To a great extent this view of the founding is true. But what I've learned is that the framers of the Constitution did more than simply compromise. They did more than just kick the can down the road. They produced a document that one of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention, James Wilson, said succeeded in "laying the foundation for banishing slavery out of this country," even though he regretted that "the period is more distant than I could wish."
Just how the framers did this was explained brilliantly in an essay by the late constitutional scholar Robert Goldwin: The struggle that took place in the convention was between Southern delegates trying to strengthen the constitutional supports for slavery and Northern delegates trying to weaken them. That issue—the initial and subsequent political strength of slavery—was in contention on the question of representation in the House of Representatives . . . Slave-state delegates were in favor of including every slave, just as they would any other inhabitant. Madison's notes indicate that the delegates from South Carolina "insisted that blacks be included in the rule of representation, equally with whites."
On the other side, delegates from the nonslave states were opposed to counting the slaves, because it would give the South more votes and because it made a mockery of the principle of representation to count persons who had no influence whatsoever on the law-making process and who therefore were not "represented" in the legislature in any meaningful sense of the word. Counting the slaves for purposes of representation would also give the slave states an incentive to increase their slave population instead of decreasing it. In short, considering the chief purpose of this clause in the Constitution, it is obvious that an antislavery delegate would not want to count the slave at all. (emphasis mine)
To our great and lasting shame, slavery continued in the United States for almost a century following the adoption of the Constitution. Although the controversy never went away, in the end it took the bloodiest war in our nation's history to end the evil practice. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died, but slavery finally died with them. And in an important and overlooked way, our Founders began this painful process.
In other words, when it comes to America, there is a difference between hating the sin and hating the sinner. To acknowledge honestly the stain of past slavery and racism is not the same thing as saying that America is a fundamentally racist country.
Barack Obama himself acknowledged as much in his widely hailed speech on race during the 2008 campaign. Here's an excerpt that can be appreciated: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union." Two hundred and twenty-one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.