Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1

Document 23

Charles Pinckney, House of Representatives

14 Feb. 1820Annals 36:1315--17

The supporters of the amendment contend that Congress have the right to insist on the prevention of involuntary servitude in Missouri; and found the right on the ninth section of the first article, which says, "the migration or importation of such persons as the States now existing may think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation not exceeding ten dollars."

In considering this article, I will detail, as far as at this distant period is possible, what was the intention of the Convention that formed the Constitution in this article. The intention was, to give Congress a power, after the year 1808, to prevent the importation of slaves either by land or water from other countries. The word import, includes both, and applies wholly to slaves. Without this limitation, Congress might have stopped it sooner under their general power to regulate commerce; and it was an agreed point, a solemnly understood compact, that, on the Southern States consenting to shut their ports against the importation of Africans, no power was to be delegated to Congress, nor were they ever to be authorized to touch the question of slavery; that the property of the Southern States in slaves was to be as sacredly preserved, and protected to them, as that of land, or any other kind of property in the Eastern States were to be to their citizens.

The term, or word, migration, applies wholly to free whites; in its Constitutional sense, as intended by the Convention, it means "voluntary change of servitude", from one country to another. The reasons of its being adopted and used in the Constitution, as far as I can recollect, were these; that the Constitution being a frame of government, consisting wholly of delegated powers, all power, not expressly delegated, being reserved to the people or the States, it was supposed, that, without some express grant to them of power on the subject, Congress would not be authorized ever to touch the question of migration hither, or emigration to this country, however pressing or urgent the necessity for such a measure might be; that they could derive no such power from the usages of nations, or even the laws of war; that the latter would only enable them to make prisoners of alien enemies, which would not be sufficient, as spies or other dangerous emigrants, who were not alien enemies, might enter the country for treasonable purposes, and do great injury; that, as all governments possessed this power, it was necessary to give it to our own, which could alone exercise it, and where, on other and much greater points, we had placed unlimited confidence; it was, therefore, agreed that, in the same article, the word migration should be placed; and that, from the year 1808, Congress should possess the complete power to stop either or both, as they might suppose the public interest required; the article, therefore, is a negative pregnant, restraining for twenty years, and giving the power after.

The reasons for restraining the power to prevent migration hither for twenty years, were, to the best of my recollection, these: That, as at this time, we had immense and almost immeasurable territory, peopled by not more than two millions and a half of inhabitants, it was of very great consequence to encourage the emigration of able, skilful, and industrious Europeans. The wise conduct of William Penn, and the unexampled growth of Pennsylvania, were cited. It was said, that the portals of the only temple of true freedom now existing on earth should be thrown open to all mankind; that all foreigners of industrious habits should be welcome, and none more so than men of science, and such as may bring to us arts we are unacquainted with, or the means of perfecting those in which we are not yet sufficiently skilled--capitalists whose wealth may add to our commerce or domestic improvements; let the door be ever and most affectionately open to illustrious exiles and sufferers in the cause of liberty; in short, open it liberally to science, to merit, and talents, wherever found, and receive and make them your own. That the safest mode would be to pursue the course for twenty years, and not, before that period, put it at all into the power of Congress to shut it; that, by that time, the Union would be so settled, and our population would be so much increased, we could proceed on our own stock, without the farther accession of foreigners; that, as Congress were to be prohibited from stopping the importation of slaves to settle the Southern States, as no obstacle was to be thrown in the way of their increase and settlement for that period, let it be so with the Northern and Eastern, to which, particularly New York and Philadelphia, it was expected most of the emigrants would go from Europe: and it so happened, for, previous to the year 1808, more than double as many Europeans emigrated to these States, as of Africans were imported into the Southern States.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1, Document 23
The University of Chicago Press

Annals of Congress. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States. "History of Congress." 42 vols. Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1834--56.

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