LOS ANGELES — One of the most controversial, and many would say plainly racist clauses of the Constitution is Article 1. Section 2.:
“Representatives… shall be apportioned among the… States… by adding to the whole Number of free Persons… three fifths of all other Persons.”
Commonly referred to as the three-fifths compromise, it was this provision which determined how congressional representatives would be apportioned among the states based upon population size. Ultimately explicitly reprealed by the 14th Amendment, the three-fifths compromise is commonly referenced as proof positive that America’s Founding Fathers were in fact racists willing to deprive southern slaves of their humanity.
According to Carol Swain in PragerU’s newest video Why the 3/5ths Compromise Was Anti-Slavery, this reading of history is wrong.
Swain – a former professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University before running for Mayor of Nashville – notes that nowhere in the text does it actually say a slave was not a person. “The “three-fifths” description had nothing to do with the human worth of an individual slave, but everything to do with how many representatives each state would have in the U.S. Congress,” says Swain.
It was true that the framers were deeply divided on the issue of slavery. The free states of the North wanted to abolish slavery, while the South defended the institution as a way of life and wanted to expand it. Within this context, Swain points out a seemingly obvious, but seldom discussed logic: If each state was rewarded by a larger population with more representatives in Congress, it would follow that slave states would naturally oppose the three-fifths compromise.
“The “three-fifths” compromise was devised by those who opposed slavery, not by those who were for slavery,” says Swain. “Or to put it another way, it wasn’t the racists of the South who wanted to count slaves populations less than white populations – it was the abolitionists of the North.”
Swain contends that the South wanted to have it both ways. They wanted the representation of the slave population in Congress without giving slaves legal representation. By reaching such a hard-fought, difficult compromise, the free states successfully brought the thirteen disparate colonies together to form a union, while rebuking slavery and its defenders at the same time.
Why did this matter so much? Because as Swain points out, according to the 1790 Census, adding the free and slave populations of the South at the time would have equaled that of the North. By the Civil War, the slave population had grown to 4 million, making the South much more powerful governmentally than they were, and might have prolonged slavery even longer than the 1860s when the U.S. ultimately fought the Civil War to end it.
“The ‘three-fifths compromise’ was the solution to the most difficult challenge the Framers faced – how to create a single country out of people so divided on a fundamental issue. As discordant as the compromise sounds to modern ears, without it there would have been no United States…The three-fifths compromise didn’t deny the humanity of blacks, it affirmed it,” concludes Swain.
MEDIA NOTE: PragerU Presenter Carol Swain, and CEO Marissa Streit are available for interviews. Inquiries can be made by emailing: MediaInquiries@theKcompany.co
PragerU, founded by Dennis Prager in 2011, is a not-for-profit organization that helps millions understand the values that shaped America and provides millions of Americans and people around the world with the intellectual ammunition they need to advocate for limited government, individual responsibility and economic freedom. Since its founding, PragerU videos have received over 1.43 billion views, a figure which eclipsed over 625 million in 2017 alone. PragerU is a resource for all who value liberty. It is a threat to all those who do not.