Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Slavery in the Constitution

How Did the Constitution Protect the System of Slavery?

Sarah Brewer | Published: May 17th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 8th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 2 class period(s)
  • Duration More 100 minutes


Students will listen to a New York Times podcast discussing the contradiction in the Constitution by which it protects both freedom and slavery. Working in collaborative groups, students will summarize four parts of the Constitution—the Three-Fifths Clause, the Fugitive Slave Clause, the Slave Trade Clause, and the Electoral College Clause—and determine how these clauses protected slavery in the United States. To extend their knowledge, students will connect these elements of the Constitution to the shape of American history and the American experience today.  This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

How are governments created and structured? How did the Framers create and structure the Constitution to protect and continue the system of slavery?



Students listen to an excerpt of the New York Times podcast "1619." During a class discussion, students evaluate the relationship between slavery and the creation of the new U.S. Constitution.


Students work in collaborative groups to analyze and summarize four excerpts from the Constitution that protect slavery.


Students use the Categorical Highlighting strategy with transcript excerpts from the "Teaching Hard History" podcast to explain how each of the four clauses worked to maintain and protect the institution of slavery.


Students analyze historical documents as visuals and predict how the four clauses of the Constitution continue to shape American history and American society today.


The "Slavery in the Constitution" handout with summaries, the "Slavery in the Constitution" chart, and the historical document visual analysis are used to evaluate the lesson.


  • Internet-connected device with sound

  • 1619 Podcast Excerpt (attached)

  • 1619 Podcast audio link

  • Constitution Excerpts handout (attached)

  • "How Did the Constitution Protect Slavery?" reading (attached)

  • Four Clauses Chart (attached)

  • Poster and Map Activities handouts (attached)


Use the attached slide show to guide the lesson. Begin by introducing students to the essential questions on slide 4: How are governments created and structured? And how did the Framers create and structure the Constitution to protect and continue the system of slavery?

Move to slide five. Introduce the 1619 podcast to the class. The podcast addresses the issue of slavery in the American colonies and its impact on the writing of the Constitution. Pass out the attached 1619 Podcast Excerpt to students and ask them to follow along with the podcast. Move to slide six and ask students to consider this question: What point is the speaker making about the relationship between slavery and the creation and structure of the new Constitution? Explain to students that they should highlight or underline lines and phrases that address the question. Next, move to slide seven or to the tab where the podcast is ready to play.

After the podcast, show slide 8. Ask students to draw an I Think/We Think chart on the back of the 1619 Podcast Excerpt. Invite students to consider the question on slide 8: What point is the speaker making about the relationship between slavery and the creation and structure of the new Constitution? Students may wish to look at the excerpt again, including the lines and phrases the highlighted or underlined, to formulate their answers. Students should write their answer in the "I Think" column of the chart.

Place students in pairs or groups of three. Ask students to share their "I Think" response to the question with their assigned group. Students should come to a consensus regarding what the group considers the best answer to the question. Allow a few minutes for groups to form their responses and record them in the "We Think" column of the chart. Then ask student groups to share their answers with the whole class.

Conclude the brief discussing by letting students know that, throughout the rest of the lesson, they will identify how the Constitution was structured to protect and perpetuate the system of slavery, even though it also promoted freedom and equality.


Hand out the attached Constitution Excerpts. Ask students to work with their groups and use a modified Stop and Jot strategy to analyze each of the four excerpts from the Constitution. Move to slide 10 to view the full instructions. Students should pause after reading the first excerpt to create a group summary statement before moving to the second excerpt, and repeat until all excerpts are summarized.

Once all groups have completed their summaries, ask each group to share one of their four summaries with the class. Some groups may summarize the same excerpt--this is fine, as each group should interpret the excerpt differently. As groups present, use slides 11–14, containing example summaries, to clarify excerpts further.


Now that students know what these four excerpts from the Constitution mean, they can work to understand how each of these parts of the Constitution protected and perpetuated the system of slavery in the United States. Assign each group one of the four excerpts and give each student the appropriate pages from the attached "How Did the Constitution Protect Slavery?" handout. The group assigned to the first excerpt, for example, should receive pages one and two from the handout, which detail the Three-Fifths Clause.

Ask students to use the Categorical Highlighting strategy with their groups to highlight lines from the text that explain how the Constitution protected and perpetuated the institution of slavery.

After groups have read and highlighted, hand out copies of the attached Four Clauses Chart to all students. Invite students to reference their highlighted information and work with their groups to write 3–4 sentences in the appropriate corner of the chart explaining how their assigned reading from the Constitution maintained and/or protected the system of slavery. When the class is ready, ask each group to share their findings. Reference slides 16–23 during the discussion. Type each group's response into the blank slide provided for the appropriate clause. The slides following each blank slide can be used to clarify and provide additional information if students struggle to connect their assigned clauses to how the Constitution protected slavery.

Ask students to fill in the rest of their Four Clauses Chart based on group presentations and class discussion.

Discuss with the class how the Constitution was deliberately structured to protect and maintain the system of slavery for years to come. Since slavery was written into the Constitution, it was very difficult to abolish. The doctrine of white supremacy that propped up the system of slavery continued to be ingrained in American society, the legacies of which the United States still experiences today.


Consider the following two options for extending the lesson. If the class would benefit from both activities instead of just one, be sure to allow additional time beyond what is listed.


Methods of evaluating this lesson include students' responses to the Constitution Excerpts handout, the Four Clauses Chart, and either of the historical document analyses from the Poster and Map Activities.