The Three-Fifths Man
I’m getting tired of hearing African American leaders toss the Three-Fifths Compromise into discussions about discrimination in America.
Yesterday on Laura Ingraham Washington, D.C. Councilman Michael Brown was on with a local bishop discussing a same-sex marriage initiative in the District. He views it as a civil rights issue. I (emphatically) do not. It’s definitely a rights issue, but not one about equality. We’re not talking about creating “marriage equity”, we’re talking about changing the definition of marriage, which has been the same since it started. As it is, everyone (including homosexuals) can marry whoever they want, as long as they are (1) of legal age, (2) not currently married to someone else, and (3) of the opposite gender. There are no rights being denied to anyone. This is an issue of creating rights, not restoring or honoring them. Anyway, that’s beside the point.
Brown, who is in favor of the initiative, based his whole argument on the civil rights issue, frequently mentioning drinking fountains, colored restrooms, and segregated schools. It was silly. I’m surprised he didn’t mention people getting firehoses and dogs turned on them. That’s really similar to a bumper sticker that says, “It’s not Adam and Steve.” (those stickers are also idiotic, BTW)
But at one point Laura was talking about the Constitution, and he says, “In the Constitution an African American is 3/5 of a person!” He was, of course, trying to argue that the constitution is not a good measuring stick for civil rights. He doesn’t seem to know much about the purpose of the compromise, or the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.
First, it was the slaveholders who wanted to count the full population of slaves for the census, because it would give them more power in Congress. The opponents of slavery didn’t want to count the slaves, to weaken the slaveholding states in the legislature. The compromise was the only way they could agree. Second, the compromise doesn’t refer to race, but to “free persons”, “Indians”, and “all other persons”. That way, when the 13th Amendment abolishes slavery, there is no one left in the “other” category. The 14th and 15th cleared up any confusion. Third, it was meant to consider 60% of the census count, not 60% of each person. Though if you want to break it down like that it’s mathematically valid…whatever.
To simplify: the three-fifths compromise was engineered by abolitionists, and accelerated the end of slavery in the U.S. It is not evidence of racism.