The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3: “[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.]” This clause is known as the “Fugitive Slave Clause.” It had to do with slavery and bond servants and became obsolete after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed.
“… Since slaves and bond servants under contract were considered a RIGHT of property, this provision was originally intended to protect that right on the insistence of certain states. However, abolishing involuntary servitude of all kinds made this provision a mere footnote on the pages of history.
“Note that this is the last of three provisions in the Constitution respecting slavery. It will be recalled that three-fifths of the slaves were to be counted in determining population, and there was a provision that there should be no prohibition against the importation of slaves until after 1808. This final provision was to prevent a slave from escaping to a non-slave state and claiming he was `free’ because the state to which he had fled prohibited slavery.” (See W. Cleon Skousen in The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 634.)
Matthew Spalding of The Heritage Foundation explained: “Toward the end of the Constitutional Convention, during the debate over the Privileges and Immunities Clause (Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1), Charles Pinckney of South Carolina remarked that `some provision should be included in favor of property in slaves.’ Thereafter, he and his fellow South Carolinian, Pierce Butler, moved `to require fugitive slaves and servants to be delivered up like criminals.’ The motion was withdrawn after James Wilson and Roger Sherman objected, but the next day it was renewed as a formal addition to what would become Article IV. It passed unanimously and without debate. This was probably because there was a strong precedent in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (passed six weeks earlier by Congress), which included a fugitive slave provision along with its declaration (presaging the Thirteenth Amendment) that `neither slavery nor involuntary servitude’ would exist in the territory.
“A model of circumlocution, the resulting clause is the closest of the so-called Slave Clauses (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3; Article I, Section 9, Clause 1; and Article V) to recognizing slavery as a protected institution. It also became the most controversial of the clauses and was at the center of many constitutional disputes in the 1840s and 1850s.” (See “Fugitive Slave Clause,” in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. p. 275.)