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Fugitive Slaves and the Constitution
Digital History ID 254

Author:   Pierce Butler


The most controversial issues discussed at the Constitutional Convention involved slavery. Among the matters that Convention debated was whether states were obligated to return runaway slaves; whether slaves would count in apportioning representation or taxation; whether Congress had the power to abolish or regulate the slave trade from Africa or the West Indies or to regulate the interstate slave trade; and whether Congress had the right to prohibit slavery in the western territories. In the end, the northern delegates' commitment to union proved to be greater than any commitment to weaken slavery.

Pierce Butler of South Carolina proposed that states be required to return fugitive slaves. The provision was adopted without debate, in part because the northern delegates feared that fugitives might create an unemployment problem in the North.


Wheresoever any person bound to service or labour in any state shall flee into another state, he shall not be thereby discharged from such service or labor: but the legislatures of the several states shall make provision for the recovery of such person[.]

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Pierce Butler, [Wheresoever any person bound to service...]

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