The Constitution and Slavery

By:  Walter Williams
06/29/2011
       
The Constitution and Slavery

Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., referring to his race and the Constitution on John Stossel's recent show "The State Against Blacks," said, "I wasn't even considered three-fifths of a guy." The Rev. Al Sharpton, debating on Sean Hannity's show, said, "Any black, at any age at any stage, was three-fifths of a human." Even eminent historian John Hope Franklin charged the Founders with "degrading the human spirit by equating five black men with three white men." Statements such as those either represent ignorance or are part of the leftist agenda to demean the founding principles of our nation by portraying the nation's Founders as racists. Let's look at the origin of the three-fifths clause.

Northern delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and those opposed to slavery wished to count only free people of each state for the purpose of representation in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Southerners wanted to count slaves just as any other person. By counting slaves, who didn't have a right to vote, slave states would have had greater representation in the House and the Electoral College. If slaveholding states could not have counted slaves, the Constitution would not have been ratified and there would not be a union. The compromise was for slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person in deciding representation in the House and Electoral College. The compromise reduced the power of slave states relative to the South's original proposal but increased it over the North's original proposal.

Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., referring to his race and the Constitution on John Stossel's recent show "The State Against Blacks," said, "I wasn't even considered three-fifths of a guy." The Rev. Al Sharpton, debating on Sean Hannity's show, said, "Any black, at any age at any stage, was three-fifths of a human." Even eminent historian John Hope Franklin charged the Founders with "degrading the human spirit by equating five black men with three white men." Statements such as those either represent ignorance or are part of the leftist agenda to demean the founding principles of our nation by portraying the nation's Founders as racists. Let's look at the origin of the three-fifths clause.

Northern delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and those opposed to slavery wished to count only free people of each state for the purpose of representation in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Southerners wanted to count slaves just as any other person. By counting slaves, who didn't have a right to vote, slave states would have had greater representation in the House and the Electoral College. If slaveholding states could not have counted slaves, the Constitution would not have been ratified and there would not be a union. The compromise was for slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person in deciding representation in the House and Electoral College. The compromise reduced the power of slave states relative to the South's original proposal but increased it over the North's original proposal.

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Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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