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(1787) Gouverner Morris “The Curse of Slavery”

The Constitutional Convention in 1787 debated the institution of slavery.  In the speech below Gouverner Morris, a Pennsylvania delegate, described the negative impact of the institution on both North and South and in doing so made public at the highest level the division that would eventually cause the Civil War seventy four years later.

IT WAS A NEFARIOUS INSTITUTION-It was the curse of heaven on the States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich & noble cultivation marks the prosperity & happiness of the people, with the misery & poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Va. Maryd. & the other States having slaves. Travel thro" ye whole Continent & you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance & disappearance of slavery. The moment you leave ye E[astern] Sts. & enter N[ew] York, the effects of the institution become visible; Passing thro" the Jerseys and entering Pa.-every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed Southw[ar]dly, & every step you take thro" ye great regions of slaves, presents a desert increasing with ye increasing proportion of these wretched beings.

Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them Citizens & let them vote. Are they property? Why then is no other property included? The Houses in this city (Philada.) are worth more than all the wretched slaves which cover the rice swamps of South Carolina. The admission of slaves into the Representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and S. C. who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections & dam(n)s them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a Govt. instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pa. or N[ew] Jersey who views with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice.  He would add that Domestic slavery is the most

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