In the Preamble of the United States Constitution, after listing the reasons for the creation of the federal government (more perfect union, to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, and provide for the common defense), are listed two results for what the founding fathers hoped to achieve (promote the general Welfare* and secure the Blessings of Liberty). After listing the results they indicate that while the Constitution was written for the purpose of promoting the general Welfare, and securing the Blessings of Liberty to themselves (ourselves), they also wrote that the aim was to do these things for their “Posterity,” as well.
Posterity is a term meaning “future generations.” The definition goes beyond one's children, or our children's children. Posterity includes those not yet born.
In the Declaration of Independence the authors wrote that “all men are created equal.” The Constitution indicates that the Blessings of Liberty also belongs to the future generations. Slavery, however, muddied the ideals these men sought to protect, promote and preserve. How could the Founding Fathers discuss equality in the eyes of God, when in the eyes of men there was a class of people who were in slavery?
Of the fifty-five delegates (42 remained to the end and 39 signed the document), less than half of them were slave-owners (25). Of those who owned slaves, many of them had inherited those slaves. Some of the delegates who owned slaves believed that slavery was a sinful practice, and were abolitionists, but were not in a personal position to be able to free their slaves. George Washington freed his upon his death. Thomas Jefferson, a staunch and outspoken abolitionist who inherited his slaves, based on Virginia law, was not financially able to afford to release his slaves – even upon his own death. There were over a hundred slaves on his Montebello plantation generally at any given time. While Jefferson could not afford to free his slaves, he decided to treat them with respect and kindness. One story tells of Jefferson returning from a diplomatic mission overseas, and as he walked up the road his slaves ran to him, hoisted him on their shoulders, and carried him up the hill to the house.
Jefferson believed that slavery must be abolished, but feared a blanket abolition of slavery would cause problems. The newly emancipated slaves would be steeped in poverty, and there would be trouble between the races. Besides, the Constitution reserved to the States their sovereignty, so it was not the job of the federal government to tell the States what to do on the matter. The States had to come to the conclusion to abolish slavery themselves, individually, bit by bit. A sudden blanket emancipation, Jefferson suggested, may lead to an American race war similar to the revolts in Haiti, and cause a resentment between the races that may exist for many generations.
The word “Posterity” in the Preamble of the Constitution, however, meant the future generations of all persons, including the posterity of those who were slaves at the time of the writing of the document. The phrase “all men are created equal” included the slaves, and their posterity. It was truly believed by a majority of the delegates that in the eyes of God, all persons were equal, and deserving of access to their Natural Rights. How could the founders reconcile these beliefs while slavery continued to exist in their country that was supposed to be based on the Blessings of Liberty?
* general Welfare: A general condition of “All's Well.”