Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


The US Constitution of 1791 and the Fugitive Slave Clause

A Philosophical Re-rendering of Legislative Authority
Ambiguities and Conflicts

Norman Coles has taught at a number of universities including Dublin, Metropolitan (London), SUNY and Cornell. He specializes in Political Philosophy. He is the author of: Ashton’s Case for James II; Human Nature and Human Values; and Interpreting Political Events in the United States: Critical Debate and Representative Democracy – A Viewpoint on the US Bill of Rights, President Andrew Johnson’s Policy on Reconstruction, the Alger Hiss Espionage Case, and George W. Bush’s ‘War on Terror’.

The US Constitutions, both of 1788 and 1791, contain at Article IV (para 2, Section 3) a clause generally called ‘The Fugitive Slave Clause’. This Clause was held to make it legal to both recapture and return ‘fugitive slaves’ to the states where they had lived or the ‘owner’, even if he or she resisted. The Clause was held to be constitutionally legal by lawyers and legal commentators. Even Lincoln as a lawyer thought the Clause was constitutionally legal, even though he thought slavery evil.

Norman Coles presents arguments which show that the Clause has at least two (and possibly three) meanings. The Clause may not refer to slaves at all, when it is interpreted in accord with its actual phrasing rather than its intended meaning promoting the wishes of ‘owners’. Alvan Stewart, a renowned Abolitionist lawyer, argued that the Clause was inconsistent with that part of the 1791 US Constitution which is Amendment IV, reasoning premised on the definition of ‘person’, which applied to the two dated Constitutions; and with regard to the Fourth Amendment (1791) where slavery (unless a result of crime and jury trial) was illegal under US law. Stewart's arguments are about Constitutional principles, not the practical consequences of believing the Clause was law. Stewart’s reasoning is penetrating; arguments relating to ambiguity and legal jargon are superseded by the logical consequence of the fact that if the Clause is about fugitive slaves, its legality rests on false assumptions.

Herein lay the potential to avoid an historical tragedy. In the course of time legal and political champions, in conjunction with a growing number of US States, favoured laws which barred slave-hunting, but in the interim legal inadequacy resulted in the unnecessary continuation of slave-holding. This publication is a fundamental reconsideration of the intertwining of American History and American Constitutional Law.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78976-042-2
Paperback Price: £19.95 / $29.95
Release Date: December 2019
Page Extent / Format: 152 pp. 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



Chapters 1 to 47

Review Quotes to Follow

Books can be ordered by phone or online

Ordering in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America and Rest of the World

Gazelle Book Services
Direct sales tel.: +44 (0)1524 528500; email:
Web ordering:

Ordering in the United States and Canada
Independent Publishers Group (IPG)
Direct sales tel.: (800) 888-4741
Web ordering:

Bookseller Ordering
Information is provided under the Resources tab

eBook Ordering
e-Book type availability can be sourced via by book title. Kindle availability is via Amazon .com and sites.