Setting the Record Straight on the Three-Fifths Compromise

The misinterpretation of the Three-Fifths Compromise has hurt race relations

My research shows that the Three-Fifths Compromise - which became part of the Constitution that deals with the subject of how slaves were counted in the population Census used to determine the number of Representatives a state could have in Washington - has often been misinterpreted. Unfortunately, this has hurt race relations in our country.

Although the word "slave" was not included in the original Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, everyone knows it was implied. I hope what follows is helpful in bringing clarity to a disgusting subject, and that we become a less divided and more unified nation.

The states in favor of slavery wanted slaves to be counted in the Census as a free person so they would be credited with a larger population, which would entitle them to more Representatives and influence in Congress. Counting slaves as if they were a free person was self-serving to the "slave states" - they wanted the benefit of having slaves counted in the Census, but would not give slaves the right to vote.

The states against slavery and looking to abolish it, of course, didn't want the "slave states" to have more influence than necessary, so they didn't want slaves to be counted as a free person in the Census.

The two sides battled back and forth and ended-up compromising on slaves being counted as three-fifths of a free person in order to save the Union. When you consider that the "slave states" ended up with less power and influence than they wanted, the Compromise helped slaves. But, it would have been far better for slaves if the "non-slave states" won the debate and they were not counted at all, because counting them gave the "slave states" the power to prolong the hideous institution of slavery.

My research when writing Politics Beyond Left and Right proved to me that although our Declaration stated that "all men are created equal," it was sadly not practical to eliminate slavery at the time the Constitution was written. From Abraham Lincoln:

"The authors of the Declaration of Independence did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere."

Time to improve our civics education in this country, so misunderstandings do not occur!

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Jon Saltzman
Jon Saltzman


Welcome back Dave- good points!