The Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote an article for the 1619 Project in the New York Times, where she claimed:

The Constitution contains 84 clauses. Six deal directly with the enslaved and their enslavement, as the historian David Waldstreicher has written, and five more hold implications for slavery. The Constitution protected the “property” of those who enslaved black people, prohibited the federal government from intervening to end the importation of enslaved Africans for a term of 20 years, allowed Congress to mobilize the militia to put down insurrections by the enslaved and forced states that had outlawed slavery to turn over enslaved people who had run away seeking refuge.

I can't find evidence of anything like this in the Constitution, but maybe I'm biased. I tend to think they didn't mention slavery because it was just "normal".

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    At the very least, it has done since 1865.
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 11, 2020 at 19:51
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    The author of that put property in quotes for a reason. It's hardly revelatory that slaves were property, but in the 1619 Project's view only slave property was in consideration. The validity of that view seems to be the question here, so I'm not sure such historical and political analysis is in our wheelhouse here.
    – user11643
    Sep 11, 2020 at 22:59
  • @F1Krazy. I wasn't talking about amendments to the constitution but the original document
    – boatcoder
    Sep 12, 2020 at 2:02
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    @boatcoder the claim you quoted doesn't say anything about the "original document." It just says "the Constituion." The Constitution includes amendments. Sep 12, 2020 at 3:23

2 Answers 2


Yes, the quoted claims are largely correct. Some of the Constitutional powers mentioned were less slavery-focused than the quote suggests, but they certainly could be used in the ways the quote describes.

Article One, section 9 of the Constitution deals with the admission of people into the states:

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Here, the Constitution prohibits Congress from passing laws prohibiting the 'Migration or Importation' of anyone prior to 1808, though they could tax such importation. On January 1, 1808 this clause became irrelevant, allowing Congress's Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves to come into effect.

As for the ability to mobilize militias, that is in Article One, Section 8, clauses 15 and 16:

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

It doesn't say that the militias were for suppressing "insurrections by the enslaved" specifically, but Congress could mobilize militias to deal with them like any other type of insurrection.

Finally, Article Four, section 2, clause 3 dealt with returning escaped slaves:

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

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    I think it should be made clear that in the historical context, Article 1 Section 9 was clearly referring to the slave trade; the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807 took effect literally the day after the constitutional restriction on such an prohibition ended.
    – H Huang
    Sep 11, 2020 at 21:07
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    In light of this, it seems more like the wording was in there to bring additional states into the organization rather that being something that was planned for and chosen. That kick the can down the road 20 years sounds a lot like the current debt ceiling can kicking that goes on today.
    – boatcoder
    Sep 12, 2020 at 2:05
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    Notwithstanding all of the (proper and correct) citations in this answer, the first use of the word "slavery" (or related terms) appears in the Thirteenth Amendment, which banned it. Everything before that is couched in euphemisms and circumlocutions. So @boatcoder is quite right to assert that they were kicking the can down the road. But such can-kicking is a great deal more problematic when it involves the literal enslavement of human beings.
    – Kevin
    Sep 12, 2020 at 7:59

Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 reads, emphasis mine,

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Representation in the US House of Representatives was based on population. The northern states were more industrial and more heavily populated than were the agricultural southern states. The southern states perceived this as problematic, giving to much power to the industrial north.

This clause, widely known as the 3/5 compromise, counts a person who could vote as one whole person. Bonded servants, whose time of service was time-limited, also counted as one whole person, even if they could not vote.

Slavery was not time-limited. It lasted from birth to death, and included offspring. While slaves could not vote, they did count as 3/5 of a person with regard to a state's allocation in the House of Representatives.

Like all other clauses in the Constitution that implicitly acknowledged the existence of slavery, this clause does not explicitly say that slaves count as 3/5 of a person. But who else could it mean? The clause explicitly addresses free persons, people in bonded servitude, and even Indians. The people left out as "all other persons" were slaves.

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