Does Glenn Beck support the slave trade or is he just an “idiot”?

In a chapter in his new book purporting to explain to “idiots” what “our Founding Fathers really intended,” Glenn Beck praises an obsolete provision of the U.S. Constitution that prohibited Congress from outlawing the slave trade before 1808 and capped taxes on the slave trade at $10 per slave. In his explanation of the provision, Beck does not mention slavery, saying instead that the provision means that the Founders apparently “felt like there was a value to being able to live here” and lamenting: “Not anymore. These days we can't ask anything of immigrants -- including that they abide by our laws.”

Beck claims to provide authoritative explanation of Constitution's meaning

Beck explains to “idiots” what “our Founding Fathers really intended” in the Constitution. In the introduction to a chapter titled, “The U.S. Constitution: Lost in Translation,” Beck mocks “idiots” who don't share his interpretation of the Constitution:

How many times have you argued with your idiot friends about what's constitutional and what isn't? You may even show them the Constitution, but the disagreement continues. That made me think that maybe the problem is that the entire Constitution is written in English -- a language that is very difficult for the average idiot to comprehend. In addition, there are several words in the document longer than three letters, making it a tougher read than the “Dick and Jane” books they normally struggle through.

What follows is a translation (from English to Idiot) of several important parts of the U.S. Constitution, leaving no doubt as to what our Founding Fathers really intended. [Beck, et. al, Arguing With Idiots, Page 267]

Beck praises constitutional provision protecting slave trade

Beck praises “Migration or Importation” tax provision in taking cheap shot at “immigrants.” In the chapter, Beck reprints and then praises Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 of the Constitution. Beck specifically highlights in yellow the phrase “ten dollars for each person”:

Section 9. The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

That's right, the Founders actually put a price tag on coming to this country: $10 per person. Apparently they felt like there was a value to being able to live here. Not anymore. These days we can't ask anything of immigrants -- including that they abide by our laws. [Arguing with Idiots, Page 278]


Provision Beck praised actually “barred Congress from ending the international slave trade before 1808.” As noted by Yale Law School professor Akhil Reed Amar: “To make matters worse, despite the new Congress's general Article I, section 8 power over international commerce, section 9 barred Congress from ending the international slave trade before 1808. By that time, the Deep South hoped to have enough extra muscle in Congress, based on white migration and slave importation, to thwart any possible antislavery constitutional amendments and perhaps even to weaken any proposed ban on further slave importation. ... [T]he 1808 date itself was exempt from constitutional amendment under Article V.” [Amar, America's Constitution: A Biography, Page 91]

"$10 per person" provision Beck praised incentivized slave trade. According to Amar: “The big money would likely flow [to the federal government] -- and after 1789 did in fact flow -- from federal levies on imports, yet these levies fell outside the ambit of the three-fifths clause. Indeed, by capping pre-1808 federal taxes at ten dollars per imported slave, Article I gave slave importers a special twenty-year exemption from the plenary taxation power that Congress would enjoy over all other imports.” [Amar, America's Constitution: A Biography, Page 94]

Constitutional Convention delegate recognized that "$10 per person" provision protected slave trade. According to James Madison's notes from the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman -- who supported the 1808 clause and other efforts by the South to protect slavery in the Constitution -- recognized that the $10 tax limit that Beck highlighted prevented Congress from taxing the slave trade out of existence. According to Madison, Sherman “observed that the smallness of the duty shewed revenue to be the object, not the discouragement of the importation.”

Later in book, Beck acknowledges the provision he praised protected the slave trade. Later in Arguing with Idiots, Beck writes: “Article 1, Section 9 had allowed twenty years of further slave trade, a length of time that many Founders hoped would be sufficient for the South to wean itself from the horrendous practice. But even after the importation of new slaves stopped in 1808, the South was so dependent upon slavery that it was unwilling to let it go.” [Arguing with Idiots, Page 294]