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Book: The U.S. Constitution in Five Minutes

Chapter: 4. Racism in the Constitution

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.43564


The Constitution speaks with two voices on slavery and racial discrimination: the due process, bill of attainder, ex post facto, trial by jury, and titles of nobility clauses protect liberty and equality; the euphemistic clauses on slave trade, fugitive slave, and three-fifths representation protected race-based slavery. This ambiguity resulted in a Civil War and then 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to end both slavery and racial discrimination by government. Native American tribes in the Constitution are treated as semi-sovereign nations with whom Congress can make treaties and regulate commerce, but eventually Congress gave U.S. citizenship to all individual American Indians.

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