☰ Menu
All Da King's Men

History: Three-Fifths Of A Person

By Da King Published: January 18, 2011

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. - Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution

This is the infamous passage in the original Constitution that counts slaves as three-fifths of a person. Because yesterday was Martin Luther King day, it seems like a good time to bring this topic up. Almost every time I hear a reference made to this part of the original Constitution, it is offered up as proof that the Founding Fathers were racists. It is offered up as proof that they considered blacks to be subhuman. A caller to the Glen Beck radio program made this typical assertion:

"I noticed you reference the founding fathers a lot," said the caller. "And to me it's kind of offensive because most of those guys were slave-owners. The Constitution that they wrote up -- they didn't even recognize my people as even human."

"Where'd you learn that, Josh?" Beck soon responded, after asking him to explain his question. The caller said he "learned that in school."

I don't know what they are teaching in school these days, and it's true some of the Founders were slaveowners, but the three-fifths clause in the Constitution did not mean blacks were subhuman. It was actually designed to reduce the power of the slave-owning states in the U.S. Congress. Counting slaves as three-fifths of a person in the Census was actually a compromise position reached between northern and southern states at the 1787 Philadelphia Convention. Delegates opposed to slavery didn't want to count slaves in the Census at all, because it would inflate the representation of the slave owning states in Congress. The number of representatives in Congress was determined by the number of people being represented. Counting slaves a full persons, as the slave owning states wished to do, would only increase the political power of the slave owners. Thus, the three-fifths compromise was reached. It would have been better if the wishes of the anti-slavery people had won out, and slaves were not counted at all, and only free persons were counted. (note - free black people were counted as full persons). After all, it's not like the interests of the slaves were being represented in Congress by the slave owners. Only the slave owners interests were being represented. Counting black slaves as full persons at that time would have only increased the power of their masters. Not a desirable outcome.

Even counting slaves as three-fifths of a person instead of non-persons, as odd as it sounds, had profound political repercussions. It increased the power of the slave states. From Wikipedia:

The three-fifths ratio, or "Federal ratio" had a major effect on pre-Civil War political affairs due to the disproportionate representation of slaveholding states relative to voters. For example, in 1793 slave states would have been apportioned 33 seats in the House of Representatives had the seats been assigned based on the free population; instead they were apportioned 47. In 1812, slaveholding states had 76 instead of the 59 they would have had; in 1833, 98 instead of 73. As a result, southerners dominated the Presidency, the Speakership of the House, and the Supreme Court in the period prior to the Civil War.

After the Civil War and abolition, the three-fifths compromise was superseded by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, which reads, ""Representatives shall be apportioned ...counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed..." There was no longer a need to reduce the power of slave owning states after slavery was thankfully ended. The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, gave black men the right to vote. That left women as societal outcasts. Women didn't get the right to vote for another fifty years, when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.

In summary, the next time you hear someone say the "three fifths of a person" clause means the Founders thought blacks were subhuman, know they are ignorant of history. The ones who thought blacks were subhuman were the SLAVE OWNERS, who wanted black slaves to be counted as full persons to serve their own nefarious ends.

Add This



About This Blog