Ex-Clintonista George Stephanopoulos did his very best to torpedo Michele Bachmann yesterday on his ‘news’ show. In the course of his extremely smarmy interview, he asked her about a quote of hers to the effect that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery, citing that Washington and Jefferson, among others, were slave owners.
While Bachmann countered by mentioning John Quincy Adams, who was his father’s secretary, the fact is that the Founding Fathers, or at least the majority of them did indeed work tirelessly to end slavery, and while they failed in the immediate sense, they succeeded in that they laid the groundwork for slavery’s demise 70 years later.
An excellent read on the matter is a brilliant book called Miracle in Philadelphia, by Catherine Drinker Bowen, which recounts the actual history and debates around the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Slavery was a huge issue during that convention, and many of the Founding Fathers wanted it outlawed, but ran into an impasse after many hours of debate with the southern colonies whose agricultural productivity depended on it.
The Founders who wanted to set the stage for the abolition of slavery came up with a compromise involving the issue of apportionment.
The southern colonies that favored slavery wanted all residents of their states, slave and free, counted equally when it came to deciding how many seats they were going to receive in Congress. Some of the northern colonies, who mostly had few slaves and thus nothing to lose didn’t want slave residents counted at all.
The Founder’s compromise was to count each slave as 3/5 of a man for the purposes of apportionment, and when that passed after a great deal more debate and lobbying, legislators from the slave states were permanently limited to a minority. With that one stroke, the state was set for slavery’s eventual demise, and the proof of how effective it was came in 1804, when the slave states were powerless to stop Congress from outlawing the importation of slaves to the new nation.
The stage was set, even if it took 70 years and a bloody war.
So it’s Rep. Michele Bachmann who’s correct and knows her history – not George Stephanopoulos.