The 3/5ths Clause and Congressional Cowardice

As many of you know, the 112th Congress opened with a reading of the Constitution. However, they lacked the courage (or perhaps the education) to understand how important the 3/5ths clause was to the ultimate abolition of slavery.

For those that do not know, the 3/5ths clause was part of the Constitution in which slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person for the purposes of representation and taxes. It reads in the Constitution like this:

Article I, Section. 2
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.

Despite what the popular media pundits and the less informed what to imply, this was not a statement of the worth of slaves. There was great disagreement on the topic of slavery. Many wanted it abolished. As far as the southern states were concerned, this was not going to happen. So, a solutions was found. By not counting each slave as a full person, the abolitionists (those supporting the freeing of the slaves) were able to reduce the power of the southern states, effectively sewing the seeds of the end of slavery at some time in the future. In fact, the abolitionists did not want the slaves to be counted at all. If you look again at Article 1,Section 2 above you can see why. By limiting the count of slaves, you limit how many representatives they get. If they counted each slave as a full person, then the southern states would have had too much political power for there to be any hope of abolishing slavery down the road.

There is a fantastic book out that covers all the various aspects of this clause that is so commonly misunderstood and mischaracterized. In fact, given the complete inability of the members of congress to even understand how important the clause was to the freeing of the slaves, this might just be a candidate for required congressional reading.

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