Friday, May 05, 2006

Remember that clause that read, "..and three fifths of all other persons.."?

Thomas Sowell's book "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" has a chapter devoted to slavery where he faults black leaders for misinterpreting the "three fifths of all other persons" clause from the US Constitution as meaning that blacks were considered only three-fifths of a white person. I'll review the chapter another time but want to touch on that subject now that Michigan is leading the way to initiate an amendment to not include illegal immigrants in the US Census.

First, the original language read:
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. (emphasis mine)
Meaning slaves (non-free persons), not blacks, would only count as three fifths of a person. There existed before the drafting of the constitution free blacks, and some of those owned slaves (but that's the subject of another article). If today's black leaders understood the intention of the language they would instead complain that slaves should have counted for even less or not counted at all.

The north correctly considered that enumerating slaves for apportionment among the southern states would have given southern states inflated representation in congress. With greater representation and the stubbornness to continue slavery it would be easier for the south to block any move by northern states to criminalize or restrict slavery. Had slaves not counted at all it is possible that congress may have eliminated slavery legislatively, avoiding a costly civil war--in both lives and treasury.

But that doesn't support the rhetoric used by black leaders. Jesse Jackson wrongly states the purpose was to dehumanize black people when he wrote, "That is why the Constitution called us three-fifths human [to] dehumanize us.."

Jonah Goldberg sums it up well in his National Review article, under the heading Three Fifths Stupid:
Blacks were counted as "three fifths" of a person as a compromise between abolitionists and slave holders. Northern delegates to the constitutional convention argued that blacks should not be counted at all, because they were not allowed to vote and therefore their numbers shouldn't count toward boosting Southern representation in Congress. If slaves were counted, slave states would be able to control the legislative branch and expand the hateful institution into the new territories. Meanwhile, slaveholders wanted blacks counted on par with whites for exactly this reason.

In other words, if the racists had their way, blacks would have been counted as 100% people and if the abolitionists won the day, blacks would be invisible to the constitution. The three fifths was a procedural compromise included in the Constitution because so many of the nation's founders were opposed to slavery.

Which brings us to enumerating illegal immigrants for apportionment. What would happen to northern representation in congress if California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, and other states with large illegal populations were able to use their numbers to increase their representation? Those states could use their inflated representation in congress to pass legislation in an equally lopsided way today without illegal aliens having the right to vote.

The kinds of things illegal aliens would vote for isn't difficult to imagine. More immediate is the concern of what those states' new congressional and electoral representatives would vote for while stealing representation from citizens in states like Michigan.

Congresswoman Candice Miller (formerly Michigan's Secretary of State) put it this way in her press release:

Rep. Miller's proposed amendment, known as H.J. Res. 53, would reverse the unfair advantage that states with inflated populations have when it comes to Congressional Representation, and would prevent these states from having such unduly impact on Presidential races.

"I find it absolutely outrageous that people who are in our country illegally are having such a profound impact on our political system."

This week, by a 30-7 vote, the Michigan Senate passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to pass to the states a constitutional amendment that would base congressional representation on a headcount of citizens only. This is the right idea, for the right reasons, and with constitutional precedent. Let's hope congress is listening.


  1. Such confusion is stark testimony to the deplorable decline of public education in the United States in recent years.

    "three-fifths of all other persons" meant five slaves were worth three votes.

  2. "three-fifths of all other persons" meant five slaves were worth three votes.

    Not exactly. For the purposes of congressional representation, it meant five slaves were equal to 3 persons. The more slaves a state had the more electoral votes and congressional representatives they'd have.