There are several reasons why people at this time did not look to the new Constitution to solve the problem of slavery. The first was because most everybody (especially in the South) recognized that slavery was a deep-rooted and intractable evil that would require a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice to eradicate. During the Convention, Madison had said:
We have seen the mere distinction of color made, in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man. What has been the source of those unjust laws complained of among ourselves? Has it not been the real or supposed interest of the major number?
In the South, especially in the Deep South, the personal interests of the “major number” were devoted to the perpetuation of slavery, and this majority possessed the bulk of their states’ wealth and political power. Many Southerners were willing to concede that slavery was evil, but that moral objection did nothing to diminish the enormous interests aimed at protecting the slaveowner’s property and way of life.
As a member of Virginia’s Assembly, Madison had personally witnessed how proposals for a plan of gradual abolition in his state had been met with outrage by the slaveholding interests. By the time of the Convention, it had been only five years since Virginia had passed a law which for the first time made it legal for a slaveowner to voluntarily manumit his own slave without special permission from the government. Madison predicted that even this right would be taken away or curtailed if abolitionist forces pushed too far or too fast in Virginia. And he came to believe that he had been proven right when Virginia placed draconian limitations on voluntary manumissions in 1806.
The Deep South was even more committed to the continuation of slavery than Virginia. Throughout the South it was recognized that rapid expansion to the West would depend on a ready supply of slave labor, and that condition was especially true in the swampy, sultry regions west of Georgia and South Carolina. Faced with this reality, residents from these states had grown hardened, and sometimes even zealously committed, to making slavery a permanent institution in the South. Within the Constitutional Convention, delegates from South Carolina and Georgia threatened to pack up and go home if the Constitution so much as encroached on their right of importing fresh slaves from Africa. They insisted that, even if they used all their influence back home, the states of Georgia and South Carolina would never accept a Constitution that would put an abrupt halt to slave importations. If the Deep South reacted in this way when some delegates insisted only that the African slave trade should be abolished, proposals of general abolition were out of the question. A sea change in the political and economic conditions of the South would have to take place before its political leaders (or their constituents) felt that they were ready to take practical steps toward abolition.
In addition to the economic and political motives barring gradual emancipation in the South, most of the white inhabitants throughout the country were extremely hostile to the idea of living in a biracial society, and these sentiments increased wherever African-Americans constituted a substantial portion of the free population. Therefore, any realistic solution to the problem of slavery would not only require a lot of money and a lot of sacrifice, but it would also have to provide creative answers for overcoming the concurrent problem of racial prejudice. No one who was familiar with the extent of the slave problem in the South expected these solutions to be easy. People certainly did not expect a solution to proceed from the Constitutional Convention, which had encountered enough troubles overcoming the more immediate crises that had brought the Convention delegates together in the first place.