The United States Constitution has received much criticism, both before and after its ratification in 1789. A wide array of thinkers from across the ages of the republic have offered criticisms about the nature, scope, and even fine details of the Constitution, sometimes providing solutions they think better themselves. Truly, however, two major schools of criticisms arise: those condemning the implications of having a document like the Constitution supreme over the nation, and those condemning specific parts and clauses of the document itself. Both criticisms based on the view that the Constitution is pro-slavery and those arguing against the nationalist nature of the document are unfounded.
One major criticism of the details of the Constitution stems from its inclusion of slavery. William Lloyd Garrison, a Massachusetts abolitionist and writer of The Liberator, argued that the Constitution was in fact written as a pro-slavery document. Citing the three-fifths clause, Garrison contested that the Constitution was invalid from its origin, since the initial compromise put aside morals and humanities for the sake of politics (385). Garrison argued that the founders were “sinful,” “weak,” and “trampled beneath their feet their own… Declaration, that all men are created equal” in proclaiming slavery legal and including it in the Constitution (385). In Garrison’s view, including slavery in the Constitution directly contradicted the rights to life, liberty, and property it promised. Since Garrison opined that the Constitution itself was invalid, he offered to his readers that a Union with slavery was not worth preserving, for if the South were to secede, it would be a weak government that could be easily overthrown by slaves, surely liberating them (385). While Garrison’s argument may seem well founded, it wrongly interprets the intention of the founders and their words in the Constitution.
Directly opposing Garrison was Frederick Douglass who, though he was born into slavery, became a credible author on the Constitution and the relationship of slavery to it. He contested Garrison by offering a different approach, one with considerably more merit. Douglass viewed the Constitution as an instrument of freedom that at its core was an antislavery document, promoting prosperity and freedom for all. Douglass argued that separating from the North, and therefore from the Constitution, was the South’s way of perpetuating slavery since the Constitution promoted freedom and did not foster slavery (387). Tensions between the North and the South simply would not have existed if the Constitution had been pro-slavery, since then the Southern states would have had no qualms with it—in essence, Douglass likened Garrison’s radical view with that of the pro-slavery South itself.
In Douglass’s ¬¬¬¬speech delivered in Glasgow, Scotland, he offered a variety of rebuttal arguments to combat Garrison’s criticisms of the Constitution. He claimed that the four...