Slave quarters on a plantation, possibly in Beaufort, South Carolina

The Political Power of Slave Masters (1848)

This report appeared in Frederick Douglass’s The North Star on October 20, 1848.

In 1847, with Douglass and M.R. Delaney as editors, The North Star was established: “…It has long been our anxious wish to see, in this slave-holding, slave-trading, and negro-hating land, a printing-press and paper, permanently established, under the complete control and direction of the immediate victims of slavery and oppression…”

The Slave Power – Politically

It appeared by the last census, that the number of slaves in the U. States, was 2,487,113.

Estimating ten slaves to one master, there were only 248,711 slaveholders. Of the legal voters of the United States, the slaveholders are about as 1 to 20.

Three-fifths of 2,487,113, is 1,492,255, which divided by 70,680, the present ratio of representation, makes 21 – the exact number of members on the floor of the House of Representatives, in Congress, sent there, under Section 2d of the Constitution, to represent the Slave Power.

The Senate has a Veto on every law, and as one-half of that body are slaveholders, it follows, of course, that no law can be passed without their consent.

No bill has passed the Senate, nor a treaty been ratified, since the organization of the government, but by the votes of slaveholders.

Appointments are made by the President, with the consent of the Senate, and of course the slaveholders have, and always have had, a veto on every appointment.

In consequence of the peculiar apportionment of Presidential Electors among the States, and the operation of the rule of federal numbers, whereby, for the purpose of estimating the representative population, five slaves are counted as three white men, most extraordinary results are exhibited at every election for President .

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.
In the election of 1840, the electors chosen were 294; of these, 168 were from the free, and 126 were from the Slave States.  The popular vote in the Free States, was 1,726,737, or one elector to 10,278 voters.

The popular vote in the Slave States was 682,583, or one elector to 5,935 votes, (South Carolina had 11 electors chosen by the Legislature.) These are deducted in the calculation.

Even this disproportion, enormous as it is, is greatly aggravated in regard to particular States.

New York gave 443,331 votes, and had 42 electors.

Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina gave 229,569 votes, and had 21 electors.

Ohio gave 272,939 votes, and had 21 electors.

Georgia, Kentucky, Delaware, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas, gave 263,941 votes, and had 44 electors.

During 20 years, and six Presidential elections, the South cast 608 electoral votes, and only 41 of them for Northern candidates.

In the election of 1844, 13 Free States had 161 electors, and gave 1,890,884 votes – 1 elector to 11,000 votes, while 12 Slave States had 105 electors, and gave 789,848 votes – one elector to 6,608 votes .

The rule of federal numbers, confined by the Constitution to the apportionment of representatives, has been extended by the influence of slaveholders, to other and very different subjects. – Thus, the distribution among the States of the surplus revenues, and of the proceeds of the public lands, were made according to this same iniquitous rule.

Of the 15 Presidential terms, 12 have been filled with slaveholders. No northern man has been allowed to serve more than one term.

From the adoption of the Constitution to June 1842, there were 75 elections of President of the Senate, pro tem. Of these, the Slave States had 60, and the Free States 16.

Previous to 1842, no Northern man had held the office for 30 years.

While the Senate was equally, divided the slaveholders almost always contrived to secure a presiding officer.

Of the 15 who had filled the office of Secretary of State up to 1842, the slave States had ten.

The Free States have usually furnished the men for the army and navy, and the Slave States the principal part of the officers. – Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1849.

Source: The North Star, October 20, 1848

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