3/5 of a Person

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I recently encountered the claim (that I see often enough) that the U.S. Constitution defined slaves as 3/5 of a person. That claim is actually false. The Constitution did no such thing. What it did is count them as 3/5 toward representation, which was a compromise between those who didn't want them represented and those who thought they should count fully. Here is what the actual wording said:

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.

The wording actually assumes they are full persons. It distinguishes between the contribution to the census from free persons and the contribution from other persons. It's 3/5 of the number of other persons that gets added to the number of free persons. It's not that slaves are 3/5 of a person.

And for the record, it was those who opposed slavery who didn't want them counted and those who favored it who did, because counting them as full persons would mean more representation in Congress for their states (and yet the voting for those states wouldn't involve the slaves voting, of course, so it's even more influence for the slave-holders if they counted fully).

If we take the constitutional wording to imply that slaves were only viewed as 3/5 of a person, we should also conclude that abolitionists must not have thought slaves were real people, because they wanted them counted as zero, and slaveowners must have thought they were indeed real people, because they wanted them counted as full persons. It's not as if those who favored slavery were defining slaves as less than full persons. It was those who opposed slavery who didn't want their slaves counting toward representation when they didn't have representation who were behind this.

Interestingly, the roles had been reversed for the debate over an amendment on this for the Articles of Confederation, because that debate was over how much in taxes the states had to pay, where the non-slave states wanted slave states to pay more due to their higher population. You would have more success making that argument in this case, because at least the roles line up that way, but that would misunderstand what the issues were.

It had nothing to do with their actual view of the moral status or personhood status of slaves but was about how much political influence states would have, and the Articles of Confederation debate about the same exact issue had been about how much in taxes they would have to pay. Which issue it was about determined which stance each side took, and they completely reversed their positions when the issue changed to make the opposite view favor them. So there's simply no claiming that this was about defining the personhood of slaves or anything. It was simply about how to calculate populations for political results, and those who argued for each side compromised between counting them for certain purposes and not counting them for those purposes by proposing the 3/5 count.

There are plenty of things you might disagree with about how slaves were treated, and it is indeed unfair to be counted at all for representation but not being represented (but we do that with children still). Nevertheless, it's simply false that the Constitution defined them as 3/5 of a person, as if that judgment in particular reveals a view that slaves were viewed as not fully persons. It does no such thing, because it's not about that issue at all. To find evidence that people believed such a thing (and I'm not saying there is no such evidence), it doesn't do to cite what the Constitution says about this issue.

31 Comments

Amen! I've been saying this for years. It's sad that you still hear this when a single look at the actual text and history would disabuse you of the notion.

You are certainly correct to claim that the actual language of the Constitution does not assume that slaves were 3/5 of a person.

However, the reason many people make this claim, despite knowing that the language does not officially DENOTE this, is that the language CONNOTES that slaves, whatever they were, were not to be considered as equal human beings, but rather, as pawns in a political game.

So, while they were never considered by either side of any debate as literally 3/5 of a person, they were almost always considered as less than a full person.

There were obviously people who thought slaves had lesser rights. But my point is that this is an extremely poor way to make that point, because it actually goes the other way. Those who thought slaves should have full rights are the ones who didn't want to count them in the census, because they only thought those who are actually represented should be counted for representation. Those who thought slaves should not have full rights are the ones who wanted them fully counted, because they as slave-owners could get more representation on their behalf but not for their own sake, since anyone elected as a result of slave-owners having more influence is certainly not going to be voting according to what's best for the slaves.

Never visted this site before (was pointed here from another blog site) But I was curious about what prompted you to bring this subject up in the first place ( I know you mentioned your recent encounter). In the end it seems that this is a distinction without a whole lot of difference ( or vice versa, never sure I get that right) in the end. In the end they were simply property and not humans in the eyes of the constitution because they had no rights. This compromise was more about not allowing the south to completely benefit from this inhuman treatment of slaves. The southern delegates wanted the best of both worlds; they wanted their slaves to be counted as full people but wanted to treat them as property, thus increasing the national power and influence of the white aristocracy that controlled the southern states. So although technically the statment that the Constitution declared slaves to be a mere 3/5th of a person the truth is much worse as it relates to the actual person.....they were not recognized at all!

Jeremy - Having read your post, I'm somewhat mystified at what compelled you to write it. While your legal reading of the Constitution text in question is correct in the strictest possible sense, it's irrelevant hair-splitting that furthers the evangelical tendency to deal w/ race in unhelpful ways that reinforce the segregation that already exists in Christian circles.

To be frank, your point may be correct, but serves no redemptive purpose. Saying "the Constitution says black people are 3/5 of a person," is simply shorthand for saying "the Constitution is an imperfect document written by framers who, almost without exception, harbored strong racist tendencies." In the case of the northerners, they saw blacks as savages who could be redeemed through a good bit of "Christianizing." Southerners saw them as worthless animals whose sole purpose was to serve their white superiors. In both cases, the whites saw the blacks as less than fully human.

In fact, their actions at the convention prove the point: Both groups behaved the way they did in order to gain the upper-hand in congress. Neither group saw blacks as fully human, and THAT is the problem with the document. The distinctions you're making serve no redemptive purpose and are, I have no doubts, quite offensive to the majority our black brothers and sisters.

As a black woman that goes to a predominantly white church, I find this article to be under my skin a bit. I doesn't matter if slaves were represented as 3/5 of the population or otherwise. The institution of slavery in America was upheld as biblical at the time. I have been in situations where I've had to defend the church because people can't get past the fact that slavery is in the Bible, and they link it to slavery in this country. I think it's a high expectation to think unbelievers will take the time to understand the difference, but in cultivating relationships and sharing the Gospel I pray that the Holy Spirit would open their hearts to dig deeper.

Just because we have a black President does not mean we are post racial or that we don't need to talk about the issues of equality. It's my hope as Christian that we are taking the time to build relationships with those outside our comfort zone and seeing that we all have the same fundamental issue- that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

Consider the following statements:

A. Many people considered slaves less than human and accorded them less than full moral status.
B. The Constitution originally counted slaves 3/5 as much as free persons toward representation in Congress.

I brought it up because I'm tired of seeing people use B to illustrate A, something that it doesn't illustrate. The fact that A is true is irrelevant. Illustrating it with something that's about a different issue is either dishonest or ignorant, and it doesn't serve the truth of A to support it with B, since B doesn't actually serve as an instance of A. The motivation for B was not A. Those who held A wanted slaves to be counted for more, and those who didn't resisted that.

I'm not sure what this "irrelevant hair-splitting that furthers the evangelical tendency to deal w/ race in unhelpful ways that reinforce the segregation that already exists in Christian circles" is supposed to be. Since you haven't given any examples of what you mean, I don't know what you mean, and since you haven't given an argument that what I've done is a case of the same thing (the thing you haven't yet explained), I can hardly be convinced that I've done the same thing.

Saying "the Constitution says black people are 3/5 of a person," is simply shorthand for saying "the Constitution is an imperfect document written by framers who, almost without exception, harbored strong racist tendencies."

I can understand saying something abbreviated to say something longer, but it doesn't seem right to me to use this example in the Constitution to illustrate something that it doesn't illustrate. We should stop doing that. We should find examples that do illustrate. And for the record, the truth is more important than whether someone will be irrationally offended by something. I don't shade the truth just to keep from offending people who like to say false things because it sounds like a nice way to illustrate their point. I much prefer that they speak more accurately.

I think the point some of these commenters are making is that you can't look at the Constitution's statement in a vacuum. If you did, sure, you could draw the conclusion that's it's simply making a statement about how much representation a state received. But underneath all that is the truth that, at that time, slaves were not looked at as equals -- morally, spiritually, academically, etc. -- by a great many people. So I think (using your comment) "B" DOES serve as an example of "A," when you draw it out to its logical conclusion. "B" could have taken all kinds of shapes and forms -- be it 2/5 or no representation or whatever -- but the reason it exists at all is most definitely because at least SOME people believed "A."

If the Constitution were "fair," it would not have to compromise between slaveowners and abolitionists. This statement wouldn't be there at all; slaves wouldn't be slaves.

So the reason that people say the Constitution says slaves were looked at as 3/5 of a person is because of the history and the perspectives behind the literal statement. It may not say it explicitly, but it's hard to say it doesn't imply it. It's fruitless to try and take any stance about the literal meaning as if it's some kind of defense for the writers' neutral or compromising view on the matter. It's existence at all carries a lot of meaning.

Thanks
Tom

If you simply say, without qualification, that the Constitution declared slaves 3/5 of a person, it gives the impression that the writers of the Constitution actually considered the intrinsic worth of slaves to be an exact proportion of the intrinsic worth of everyone else, and that's simply not what was going on. It sends a misleading message. Those who argued for full counting probably didn't think the intrinsic worth was much at all, and those who argued for not counting them might have thought their intrinsic worth was as high as anyone else (even if they thought their capabilities were lower). So it sends entirely the wrong impression of what the debate was about, what the parties thought, and what the 3/5 compromise was even about.

I still marvel at the idiocy of people, especially when they have an askew interpretation of a matter they know very little about except for what they've been told.

While the Amendment may have some distinct writing per the 3/5th element, the whole matter began with slaves being argued as to not be counted at all, and that argument was countered with other compromises that were alterable by city, states, county, or local government policy/law.

Then there are the numerous Supreme Court, and other legal decisions during the era that began with stripping Black people of the right to claim or even be considered as human.

There is a whole discourse on the interconnectability of the various elements noted, but regardless of how it was written, or academically interpreted, the actual action of it was carried out in the treatment of Black People as 3/5ths a person in ways such as they could not sit on the front of the bus, had to eat, sleep in seperate parts of public establishments, were forbidden to look White people in the eye, or to even refuse a White persons request of any kind, therefore in action, Blacks were considered and treated like 3/5ths or less a person than White people, and the same was done selectively to other none Whites periodically but not to the extent or for the length it was done to Black people.

Thus the Brown vs. Board decision was not just about schools, but about the separate but unequal application of constitutional laws,which came on the heels of the Rosa Parks Supreme Court decision regarding unequal treatment in public accommodations.

Despite the written word saying one thing it was misapplied, and misused to deny the race full citizenship rights and protections which was further addressed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Some might say that has nothing to do with now..., wrong, the residue of those times, and practice still infect the Country, and still has a negative effect on the race.Writings like the one this comments on are feeble attempts to hide, and/or rewrite history per selective aspects that remove the barbaric behavior of people who think their skin tone automatically make them superior in every way than people who do not share the same skin tone

As I've said repeatedly, both in the original post and a number of times in the comments here, I'm not denying that black people in that time were being treated as having a lower moral status. That is so obvious as to be undeniable and therefore hardly worth saying. Nevertheless, I did say it over and over.

What I'm saying in this post is that the 3/5 issue was something different. Therefore, it is intellectually dishonest to use it as evidence of something that it's not, especially when there's plenty of other evidence to use instead of it, some of which you did a nice job mentioning. Lying for the sake of political expediency is pretty awful, even if it's on behalf of a good cause. So I'm going to correct the record, since people regularly trot this out as a nice sound byte rather than recognizing the truth of the matter. It's counterproductive to the goals of racial progress if those who are pursuing racial justice continue to assert falsehoods as intellectual shortcuts to their goal.

On the details: it did begin with slaves not counting at all, but the people who wanted them not to count were the abolitionists. They didn't want slave states getting as much representation, so they didn't want the slaves who couldn't vote to be counted as making the slave states appear disproportionately more populous than the actual count of voters would have been. It was the slave-owners who wanted them fully counted. It's a sign of something askew that they could be debating such an issue to begin with, but stating it as if anyone involved actually thought that slaves were 3/5 of a person just gets the whole matter wrong, and stating it as if those who wanted them not to count at all thought them not persons is the opposite of the truth. Those were the people who would have been more likely to want them both free and voting, which would make provide the necessary element that was missing for their counting in the census to be more just.

So I'd like to know where you get off claiming I'm trying to rewrite history here. I'm not denying any of what you say. I'm just pointing out that those things are not really the issue I'm talking about here, and it's intellectually dishonest to pretend that it is. There's no selectivity going on here, as you claim. Being selective would be ignoring or hiding certain aspects. But I'm as willing to highlight exactly the things you're claiming I'm hiding, and I'd be willing to do so in order to show that there were quite a lot of people who did think slaves had weaker rights or no rights, weaker moral status or no moral status, and were lesser persons or not persons. It's just that this particular compromise is a different issue entirely, and the numbers in fact go backwards from what you'd expect if it were about that issue.

The things you're pointing out are well-established, and everyone pretty much knows them in the circles I run in. What I'm pointing out here is something people in the circles I run in get wrong all the time. So that's why I'm making this point here, since I see it gotten wrong all the time, and I misunderstood it myself until shortly before I wrote the post. I don't post regularly on things that are common enough knowledge that I have little to say about them that hasn't already been said over and over. I do write on something when I have something to say that seems to me to be worth saying that I don't think gets said very much.

Abolitionists did not want slaves to count because they did not want those states to have even more power by using the very people that they were exploiting to have more representation/votes. The 3/5 argument is not intellectually dishonest. It doesn't take much brain power to realize that if one person "owns" another person that the owner is clearly superior to the owned person. The manifestation of this thought process extended well beyond the days of slavery.

To fixate on the fact that the wording does not explicitly say "blacks are less than human" is simply semantics. You revisionists historians will not win. We will always know the ugly truth about this country and it will NEVER get better until people, all people - black and white - accept it and move on!!

PS - Read Dred Scott if you haven't already.

Abolitionists did not want slaves to count because they did not want those states to have even more power by using the very people that they were exploiting to have more representation/votes.

Yes, that's my point.

It doesn't take much brain power to realize that if one person "owns" another person that the owner is clearly superior to the owned person. The manifestation of this thought process extended well beyond the days of slavery.

All right, but how does that touch my point? It's not even about the same subject. Since I insisted that lots of people had the view that slaves were less than human, pointing out evidence for such a claim is irrelevant to what I was saying, which is that the 3/5 business in the Constitution is about something else than that.

I denied nothing of the ugly truth about the history of this country and its view of slaves as lesser human beings. I simply pointed out that the 3/5 rule is about something else, something that of course could only have occurred given that some people did have such awful views but not in the way that many claims about the 3/5 rule would lead most people to think. If I were saying that everyone always thought black people equal to white people, your ridiculous claim of revisionist history would be appropriate. But any reasonable careful reading of what I wrote, especially given that exactly your mistake has been discussed several times in the comments, makes you comes off looking like the revisionist.

The 3/5ths argument was specifically about slaves not being worth the same as free people. Who was doing the arguing (Abolitionist or slave owners) is irrelevant since the slaves were still merely being used as pawns to gain political influence from their ownership.
The fact that it was about political representation and not specifically about the value of 1 person compared to 1 other person is also irrelevant for the same reason... they were using slaves as pawns in political gamesmanship which would not have even been possible had slaves been accepted as equal human beings.
The reason people don't see your argument as valid is because it isn't. Each slave was counted as 3/5ths of a non slave. You can't lawyer your way out of that.

It's pretty stupid to claim that I'm trying to lawyer my way out of something when I've been very clear all along that I'm not defending what the people in this debate did. I would be much more patient with you if you'd shown any signs of actually reading what I wrote or the ensuing discussion, but it's obvious to me that you didn't bother to read what I wrote or think about it. You list a bunch of facts that I've fully agreed with and then acted as if that shows that I'm wrong, when you haven't said a thing that contradicts my point other than simply to assert without argument that I'm wrong. The entire basis of your case consists of points that I've fully acknowledged. They just don't have anything to do with the claim I'm making.

The argument clearly was not about the intrinsic worth of slaves. There are those who thought their intrinsic worth was far less than that of free whites. No question. But this debate wasn't an argument over their intrinsic worth. Certainly this debate wouldn't have happened if all parties had recognized the full intrinsic worth of those slaves, because they wouldn't have engaged in the institution of American slavery to begin with if they'd fully grasped that. But the debate was not about that. It was about representation. Clearly they were being used as pawns in a political debate about representation of states. But the specific numbers decided on were a compromise that didn't reflect the exact views of any particular people about how much intrinsic worth slaves had, any more than the zero representation of those we now call Native Americans reflected a view that they had zero intrinsic worth.

Do you really think the framers of the Constitution thought slaves had partial humanity but Native Americans none? Do you really think they thought slaves had partial humanity but free blacks full humanity, as if the status of being a slave determined how much humanity they had? Do you think the parties involved thought they were fighting about how much humanity they had but somehow the abolitionists were interested in lowering the number while the slave-owners wanted it to be higher? The very notion is ludicrous, and the fact that you're resisting my argument suggests that you're not honestly considering the facts and the conclusion that they warrant.

It's impossible for me to believe that an intellectually honest and informed person could take seriously the proposal that the framers settling on this representation issue the way they did thought they were assigning a value of what percentage intrinsic value of the intrinsic value of humanity that the slaves had. They were fighting over the abolitionists' attempt to refuse to let high slave population states get away with increasing their influence because of the slaves who had no representation vs. the slave-owners' desire to count their slaves so their own views would get greater representation. That is simply not an attempt to assign a particular intrinsic value to the worth of slaves. It's precisely an instrumental value, in fact, in particular how much sway the slaves who live in a state can increase the representation of that state in Congress. It's a complete misuse of the very category of intrinsic value to make such a claim. The underlying assumption of your claim is morally horrific. If intrinsic value is measured by what use someone can immorally be put to, then we've lost a basic moral distinction.

Racism often hides behind rhetoric that attempts to rationalize the perpetrators. This clause distinquishes between those "bound to Service for a Term of Years and 3/5ths of all others. That distinction is a result of Bacons Rebellion.After that uprising white indentured servants were given priveleges and designation as better than or more human than Africans . This clause codifies that distinction. The term "bound by term of years" indicates that whites are free humans and will regain citizenship once they fulfill their obligations.Africans were not expected to ever have human privelege. This was reenforced by the matrilineal code that determined a slaves race by the race of the mother rather than the father. This way if a slave woman was impregnated by a caucasian the child was born a slave.This clause wasn't just about apportionment. It was also about driving a wedge between Africans and their former fellow Irish ,Scottish ,and low English slaves so they wouldn't join together against the landowners.In a sense this clause made poor whites the original "Uncle Toms",since they recieved the favor of the master as lomg as they protected the Master from the "bad nigras" You seem to be addressing the letter rather than the spirit of this clause.The spirit is not about the power that could be attained in apportionment,but by the power of division.

That's a misuse of the spirit/letter contrast. What Jesus meant by that was that the Pharisees were following particular details of the law and actually ignoring plain statements of law, such as honoring their father and mother. There were aspects of the law that were more important than others, because some moral truths are more fundamental than others. They picked out a picky detail to follow to excuse themselves from their flat-out violation of another aspect of the law. They thus missed the spirit of the entire law but sought an excuse in a particular detail that they took to imply far more than it was ever intended to imply.

What I'm doing here is looking at both the original intent of the clause in question and the purpose behind both parties who had sought a compromise on this issue. I've paid attention to the issue in its historical context, acknowledging what all parties wanted accomplished. I haven't picked out a detail to use as an excuse to ignore a more fundamental purpose of the law. This isn't about following part of the law but not another part. It's an invalidated part of the law anyway. It's rather about acknowledging the purpose and point of the constitutional provision to begin with.

I don't see anything here that says that those bound by a term of years are white and that the others are black, so you're simply wrong that it codifies the racial distinction of all blacks as slaves and all white indentured servants as superior. It certainly distinguishes between those who are in a term-limited slavery from those not. Perhaps there was a cultural assumption that most white slaves would be in the former category and most black slaves in the latter. It certainly wasn't true that all blacks were slaves to begin with, so it wasn't true that they were all in the latter category of slaves. I don't know if there were any whites in the latter category or blacks in the former category, but this particular clause does not codify that. If anything, cultural attitudes would have ensured that, and maybe there were particular laws not in the Constitution that could have done that. This simply distinguishes between those categories in order to determine who increases representation for a state. It doesn't determine who is in which category. The matrilineal codes you mention were also separate laws (and didn't last all that long anyway once there started to be cases where the father was black and the mother white).

I agree, guys who try to count their chattel property toward their states representation totally thought they were worth 1 full human, and in no way does counting three out of every five slaves create an implicit distinction between a slave and non slaves.

I mean mathematically, a hundred Negroes reduced to sixty Negroes is not equivalent to adding up one hundred point six Negroes, that is just nonsense.

That is just silliness.

I agree, guys who try to count their chattel property toward their states representation totally thought they were worth 1 full human, and in no way does counting three out of every five slaves create an implicit distinction between a slave and non slaves.

Nice straw man. No one in this conversation, as far as I can recall, claimed that the people who tried to count slaves toward representation thought their slaves had full human worth. I in fact insisted otherwise, from the very beginning.

I also did not deny that the Constitution has an implicit distinction between slaves and non-slaves. What I denied is that the statement in the Constitution about 3/5 of a person is about the humanness or moral status of the slaves, and it's stupid to think this exact figure has anything to do with some supposed actual figure of how much humannness or moral worth the slaveowners or framers thought slaves had.

Jeremy I understand what you are saying about the actual wording of the constitution but at the same time I understand why people feel the way they do about the african american being counted as 3/5 of a man... The thing about the constitution is that it is not laws that are set in stone... Everything in the constitution is open to interpretation... So people do have the freedom to look and gather what they want from it... weather or not what they gather is correct or not is something totally different... I will say that no matter who actually came up with the whole 3/5 compromises is irrelevant... Who ever come up with the fact that we we're only counted as 3/5 of a person when it comes to representation is just as wrong as the slave owner himself. We all should have been equal from the start. The people who also believe that in the constitution that we are only 3/5 person should do their research and learn a little bit more but they are not totally incorrect when they make this statement. African Americans were deemed to be less that equal to the white man and no matter what arena you place that in even if you are just doing a numbers count this is still wrong.

I'm not saying there's nothing wrong with it or that it's perfectly just. I'm saying that counting them as less than 100% is actually motivated by anti-slavery motives rather than by slavery motives, and thus using that as the evidence of something else is at best a very indirect and somewhat dishonest piece of reasoning, unless there's some care toward getting accurate on how it came about and how the whole situation (rather than the specific 3/5 compromise itself) demonstrates an attitude toward those slaves' moral status. (And it's also worth mentioning that it's about slaves, not about blacks in general, something often overlooked.)

I've been listening to the Feb 21, 2011 Bloggingheads.tv episode with Glenn Loury and John McWhorter, and this issue came up. See Glenn Loury's comments starting at about 17 minutes into the discussion. He basically says that people who use the 3/5 statement in the Constitution as evidence that the framers were racists are historically ignorant and not serving their own goals well. (It doesn't mean they weren't racists, of course. Some of them certainly were, and others were probably unconsciously racist without meaning to be. But this particular item was actually evidence in the other direction, since it was an attempt to prevent slaveowners from getting away with owning slaves who influenced their representation without the slaves' own representation).

Jeremy, I just stumbled upon this page. It's amazing how little people care to read your words carefully and it's scary how little people care to learn about this country's history. THE 3/5th COMPROMISE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FOUNDERS BELIEVING BLACKS WERE NON-HUMANS OR 3/5th's OF A PERSON. THE COMPROMISE WAS MADE TO RATIFY THE CONSTITUTION AND THUS, STRENGTHEN THE UNION. I recently read an article on this very subject that had some great points to back this up.
1) Given the realities of the times when the Constitution was being drafted it is a simple fact that a portion of the states were slave states. (This by the way, is not unique to the United States. Far more slaves went to the Caribbean, South America and the Middle East.)

2) As Jeremy pointed out many times, the South wanted to count all of them to gain political strength in representation in this new union which would enable them to continue in their ways.

3) Given the realities of the times, the less slaves counted in representation, the more powerful the North would be in Congress; at the same time, the less slaves counted, the less likely the South would agree to the Constitution.

4) To count only three-fifths the number of slaves diminished the power of the pro-slavery faction in the national government. This strengthened the part of the country that was opposed to slavery.

5) The compromise was made in order to secure the Union.

6) Would the slaves have been better off if the colonies had split into two nations? Absolutely not. Their freedom depended on establishing the Union. Had we split into two nations- one nation with slavery, one nation without- slavery would have lasted much longer, for it is extremely unlikely that the North would have gone to war to free slaves in another country.

As Frederick Douglass put it, the three-fifths clause "is a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding States; one which deprives those States of two-fifths of their natural basis of representation. ... Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of 'two-fifths' of political power to free over slave States. ... Taking [the clause] at its worst, it still leans to freedom, not slavery; for, be it remembered that the Constitution nowhere forbids a coloured man to vote."

I've copied and pasted and pulled much from the following great article which you all should read: http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/live/content/editorials/stories/2011/01/30/three-fifths-deal-was-a-step-toward-freedom.html?sid=101

Jeremy, stop arguing with people that have only 3/5ths the IQ as you do.

This debate (if you can call it that) is not about the issue of "3/5 for political purposes" and "outright unjustness." it is a discussion between people who are capable of abstract thinking, and those who are only capable of concrete thinking. Abstract thinking is part of the developmental growth process for most people. Some people never get there, and a brain injury can also reverse one's development of abstract thought. Empathy is also attained in one of the latter developmental stages, in one's early 20s. Lacking these two capacities, you will make arguments like Jeremy's, which focus on specific details of a specific event and fail to see the greater picture, not necessarily the greater picture of who said what at the time (northerners vs southerners), but rather the hundreds year history leading up that gave the debate life in the first place, and the hundreds years of effects that came out of those words. Jeremy's parsing of Pharises similarly leans overly concrete and fails to draw any analogies unless the situation is exactly identical. situations are rarely identical, so it is the lesson we need to understand, not the specifics of the situation. So too the effect of this part of the constitution and African Americans. There is a lesson here that stands apart from the wording. Jeremy was astute to point out that everyone misremembers the wording, but he fails to understand why. The wording is secondary to the lesson, which we all understand: inequality was written into the constitution, and that is a real stain on the country from which we are still recovering.

I know it's hard to understand this if you're incapable of abstract thought, but let me try again. I'm well aware of the context. I'm fully insistent that the Constitution once assumed inequality in certain relations. I'm not denying that that's a stain on the country. I don't disagree with you on any of those things.

Even so, it does not do to say false things in order to make that point, pretending that I am denying or ignoring what I've spent quite a deal of effort actually emphasizing. The right way to approach this is to point out (as I did) that there is an assumption behind the 3/5 language that is bad and reflects severe racial problems. They would not have been having this conversation if they really believed in equality. I have said that in this post and in the comment thread over and over. Let me simply quote myself:

There are plenty of things you might disagree with about how slaves were treated, and it is indeed unfair to be counted at all for representation but not being represented (but we do that with children still).
There were obviously people who thought slaves had lesser rights. But my point is that this is an extremely poor way to make that point, because it actually goes the other way. Those who thought slaves should have full rights are the ones who didn't want to count them in the census, because they only thought those who are actually represented should be counted for representation. Those who thought slaves should not have full rights are the ones who wanted them fully counted, because they as slave-owners could get more representation on their behalf but not for their own sake, since anyone elected as a result of slave-owners having more influence is certainly not going to be voting according to what's best for the slaves.
As I've said repeatedly, both in the original post and a number of times in the comments here, I'm not denying that black people in that time were being treated as having a lower moral status. That is so obvious as to be undeniable and therefore hardly worth saying. Nevertheless, I did say it over and over.
I'm as willing to highlight exactly the things you're claiming I'm hiding, and I'd be willing to do so in order to show that there were quite a lot of people who did think slaves had weaker rights or no rights, weaker moral status or no moral status, and were lesser persons or not persons.
Since I insisted that lots of people had the view that slaves were less than human, pointing out evidence for such a claim is irrelevant to what I was saying, which is that the 3/5 business in the Constitution is about something else than that. I denied nothing of the ugly truth about the history of this country and its view of slaves as lesser human beings. I simply pointed out that the 3/5 rule is about something else, something that of course could only have occurred given that some people did have such awful views but not in the way that many claims about the 3/5 rule would lead most people to think. If I were saying that everyone always thought black people equal to white people, your ridiculous claim of revisionist history would be appropriate. But any reasonable careful reading of what I wrote, especially given that exactly your mistake has been discussed several times in the comments, makes you comes off looking like the revisionist.
No one in this conversation, as far as I can recall, claimed that the people who tried to count slaves toward representation thought their slaves had full human worth. I in fact insisted otherwise, from the very beginning. I also did not deny that the Constitution has an implicit distinction between slaves and non-slaves.
It doesn't mean they weren't racists, of course. Some of them certainly were, and others were probably unconsciously racist without meaning to be.

I have a hard time believing anyone can read me saying all those things and then seriously pretending that I don't understand the context or the big picture and then arguing that no one could make the point I'm making except from a complete lack of empathy. What I would say is that I don't think anyone can make the point you're making without either failing to read what I said or being deliberately ignorant. And I'm not sure either is compatible with empathy.

Well done, Jeremy. You are a man of class and infinite patience. It's like the Walking (Brain)Dead out there, isn't it? Ugh, gives me a chill.

At the end of the day who has an argument over how many rights a human being should have as opposed to another human being based on the color of their skin, especially when these humans are not criminals and have committed no crime. they didn't even ask to come over here in the first place. you kidnap them, rape, rob, steel and kill them for no other reason than greed and fear, and if thats not enough you have to decide how many of them it takes to equal the voice of a single human. the same people who wrote this constitution thought these people should be slaves even today. that doesn't say much for guys you hold so high and call your forefathers however; it does show the devils that they were and are today. this is a topic you should have left alone, it sounds almost like your defending the devils wicked language, in other words lawyering your way into making these guys sound like they had even an ounce of righteousness in there bones.

Here are three categories of people:

1. Lawyer-types who defend slavery and aren't concerned about the truth. Such people will cover up the truth. They will emphasize only what fits with the perspective they want to push.

2. People who mean well in condemning slavery and have an overall good position but lie about it because they either think the truth isn't as important as the result or because they're simply ignorant. This serves no one well, because they become laughingstocks once called out, and they have the wrong priorities if the lie is deliberate.

3. People who oppose slavery but recognize that they can't lie their way to it by making up more convenient facts about motives that are more clearly evil than the mixed motives people really had. Such people are able to notice when arguments favoring their view are bad and thus worth not using and getting rid of. They notice when lies are put in service of the truth and resist it strongly, because it undermines the whole business of defending the truth.

You are trying to put my in category 1. But in resisting category 2, I am in category 3.

And I have no illusions of the founders of this country being wonderful people with excellent views. I think the founding of this country was based on an unjust war. I strongly disagree with several key claims they made popular about the purpose of government and how it gets its legitimacy. I have condemned several times in this discussion the notion that it's all right to refuse to give slaves a say in who represents them while insisting that they be counted for how much representation their state will get. That position is thoroughly immoral. It's not immoral to have a government that doesn't count anyone's vote at all. But it's immoral to have such a government and insist that an entire group counts for how much representation a state gets while not allowing them any say in who fills those representative spots.

Nevertheless, it is simply false that the 3/5 rule is based on the notion that slaves are a partial person or a partial human being. That's not how it came about historically, and that's not how anyone at the time interpreted it. People may have had a view that slaves have no rights or lesser rights. They may have had a view that slaves are not fully people or human beings. I've several times condemned such a view in this comment thread, and you're pretending that I'm defending it, which is a pretty despicable misrepresentation of what I've said. But as bad as such a view is, it's simply not what was going on with this particular language. That was designed to do something different, something that I've also condemned (and have reaffirmed such condemnation in this comment already). It does the anti-racist cause no good to base anything on false historical claims.

And I don't think anyone has an ounce of righteousness. These people were thoroughly despicable, just as you and I and everyone else on this planet is. I fully accept their total depravity, as I do of the entire human race. So there's no pretending that I think there's even an ounce of righteousness in them. But accusing them of a view they didn't hold or using language that's not about the issue you take it to be about (even if they do hold the view) does not serve to ground any argument about them. Such a flimsy basis is the thing not worth taking up your time to do. I'm concerned enough about racial justice that I want arguments for racial justice to be solidly based.

Realizing that this is a bit dated at this point, I still feel the need to make a comment. What you don't seem to grasp, Jeremy, is that it doesn't matter which side wanted slaves to be counted fully and which side did not. The fact is, that if you count slaves as only 3/5 of a person for representation, you are COUNTING THEM AS 3/5 OF A PERSON. Period. Your motivations for doing so don't matter. Your politics don't matter. Your wording doesn't matter. You are considering them as less than a person, end of story.
The concept that they should have been actually represented when given representation, THAT is the seperate issue here. Regardless of whatever else should have been done, no one should have been counted as 3/5 of a person, for any reason.

So you're telling me that I don't seem to grasp the very thing I insisted on from the very beginning? Let me quote the original post:

There are plenty of things you might disagree with about how slaves were treated, and it is indeed unfair to be counted at all for representation but not being represented (but we do that with children still).

So I insisted in the original post that the whole scheme was immoral. Now you're telling me that I'm not getting that there was something illegitimate about it?

Then in my very first comment in the discussion that ensued:

There were obviously people who thought slaves had lesser rights.

In my next comment, I said that the following statement is true: "Many people considered slaves less than human and accorded them less than full moral status."

Then later:

I'm not denying that black people in that time were being treated as having a lower moral status. That is so obvious as to be undeniable and therefore hardly worth saying.

As I've said above many times, there's no question that the people who wrote the Constitution, or at least many of them, saw slaves as having intrinsic moral worth lower than that of other people. But there's no intellectually-honest case to be made that the language of "3/5 of a person" reflects any commitment to slaves having 3/5 the moral worth of everyone else. That simply doesn't fit with how that number came to be there, and anyone trotting it out to signify something about the separate issue of the intrinsic worth of slaves is simply revising history. There are plenty of places to go to make that point. Anyone claiming I'm denying needs to work on reading comprehension skills.

The issue of what someone who favored abolition should have done is entirely unclear. It might well have been the wrong thing to do to insist that slaves count fully for representation, giving that they weren't really being represented. Weren't the abolitionists right to worry about that? Wasn't there something right about their desire to limit the slave states' influence in Congress and in the electoral college simply because of the presence of non-voting slaves? Surely the right thing to do would be to free them and give them the vote, and then counting them for representation would make sense. But given that they couldn't simply implement that, what should they do? Are you making the claim that they should have given the slave states what they wanted and counted slaves as full persons for the sake of representation? Would they have been accepting non-personhood at all in claiming that they didn't want slaves to count at all? Hardly.

So the 3/5 number doesn't enshrine in the Constitution any view at all about the intrinsic status of anyone. It's a compromise between two groups, one who wanted (for good reasons, even if you might ultimately not like the result in other circumstances) to have slaves not represented at all, the other who wanted (for bad reasons, even if you like the result in other circumstances) them not counted. Neither group got their view represented, and neither group's choice of numbers reflect their group's view of the intrinsic value of slaves.

Why is it that I have to repeat this every time someone leaves a comment, only to have someone else come along and pretend I've not said it?

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