Interpreting the Fifth Amendment: The Exclusion of Slaves as “Persons” in Antebellum America

During the era of slavery in the United States, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment was interpreted in a manner that excluded slaves from its protection. The prevailing legal doctrine did not recognize slaves as “persons” or as part of “the people,” thus rendering the constitutional safeguards of the Fifth Amendment inapplicable to them. This interpretation allowed for the deprivation of a slave’s life, liberty, and property without the necessity of due process. Concurrently, this perspective upheld the rights of slave owners, treating slaves as their property, which could not be taken away without due process of law. This dichotomy reflected the deeply entrenched societal and legal inequalities of the time.

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