specify whether, in the enumeration of inhabitants, they were to be estimated as free persons or as persons not free.
But would there be any fairness in construing this clause into an admission, by inference or otherwise, that an apprentice while "bound to service" is a slave? Clearly not. he is a person not free for the time, because another has a legal claim to his service or labor. The Constitution admits this; nothing more.
And so of slaves. "Other persons" they are called in contradistinction to "free persons," therefore persons not free; and properly so called, seeing that, like the apprentice before his term expires, they are "bound to service," and that, unlike him, they remain thus bound for life.
But unless we admit that the apprentice, bound to service for a season, is a slave during that season, we cannot justly allege that, by this provision of the Constitution, the negro, held to service or labor for life, is recognized as a slave.
A mere technical view of a great political question is usually a contracted one, of little practical value, and unbecoming a statesman. "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." Yet we must not mistake for technicality a careful interpretation, distinctly warranted by the terms employed of a public instrument. Every public instrument by which the governed delegate powers to those who goved.
We know very well that the men who framed the Constitution regarded a negro held to service or labor not, indeed (to speak of the majority of opinions), as a chattel, but as a slave. It would be absurd to argue that temporary claims to the number (let us suppose) of 30,000 or 40,000 may for a moment compare in importance with life-long claims to the number of 4,000,000. The first are of comparatively trifling moment, have never molded or greatly influenced society among us, and might drop out of our social system that has roots deep struck in the social structure of half our country; that involves vast industrial interests; that has gradually obtained influence so great and assumed proportions so gigantic as to become a political element overshadowing and controlling. It cannot properly be dealt with except after the gravest deliberation and the most sedulous examination, in advance, of every step we propose to take. It cannot be eradicated without producing disturbances such as convulse a nation.
But it is none the less true that neither the number of slaves not the magnitude of the interest involved can properly influence the judgment in determining the just construction of a clause in the Constitution, or properly set aside a fair deduction from the working of that clause as to its true spirit and intent. It is none the less true that the framers of the Constitution, in studiously avoiding the employment of the word slave, undeniably abstained from admitting into that instrument anything which the use of that word might have implied. Therefore, the Constitution does not recognize the ownership of one human being in another. In it we seek in vain any foundation for the doctrine declared by Chief Justice Taney, that persons held to service or labor for life are articles of property or merchandise.
In one restricted sense, and only in one, is slavery recognized by the Constitution of the United States-as a system under which one man, according to State laws, may have a legal claim to the labor of another.