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During a twitter debate about gun control yesterday I pointed out that the right to own a gun was in the constitution and received the following response:

That tweeter holds the same view that many in the progressive world believe, that our founding fathers were racist. As proof they point to Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution:

“ 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.”

To the liberals the 3/5th figure is an indication that our founding fathers were a bunch of racists who thought that the African Slaves were less than human.

The truth is that it was the framers of the constitution from the northern anti-slavery colonies who insisted on counting the slaves as less than “full persons.” Their reason was to prevent the slave states from getting too many congressman and electoral votes lest they become too powerful and prevent Slavery from ever being abolished.

The Slave states wanted their slaves to be counted as a full person so they could dominate the House of Representatives and the Presidency. Those states reliant on slavery for their economy would have the benefit of counting the slaves for census reasons and control the political power of their large numbers as the slaves were not allowed to vote.

The Northern States did not want them counted at all, to prevent the south from getting too powerful. The “three fifths of all other Persons” refers to the slave population as a whole, it was not an indication of a belief that people of color had only 60% of the “value” of Caucasians.

For those of you who took American History in high school, you might remember that the Three-Fifths Compromise, was originally  proposed by Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania.

The Federalist papers show the mindset of the founding fathers were not in favor of the continuation of Slavery, but were instead trying to wean their Southern brethren away from Slavery.

For example in Federalist  #38 Madison justified the constitutional provision allowing slave trading for 20 years because it was an improvement:

Is the importation of slaves permitted by the new Constitution for twenty years? By the old, it is permitted forever.

In Federalist #42 he says

It were doubtless to be wished, that the power of prohibiting the importation of slaves had not been postponed until the year 1808, or rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation. But it is not difficult to account, either for this restriction on the general government, or for the manner in which the whole clause is expressed. It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate forever, within these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the barbarism of modern policy; that within that period, it will receive a considerable discouragement from the federal government, and may be totally abolished, by a concurrence of the few States which continue the unnatural traffic, in the prohibitory example which has been given by so great a majority of the Union. Happy would it be for the unfortunate Africans, if an equal prospect lay before them of being redeemed from the oppressions of their European brethren! Attempts have been made to pervert this clause into an objection against the Constitution, by representing it on one side as a criminal toleration of an illicit practice, and on another as calculated to prevent voluntary and beneficial emigrations from Europe to America. I mention these misconstructions, not with a view to give them an answer, for they deserve none, but as specimens of the manner and spirit in which some have thought fit to conduct their opposition to the proposed government.

Ben Franklin,  freed his slaves and was a key founder of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Alexander Hamilton was opposed to slavery and, with John Jay and other anti-slavery advocates, helped to found the first African free school in New York City. Jay helped to found the New York Manumission (literally voluntary freeing of slaves) Society and, when he was governor of New York in 1798, signed into law the state statute ending slavery as of 1821.

When Constitution signer William Livingston heard of the New York  Manumission society he, as Governor of New Jersey, wrote them, offering:

“I would most ardently wish to become a member of it [the society in New York] and… I can safely promise them that neither my tongue, nor my pen, nor purse shall be wanting to promote the abolition of what to me appears so inconsistent with humanity and Christianity… May the great and the equal Father of the human race, who has expressly declared His abhorrence of oppression, and that He is no respecter of persons, succeed a design so laudably calculated to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.”

Washington was a paradox, he was a slave owner hated slavery (actually he married rich and the slaves were originally owned by his wife).

“I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery].”-George Washington

Washington’s successor John Adams did not own slaves and hated the Practice:

“[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known… [N]ever in my life did I own a slave.”-John Adams

When examining the three-fifths compromise, one must remember that the Constitution itself was a counter-revolution. It’s authors were sent to Philadelphia to amend the articles of confederation instead they met in secret, locked themselves into a room and came out with an entirely new governmental system.  Without the three-fifths compromise the counter-revolution would have failed and there would be a much different, probably much less free America today.

This is not to justify slavery or the fact that it lasted another eighty years after the constitution was enacted. Slavery will always be a horrible chapter in American History,  but the three-fifths compromise was not. The three-fifths clause was not a measurement of human worth; it was an attempt to reduce the number of pro-slavery proponents in Congress. By including only three-fifths of the total numbers of slaves into the congressional calculations, Southern states were actually being denied additional pro-slavery representatives in Congress and electoral votes for selecting the president.

As for the women, this does not make it correct but at the time the
constitution was written no nation in the world allowed women to vote. The first country allowing woman’s
suffrage was New Zealand in 1893. Most nations including Britain,
Spain, France, Italy, Japan, Sweden,India etc., didn’t allow women to
vote until after the U.S. in 1920.

Now if we could only count progressives as three-fifths of a person for census purposes.

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