fifths citizens, in the apportionment of those taxes; and that the injustice of the representation being thus compensated for, by a corresponding taxation, its absurdity is removed.
But this reply is a mere assumption of the fact that the constitution authorizes slave taxation; a fact, that, instead of being assumed, stands only on the same evidence as does the slave representation, and therefore as much requires to be proved by additional evidence, as does the representation itself. The reply admits that the slave representation is so groundless, absurd, unequal, and unjust, that it would not be allowable to put that construction upon the clause, if it had provided only for representation. Yet it attempts to support the construction by alleging, without any additional evidence, that the direct taxation, (if there should ever be any direct taxation,) was to be on the same absurd principle. But this is no answer to the objection. It only fortifies it; for it accuses the constitution of two absurdities, instead of one, and does it upon evidence that is admitted to be insufficient to sustain even one. And the argument for slavery does, in reality, accuse the constitution of these two absurdities, without bringing sufficient evidence to prove either of them. Not having sufficient evidence to prove either of these absurdities, independently of the other, it next attempts to make each absurdity prove the other. But two legal absurdities, that are proved only by each other, are not proved at all. And thus this whole fabric of slave representation and slave taxation falls to the ground.
Undoubtedly, if the clause authorizes slave representation, it also authorizes slave taxation; or if it authorizes slave taxation, it undoubtedly authorizes slave representation. But the first question to be settled is, whether it authorizes either? And this certainly is not to be answered in the affirmative, by simply saying that, if it authorizes one, it authorizes the other.
If any one wishes to prove that the clause authorizes slave representation, he must first prove that point independently of the taxation, and then he may use the representation to prove the taxation; or else he must first prove the slave taxation, and then he may use the taxation to prove the representation. But he cannot use either to prove the other, until he has first proved one independently of the other; a thing which probably nobody will ever undertake to do. No one certainly will ever undertake to prove the representation independently of the taxation; and it is doubtful whether any one will ever undertake to prove the taxation, independently of the representation. The absurdity and incongruity of reckoning one single kind of property as persons, in a government and system of taxation founded on persons, are as great as would be that of valuing one single class of persons as property, in a government and system of taxation founded on property. The absurdity and incongruity in each case would be too great to be allowable, if the language would admit, (as in this case it does admit,) of another and reasonable construction.
Nevertheless, if any one should think that this slave taxation is not a thing so absurd or unjust as to forbid that construction, still, the fact that, if that construction be established, the absurd and unjust representation will follow as a consequence from it, is a sufficient reason why it cannot be adopted. For we are bound to make the entire clause harmonious with itself, if possible; and, in doing so, we are bound to make it reasonable throughout, if that be possible, rather than absurd throughout.
I have thus far admitted, for the sake of the argument, the common idea, that the taxation, which the slave construction of this clause would provide for, would be some compensation to the North, for the slave representation. But, in point of fact, it would not necessarily be any compensation at all; for it is only direct taxes that are to be apportioned in this manner, and the government is not required to lay direct taxes at all. Indeed, this same unjust representation, which it is claimed that the clause authorizes, may be used to defeat the very taxation which it is said was allowed as an equivalent for it. So that, according to the slave argument, the unjust representation is made certain, while the compensating taxation is made contingent; and not only contingent, but very likely contingent upon the will of the unjust representation itself. Here, then, are another manifest and gross absurdity and injustice, which the slave construction is bound to overcome, before it can be adopted.
But suppose the taxation had been made certain, so as to correspond with, and compensate for, the representation—what then? The purport of the clause would then have been, that the North said to the South, “We will suffer you to govern us, (by means of an unequal representation,) if you will pay such a portion, (about one sixth,) of our taxes.” Certainly no construction, unless an unavoidable one, is allowable, that would fasten upon the people of the north the baseness and the infamy of having thus bargained away their equal political power for money; of having sold their freedom for a price. But when it is considered how paltry this price was, and that its payment was not even guarantied, or likely ever to be made, such a construction of the contract would make the people of the North as weak and foolish, as infamous and despicable. Is there a man in the whole northern states, that would now consent to such a contract for himself and his children? No. What right, then, have we to accuse all our fathers, (fathers too who had proved their appreciation of liberty by risking life and fortune in its defence,) of doing what none of us would do? No legal rules of interpretation, that were ever known to any decent tribunal, authorize us to put such a construction upon their instrument as no reasonable and honorable man would ever have agreed to. There never lived a man in the northern states, who would have consented to such a contract, unless bribed or moved to it by some motive beyond his proportionate share in such a price. Yet this price is all the motive that can be legally assigned for such a contract; for the general benefits of the Union must be presumed to have been equal to each party. If any difference were allowable in this respect, it must have been in favor of the North, for the South were the weaker party, and needed union much more than the north.
This question has thus far been treated as if the South had really made some pretence, at least, of paying more than her share of taxation. But this is by no means the true mode of presenting the question; because these persons, it must be remembered, whom it is claimed were to be represented and taxed only as three fifths of a person each, were legally free by the then existing State constitutions; and, therefore, instead of being slaves, not entitled to be represented or taxed at all as persons, were really entitled to be represented, and liable to be taxed, as units, equally with the other people of the United States. All this the North must be presumed to have known. The true mode of presenting the question, therefore, is this, viz., 1. Whether the South, for the privilege of enslaving a portion of her people, of holding them in slavery under the protection of the North, and of saving two fifths of her direct taxation upon them, agreed to surrender two fifths of her representation on all she should enslave? and, 2. Whether the North, in order to secure to herself a superiority of representation, consented to the enslavement of a portion of the Southern people, guarantied their subjection, and agreed to abate two fifths of the direct taxation on every individual enslaved? This is the true mode of presenting the subject; and the slave construction of the clause answers these questions in the affirmative. It makes the North to have purchased for herself a superior representation, and to have paid a bounty on slavery, by remitting taxes to which the South would have been otherwise liable; and it makes the South to have chartered away her equal representation, her equal political power—makes her, in fact, to have sold her own liberties to the North, for a pitiful amount of taxation, and the privilege of enslaving a part of her own people.
Such is the contract—infamous on the part of both North and South, and base, suicidal, and servile on the part of the South—which the slave construction would make out of this provision of the constitution. Such a contract cannot be charged upon political communities, unless it be “expressed with irresistible clearness.” Much less can it be done on the evidence of language, which equally well admits of a construction that is rational, honorable, and innocent, on the part of both.
The construction which legal rules require, to wit, that “free persons” mean the citizens, and “all other persons” the aliens, avoids all these obstacles in the way of making this clause an honorable, equal, and reasonable contract.