Review of

PragerU Video: Why the 3/5ths Compromise Was Anti-Slavery

Our summary: The “Three-Fifths Compromise” in the US Constitution stipulated that, for calculating the proportionate number of representatives in Congress that each state gets, slaves are counted as three-fifths of a person. Carol Swain argues that those who think this conflicts with the principle that all men are created equal are ignoring the context. The Three-Fifths Compromise didn’t deny the humanity of blacks, it affirmed it.

Did the compromise result in fewer slave states?

Ed Swiss Sacramento, CA Published 03 Dec 2019

This video tells the story of the Three-Fifths Compromise by wrapping it in a secondary story involving Emory University president James Wagner. Why is he relevant? Probably the objective is to portray universities as bastions of liberal indoctrination and political correctness. For me personally, I found that part distracting and irrelevant.

At any rate, here’s the text of the Compromise:

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.

As you can see, the Three-Fifths Compromise dealt with the apportionment of representatives and taxes. Counting slaves as full persons would have given the South more representation in the House of Representatives, but at the same time it would have cost them more in taxes. Counting each slave as three-fifths of a person for both purposes provided conditions each side could live with.

Though, at one point Carol Swain asserts:

The three-fifths compromise was devised by those who opposed slavery, not by those who were for slavery. Or, to put it another way, it wasn’t the racists of the South who wanted to count slave populations less than white populations – it was the abolitionists of the North.

This is misleading in that gives the impression that the compromise was engineered by the North and the South somehow capitulated, when in fact the compromise was fairly reached by both sides as a balance between the dual pressures of more representation and more taxes. In reading the text of the compromise up above, is there anything “anti-slavery” that jumps out at you? Probably not.

That said, one could argue that since the South did not count their slaves as full persons, this gave them less representation in Congress, and hence less power to create even more slave states than were ultimately created (fifteen by the start of the Civil War), but this is pure speculation. The truth is we simply don’t know what would have happened if slaves had been counted as full persons or had not been counted at all.

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